USC women fall to NC State, 59-53

With students home for winter break and the university essentially shut down for the week, the sleepy Galen Center played host to a non-conference battle between the Women of Troy and North Carolina State Wednesday night.

With an announced crowd of 854, not a soul sat in the upper bowl of the arena.

Men's basketball players Dwight Lewis, Leonard Washington, Nikola Vucevic and Marcus Simmons took up residence near the court, typing on their cell phones. And down in the training room, men's head coach Kevin O'Neill worked out on an elliptical just as the game was about to tip off.

For their part, the Women of Troy came out sluggish and never quite woke up. USC (6-5) scored a season-low 19 points in the first half, falling behind by 14 points, and went on to lose to the visiting Wolfpack, 59-53.

Point guard Ashley Corral shot 1-of-12 from the field as USC converted just 32 percent of its shot attempts on the night. Guard Briana Gilbreath came out firing with eight straight points to begin the half, but it wasn't enough, as N.C. State managed to keep USC at a safe distance until late in the game.

With five minutes left to play, the Women of Troy began to put together a mini-run, capped by a Daniela Roark lay-in to close the gap to 54-53 with two minutes left. But N.C. State guard Nikitta Gartrell — who freely penetrated into the lane all night — drove into the the key, nailed the lay-up, drew a foul and converted the free-throw attempt.

USC had a few more chances but couldn't convert on two one-and-ones, and N.C. State guard Amber White hit two free throws to clinch the victory. White led the Wolfpack (9-5) with 17 points and two assists.

"[You hate] to lose a game like that, where you're so close," Corral said afterward. "It wasn't our night out there today. It just wasn't our night."

No, but it was USC's final tuneup before Pac-10 conference play, which starts on New Year's Day with a 1:00 p.m. battle with Arizona State in Tempe.

The Women of Troy have only a few short hours to rest before boarding an early-morning flight Thursday morning to the Grand Canyon State.

USC head coach Michael Cooper said he wasn't worried. He suggested the physical style of N.C. State was similar to what his team would see out of the Sun Devils Friday, and he felt his team would now be better prepared.

"Hey, I thought our second half was a lot better," Cooper said as he mopped his brow after the game Wednesday. "We have a lot of potential that we're trying to learn how to utilize, and that will come."