“This was a very hard fought and physical game,” said head coach Paul Thomas. “I thought our team did a fine job of navigating USC’s defenses, and getting quality shots.”
With the win, Saint Mary’s improves to 9-1 on the year and will face Cal State Northridge on Saturday. SMC will look to close out its non-conference portion of the schedule with a win at CSUN, before the big West Coast Conference opener in McKeon Pavilion on Dec. 28th against nationally ranked Gonzaga.
The Gaels started the game with seven consecutive defensive stops and held USC scoreless at the first media timeout, leading 6-0. SMC would extend the lead to 9-1 before USC made its first field goal.
USC shot over 50 percent in the first half but the Gaels drew several offensive fouls and forced USC into 15 first-half turnovers as the Gaels led 29-27 at the break.
The Trojans scored the first six points of the second half to take a 33-29 lead before Hayley Hendricksen converted a big basket and-one, pulling SMC within a point and stopping the USC run.
Lauren Nicholson hit a game-tying three-pointer at the 15:50 mark to pull SMC back even. Jackie Nared came back into the game after scoring just six points in the first-half plus, making a presence immediately. Nared scored the next seven points for the Gaels putting SMC on top.
USC retook the lead at 44-42, before Gaze responded with a three-pointer to push SMC back ahead 45-44 at the 12:04 mark. The Gaze bucket was huge because it would be the last time the Gaels would trail in the game.
With SMC leading 49-46, the Gaels went on an 8-0 run which included a Gaze three pointer and jump shot to give SMC a 57-46 lead at the 5:49 mark.
USC pulled within 62-55 with 2:05 remaining, but SMC responded as Nicholson scored inside to push the lead back to 64-55 at the 1:54 mark. SMC hit 5-fo-6 free-throws down the stretch to close out the win.
The 22 points from Gaze was her third 20-point game of the year, but first since the fifth game of the year (Cal Poly). Nared added 21 points with two blocks and two steals. Nicholson was the only other Gael in double figures with 12 points.
Danielle Mauldin just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds, bringing her career-rebounding total to 991.
Sabrina Engelstad grabbed six rebounds in 12 minutes off the bench for SMC.
It was the first time this season the Gaels have been out-rebounded as USC held a 41-33 advantage on the boards. SMC shot 41.7 percent and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line. SMC shot well from behind the arc, connecting on 7-for-15 from downtown.
Saint Mary’s is back in action on Saturday when it takes on Cal State Northridge at the Matadome. Tip is set for 4:00 p.m.