Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pac-12 preview: Washington State University

This is the eighth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

In a conference on the rise, even Washington State showed signs of improvement last year. Instead of their usual 10th-12th place finish, they were seventh, with a 9-9 record. Overall the Cougars were 17-17 - their best finish in many years.

It couldn't have come at a better time for coach June Daugherty, who was in the last of a seven-year contract. Thus, even with a 73-146 record in Pullman, she got a five-year extension. Daugherty's luck continues with her 2014-2015 roster.

WSU lost only one starter and two low-scoring reserves from last season, and they return their two high-scorers: senior guard Tia Presley (19 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) and junior guard Lia Galdeira (18.5 points, 4.8 rebounds per game). Starting center Shalie Dheensaw (7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), junior guard Taylor Edmonson (5.4 points per game) and starting junior guard Dawnyelle Awa 5.1 points, 3 rebounds per game) are also back.

Cougar newcomers this year are intriguing. Throughout her tenure at the school, Daugherty has struggled to attract caliber players. This year, as she has in the past, she went international to fix the problem. Four of the seven freshmen are from overseas, and all have extensive experience playing for the national teams of their respective countries.

Bianca Blanaru is a 6-foot-5 center from Romania who originally signed with Arkansas, but was released after coach Jimmy Dykes was hired. Louise Brown, a 6-foot-2 forward, hails from Melbourne. Another Aussie, guard Krystle McKenzie, is from Brisbane. Guard Pinelope Pavlopoulou is from Greece, where she was a leading contributor in international competition.

The three U.S.-born newcomers are Ashley Bolston, a 6-foot-2 guard from Medford, Ore.; guard Caila Hailey, from Inglewood, Calif.; and Nike McClure, a 6-foot-3 forward from Tenino, Wash.

"I'll put our class up against any class in the country," Daugherty said at Pac-12 media day yesterday.

WSU's pre-conference schedule is ambitious, as they face Dayton, Nebraska, Michigan, Maryland and Gonzaga. They begin Pac-12 play on the road, Jan. 3, as they take on Arizona.

22 days 'til college season

News keeps flowing:

Missouri senior Morgan Eye is eying an NCAA three-point record.

Arizona State hopes to build off their NCAA Tournament experience last season.

Today's Lady Vol report.

Senior Dearica Hamby has a chance to make a lasting impact at Wake Forest.

Tulane wants to go to the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State preview with coach Coquese Washington.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is using a new offense this year.

Wisconsin coach Bobbie Kelsey is excited entering her fourth season.

Utah's Taryn Wicijowski is back for a sixth season.

Louisville and UConn will resume their series in 2016-2017.

North Carolina's history: 18 years of academic fraud to keep athletes playing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Around the nation

SEC media day was yesterday:

SEC coaches roundtable.

Bashaara Graves and Isabelle Harrison are ready to lead the Lady Vols this season.

Experience returns for Texas A&M in the back court.

Georgia returns four starters.

Jimmy Dykes defends his hire at Arkansas.

More college news:

Coach Sylvia Hatchell is back, and the Tar Heels are smiling.

New Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie says his squad has good defense, but needs to work on urgency.

Texas Tech practice report: leadership.

Q&A with Navy coach Stefanie Pemper.

Pro news:

Sky forward Elena Delle Donne talks about her late-season back injury, and how she's spending her winter.

Mo'Ne Davis:

The NCAA says Mo'Ne Davis won't lose her amateur status because of a World Series commercial she starred in.

Pac-12: a conference on the rise

Today was Pac-12 media day, so the news is flowing:

The rest of the Pac-12 doesn't believe Stanford is on the downturn. Despite the lack of Ogwumikes, the Cardinal were again picked to win the conference title.

In the meantime, UCLA is back in the Pac-12 race with one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray are Cal's cornflakes and milk.

Oregon State's Sydney Wiese has fun and stays humble. She and her headband are making an impression.

USC isn't blinded by success.

