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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / 2000-2001 PREVIEW | USC WOMEN

Optimistic Trojans Try to Maintain Momentum

November 16, 2000|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, the USC women's basketball team launched what was expected to be one of those dreary, can't-wait-till-it's-over rebuilding seasons.

And that's just how it was, halfway through the Pacific 10 Conference race. When USC lost, 69-56, at Stanford on Feb. 5, it was the Trojans' third consecutive defeat and sixth in seven games.

Over the season's final month, however, the Trojans were 7-2 and defeated three teams--UCLA, Arizona and Oregon--that were in first place when they played them. Moreover, they were the only Pac-10 team to sweep Oregon, the conference champion.

That late-season run not only added to Coach Chris Gobrecht's reputation as one of the nation's top coaches but also set the table for a great leap forward for USC, which is picked to finish third in the Pac-10 this season in both the Pac-10 preseason media and coaches polls.

The Trojans also have landed in some preseason national polls, largely on the strength of one new face: Ebony Hoffman.

Rated by many coaches as the nation's best low-post player last season at Harbor City Narbonne High, Hoffman has been lighting up early USC practices, particularly with laser-beam outlet passes off the defensive glass.

The 6-foot, broad-shouldered Hoffman gives USC a major rebounder to compete with physical centers such as Oregon's 6-5 Jenny Mowe and Stanford's 6-6 Carolyn Moos.

Gobrecht will use Hoffman as a power forward and hopes to find a point guard who can find her inside. Three freshmen are getting long looks: 5-10 Aisha Hollans, 5-7 Ryane Alexander and 5-9 Jessica Cheeks. The probable starter at the point, however, will be 5-8 junior Camille Norwood.

Another newcomer who can bring inside muscle is 6-4 redshirt freshman Portia Mitchell, a Narbonne teammate of Hoffman's two seasons ago. She sat out last season because she couldn't run 1 1/2 miles in 11 minutes, a Gobrecht requirement. She still can't, but she has lost 45 pounds and has promised the coach she'll crack the 11-minute barrier at some point in her career.

"We need Portia to play major minutes, but she's not ready yet--she hasn't played in two years," Gobrecht said.

Returnees singled out by the coach for being significantly improved over last season are 5-10 Tiffany Elmore, Norwood and 6-1 post player Carmen Krause. '

The Trojans lost three players who accounted for a combined 26 points a game last season--Danielle Golay, Erica Mashia and Tiffany Washington. Gobrecht hopes this year's trio of seniors--6-0 Tashara Carter, 6-3 Denise Woods and 5-5 Ayeshia Smith--will equal or surpass the seniors who drove the team in its finishing sprint.

"I think our team can be awesome," Carter said.

"It just depends on how fast we'll come off the blocks--how quickly we learn to play with the Pac-10 teams."

Gobrecht's team went from last to near-best in one season.

"From finishing last in the Pac-10 two years ago to going 7-2 in the second half of the conference season last season was an unbelievable achievement," she said.

"We very well could have been 9-0 down the stretch."

Gobrecht, a USC graduate in her fourth USC season after 11 years at Washington and one at Florida State, may be only one recruiting class away from a program the equal of former championship eras.

At least that's her pitch on the recruiting trail.

"I believe USC is a one-of-a-kind place," she said.

"We have had some terrific ambassadors, with Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Cynthia Cooper--it's a thrill to bring this school back to where it belongs."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

USC Women / Trojan at a Glance

Date: Opponent, Time

Friday: at Creighton, 5

Sunday: at Drake, noon

Nov. 24: UC SANTA BARBARA, 7

Nov. 26: ST. JOSEPH'S, 2

Dec. 2: at San Diego, 4

Dec. 9: at Sacramento State, 2

Dec. 15: PEPPERDINE, 7

Dec. 20: at Baylor, 5

Dec. 22: at Texas Tech, 5

Dec. 28: NOTRE DAME, 7

Jan. 4: *at Washington State, 7

Jan. 7: *at Washington, 1

Jan. 14: *at UCLA, 1

Jan. 18: *ARIZONA, 7

Jan. 20: *ARIZONA STATE, 7

Jan. 25: *at Oregon, 7

Jan. 27: *at Oregon State, 2

Feb. 2: *CALIFORNIA, 7

Feb. 4: *STANFORD, 3

Feb. 10: *UCLA, 2

Feb. 15: *at Arizona State, 6

Feb. 18: *at Arizona, 2

Feb. 23: *OREGON STATE, 7

Feb. 25: *OREGON, 1

March 1: *at Stanford, 7:30

March 3: *at California, 1

March 8: *WASHINGTON, 7

March 10: *WASHINGTON STATE, 1

Home games in CAPS; all times Pacific; *--Conference game

ROSTER

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 24 Ryane Alexander G 5-7 Fr.

*--*

Will play some at the point.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 22 Tashara Carter F 6-0 Sr.

*--*

USC's best all-around player.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 10 Jessica Cheeks G 5-9 Fr.

*--*

Another Narbonne High product.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 13 Denise Woods C 6-3 Sr.

*--*

Led Trojans in blocked shots last season.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 14 Carmen Krause F 6-1 Jr.

*--*

Probably her team's best defender.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 15 Lauren Smith-Hams G 5-7 So.

*--*

Another solid defender.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 20 Tennille Grant F 5-10 So.

*--*

Will play major minutes in post, at wing.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 21 Erin Young G 5-11 So.

*--*

Walk-on played in 26 of 30 games.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 23 Aisha Hollans G 5-10 Fr.

*--*

A third-team Parade All-American prep.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 35 Portia Mitchell C 6-4 Fr.

*--*

Has lost 45 pounds since redshirt season.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 5 Camille Norwood G 5-8 Jr.

*--*

Looks as if point guard slot is hers to lose.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 3 Tiffany Elmore G 5-10 Jr.

*--*

Scored in double figures 17 times last season.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 1 Ayeshia Smith G 5-5 Sr.

*--*

Broken finger kept her out much of last season.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Yr 32 Ebony Hoffman F 6-2 Fr.

*--*

A premier recruit, sought by Tennessee.

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