USC women in dance but not Big Dance

The USC women's basketball team was supposed to make the NCAA Tournament this year, supposed to go to the Big Dance and make a little noise.

But the Women of Troy didn't, finishing with an underwhelming 19-12 regular-season record that left them on the outside looking in on Selection Monday.

But they're still doing a little dancing of their own as they prepare to face Illinois State tonight at 5:05 PT in the semifinals of the Women's NIT in Normal, Ill. And for a team that declined an NIT invitation last year in Cooper's first year on the job, the experience has proven much-needed for the future.

"This is obviously not the dance we want to be in, but it's a dance," Cooper said Wednesday by phone from the team hotel in Normal. "The key is, we needed some postseason play to understand what it's gonna take and the things you have to put into the season before it's all said and done.

"It's important that we do learn from our mistakes and enhance our strengths, and that's what we've been doing here -- playing good basketball."

The Women of Troy are playing good basketball now, and they're doing so under fairly tough circumstances that will only continue. Since beating UC-Santa Barbara at home two weeks back in the first round of the tourney, USC has had to travel to three different cities in a one-week period to clinch a spot in the semifinals, beating Nevada, BYU and Colorado in back-to-back-to-back games.

USC has won each game after the first round by a double-digit margin. Junior point guard Ashley Corral and senior guard Jacki Gemelos each had 20 points in a second-round victory over Nevada, four players scored in double-digits in a third-round win at BYU and Sunday's win over Colorado -- played at altitude in Boulder -- featured Corral putting up a 32-point performance, the highest-scoring game by a USC woman in 14 years.

So, no, the road trips haven't been hurting the Women of Troy so far, who, with 23 wins on the year, have now recorded the most in a season since the 1993-1994 season.

"Being on the road, it is difficult, but it's doing good things for us," Cooper said. "As Pat Riley used to say when he was my coach with the Lakers, 'championships are won on the road.'

"You gotta go out there and play."

The winner of Wednesday's game will play against either Charlotte or Toledo on Saturday at noon PST. If USC does win, it will be forced to play another road game because that date would coincide with the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards being held at the Galen Center this weekend.