Karate has helped Washington's Jazmine Davis in her stellar hoops career. At the same time, coach Mike Neighbors hopes to cut down on his "418 mistakes" last year.

Arielle Roberson's injury is motivating Colorado.

New coach Kelly Graves is taking Oregon back to class.

Arizona State is relying on internal improvement.

Utah coach Anthony Levrets believes his team will be much better than expected.

Arizona coach Niya Butts started a summer craze with the cold water challenge.

Washington State coach June Daugherty will put her class up against any other in the country.

Player portraits.

Group shots.

Coach portraits.

There will be no rules changes this year, says coordinator of Pac-12 officials Violet Palmer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of Colorado

This is the seventh in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

Colorado had a rough season last year, and they might be in for more of the same in 2014-2015.

Leading scorer and rebounder Arielle Roberson (12 points, 8.3 rebounds per game) has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. Third-leading scorer Brittany Wilson graduated, as did two key reserves.

Starter Jen Reese, a senior forward (12 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) is back, as is senior guard Lexy Kresl, (8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds per game), senior guard Jasmine Sborov (7.8 points, 4.6 rebounds per game) and sophomore guard Haley Smith (3.5 points per game). Reserve Jamee Swan (8.1 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), a junior forward, also returns. But is it enough?

Last year the Buffs, with the momentum they had from 2012-2013, began the season strong. They won their first ten games and were ranked as high as 11 in top 25 polls before losing to Louisville Dec. 21. After that, they lost 14 of their last 24 games, and finished in a tie for ninth in the Pac-12. It was an epic fall for a team that had looked to be on the cusp of breaking into elite status.

Coach Linda Lappe said Colorado has two main needs right now: leaders and lockdowns.

“We need to improve our leadership and our defense," Lappe said. "Normally, we’re a good defensive team, but that wasn’t the case at times last year. We need to have that leadership on the floor in those late game situations, to execute plays, and to get stops on the defensive end.”

Four freshmen will have to step up fast this season, and maybe none more than the team's two centers - the only ones on the team. Bri Watts, from Fresno, Calif., redshirted last season. Zoe Correal hails from San Francisco, where she helped her high school team win three straight titles.

Brecca Thomas is a guard from Texas who was ranked the 25th best point guard in her class. Alina Hartmann is from Germany, where she is a veteran of the country's junior national program.

Despite the setbacks, Lappe remains optimistic about the year.

“We need to have the commitment to continue to work on our individual game on the offensive side, and our overall strength and fitness,” she said. “I feel like we’re a really strong team right now, just looking at us in the weight room, and I really think that will translate onto the court as we begin practice."

The Buffs will play in the preseason WNIT, which runs Nov. 14-23. They will also face Iowa and Missouri in preconference play. Their first Pac-12 match up will be away at Stanford Jan. 3.

Teams bracing; new SEC analysts

Interesting bits today:

Oklahoma State's optimism is high, even without Tiffany Bias.

Maryland braces for changes.

Tennessee coach Holly Warlick says discipline is the key to winning.

Georgia Tech has signed coach MaChelle Joseph to a contract extension through 2019-2020.

Aleighsa Welch is the glue that cements South Carolina.

Minnesota senior Rachel Banham is working to cement her legacy.

Rina Hill took a big risk in her journey from Japan to LSU.

For guard Madison Ristovski and Michigan, music contributes to their success.

New SEC game analysts this season will include Carol Ross and Gail Goestenkors.

Team Ogwumike:

Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike have launched their own youtube channel.

Judge rules to strike Summitt reference in lawsuit

The lawsuit of former employees against the University of Tennessee can't include a reference to former basketball coach Pat Summitt, a judge has ruled:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A judge has ruled that former Tennessee director of sports medicine Jenny Moshak and two ex-Lady Vols strength coaches must remove a reference to former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt from their complaint in a lawsuit against the university.

The complaint in the lawsuit filed by Moshak, Heather Mason and Collin Schlosser said Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart "forced Coach Pat Summitt into an involuntary early retirement." Summitt has indicated it was her choice to step down for health reasons in April 2012, and she remains on Tennessee's staff as head coach emeritus.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of Oregon

This is the sixth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams for the upcoming season.

It's been a long haul for Oregon basketball the last 11 years. Since a 2002 WNIT win in former coach Bev Smith's first year, the program has languished in under-achievement. They hit a low in 2012-2013, recording the fewest wins in Duck basketball history under Paul Westhead, whose contract wasn't renewed last spring.

It is a dream scenario for Oregon fans that the coach hired to take the reins of the program was Kelly Graves, who turned Gonzaga from a fledgling squad to into a national powerhouse. In 14 years, Graves guided the Bulldogs to ten straight West Coast Conference Championships, eight consecutive 20-plus win seasons and numerous NCAA Tournament bids, for an overall record of 317-176.

Oregon athletics officials said they had sought Graves from the beginning. So established is Graves as basketball coaching royalty that UO athletics director Rob Mullens declared that the school was "honored" to have him as the Ducks' coach.

Graves' approach in the first few weeks of practice is a graceful balance of optimism and realism.

"We have a lot of challenges, and a lot of work to do," he said.

Primary among them is creating a defense, as Oregon was ranked last among Division I schools in that category last season. Graves is known for defensive teams, but he quickly realized with the Ducks that they'd never run a basic defensive shell drill in practice.

"My system is different from their old system, which was that each player had a niche, or specialized roles," Graves said. "We're trying to teach the whole player to every player, so they can do multiple things on court."

Despite the learning curve, Graves is enjoying himself. He also sees potential.

"It's been a challenge, but I really like my team," he said. "We're going to get better throughout the year."

Oregon graduated two starters last year, but three of their top four scorers return: junior forward Jillian Alleyne (21.4 points, 16.2 rebounds per game), sophomore guard Chrishae Rowe (21.6 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) and senior guard Katelyn Loper (13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds per game).

A bright spot for the Ducks is that junior guard Lexi Petersen (10.2 points per game) is back after tearing her ACL early last season. So is junior guard Jordan Loera, who also missed last year after sustaining a knee injury in training camp.

Newcomers include freshman Tatum Neubert, a forward from Colorado who averaged 22.7 points per game as a high school senior; freshman guard Lexi Bando - a high-scoring Eugene native; and France native Marie Berthel, who is a walk-on that current players noticed during open gym.

Other returning bench players will have to step up, as none averaged more than 2.7 points per game last year. Graves is taking it in stride, as he's been here before.

"At Gonzaga we had sell-out crowds for years, but that wasn't always the case," he said. "There were maybe 50 people in the audience when I first started. There were nights when I didn't even want to go."

Graves is keenly aware of the Oregon basketball tradition, which meant raucous, full arenas in the 1980's and 1990's. Under the last few years of Westhead's tenure, attendance at Duck games has fallen considerably.

"They used to come," he said of the fans. "We can build up the crowds to what we used to have."

Part of Graves' confidence comes from the three people on his coaching staff. Jodie Berry was his assistant at Gonzaga for 11 seasons before following him to Oregon. Nicole Powell also followed him after spending her first year as his assistant with the Bulldogs. She is an active WNBA player. Mark Campbell is new to the Ducks, after spending the last four years at Oregon State, where he helped coach Scott Rueck build a strong program from scratch.

"I have an amazing staff," Graves said.

He is also buoyed by the facilities, which include a new arena and numerous amenities, and the school itself.

"The University of Oregon has everything: facilities, support, academics," Graves said. "The 'O' brand is the most powerful brand in college athletics right now. This was the only place I would have left Gonzaga for."

Graves said he loved his time in Eastern Washington, but had felt lately that he was ready for a new challenge. The opportunity at Oregon came "at just the right time."

"I'm excited about this," he said. "Friends keep asking me how I like it, and I tell them, 'I love it!' There's a really cool vibe on campus, and in the community."

The Ducks will face North Carolina, Central Michigan, American and Navy in pre-conference play. They begin Pac-12 play on the road Jan. 3, as they face USC.