Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pac-12 preview: Stanford University

This is the fourth in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Last season was nothing but good for the Stanford Cardinal, as the Pac-12 powerhouse won 30 games for the 14th time, and first since 2014. The Cardinal’s 32 wins tied for eighth in program history, and they set a school record with 212 blocks – one better than the previous year’s 211. Stanford won with a balanced attack featuring six different leading scorers and three players (Erica McCall, Brittany McPhee, Karlie Samuelson) averaging over 12 points per game for the first time since 2010-11. Seniors McCall and Samuelson received WBCA and AP All-America honorable mention recognition at season’s end.

The team finished ninth in the country in field goal percentage defense (.350), third in blocks (212), and third in rebounds (1,562). They were 20-3 in games away from Maples Pavilion, second in the country in wins (road/neutral), and third by percentage (.870). To top it all off, the Cardinal made their 13th overall trip to the Final Four and their seventh in the last 10 years. Last year marked their 31st NCAA Tournament appearance and 30th straight. Their 13 Final Four appearances are the third-most by any school, and their overall appearances rank third behind only Tennessee (36) and Georgia (32).

McPhee, a senior this year, was one of the main catalysts in the Cardinal’s run last season, leading the team in scoring during the tournament with 16.8 points per game and shooting 44.4 percent from behind the arc. She said the postseason energized her and other returnees.

“I think going to the Final Four and getting a taste for it left us returners wanting more,” McPhee said. “We want to go back and we want to go further. I think that’s kind of a drive for us. And I think we’re trying to create that culture for our freshmen, too.”

Coach Tara VanDerveer, entering her 32nd season at Stanford, hopes to fill the void left by McCall and Samuelson with the addition of a stellar freshman class. It includes forwards Alyssa Jerome, Maya Dodson, Estella Moschkau, and guard Kiana Williams.

Returnees include sophomore guards Dijonai Carrington, Mikaela Brewer and Anna Wilson; sophomore forward Nadia Fingall; junior center Shannon Coffee; junior guards Marta Sniezek and Alexa Romana; and senior defensive specialist Kaylee Johnson.

Junior Alanna Smith also returns, coming off a season where she averaged 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. She also made the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team.

VanDerveer said McPhee’s senior year has come quickly.

“It’s hard to believe. Even (conference commissioner) Larry Scott said to me, ‘Brittany’s been playing forever at Stanford,’” VanDerveer said.

With ten returners and five new faces, the focal point for the Cardinal will be their team chemistry. Last season they didn’t have a superstar, and instead banded together to play team basketball. VanDerveer said they were successful because of they way they functioned as a unit on court.

“Chemistry was a big reason why our team was successful,” she said. “People are unselfish, and they’re very hard workers. If they do that, I think that gives us a chance. We’ll have different stars every night.”

“I think we’re going to be a win by committee. It’s going to be different people doing different things. I’m counting on great chemistry and great leadership and the things that helped us be successful last year.”

The players build this their on-court relationships with off-court get-togethers on the weekends.

“We always try to go somewhere on the weekends during the summer,” McPhee said, “We just try to get out and get in a different atmosphere. We went to Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes last weekend. It’s just fun to get to know each other. It’s a lot of time you don’t have any cell service you can’t even listen to the radio. So you really get to learn a lot about each other that you otherwise wouldn’t talk about like on the court. So it’s a lot of fun.”

VanDerveer feels like the season has already started.

“We have a great group. We’re playing a very competitive schedule, and we’re very, very excited,” she said.

- Candice Evans

Conferences, teams, players gearing for the season

College conference news:

The Big Ten is going back to 18 conference games.

The ACC will also go to 18 games.

The Gamecocks' rise, Lady Vols' fall reflect SEC's major changes.

College team news:

Can UCLA and Oregon build on their NCAA Tournament successes?

Can Maryland win a fourth straight Big Ten title?

Tennessee can be great, but it'll come down to chemistry and coach Holly Warlick.

How the Lady Vols plan to solve their consistency issues.

The Gamecocks' title is just part of the new SEC swagger.

South Carolina is moving on from last year, even if no one else will.

More rounds coming in the South Carolina-UConn series?

Five things to know about Michigan after a 28-win season.

Virginia Tech and Virginia seek improvement.

Ball State looks forward to the season.

Getting better is the key for South Dakota.

Experienced UMKC is ready to write its story.

Missouri sets their expectations high.

Expectations for Pitt are low.

College player news:

South Carolina is seeing a waiver to allow Tennessee transfer Te'a Cooper to play right away.

A'ja Wilson's goal is to be national player of the year.

Confidence was a process for West Virginia's Chania Ray.

College coach news:

Gary Blair and Stephanie White say South Carolina's lack of a White House invite is a disgrace.

Other SEC coaches also spoke out.

Mississippi coach Matt Insell's engagement has mellowed his high-strung self.

Bonus:

Columbus schools and the NCAA are partnering for a friendly "Read to the Final Four" competition.

Recruiting news:

Hot New York recruit Emily Engstler has committed to Syracuse.

SEC and ACC media day

SEC media day:

The best of SEC media day.

The Gamecocks are hungry for another title.

Mississippi State hopes to maintain last year's level of excellence.

Consistency is key for the Lady Vols this season.

Georgia coach Joni Taylor expects consistency in her third year.

Excitement surrounds the Crimson Tide's season.

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell is ready for a fresh start this year.

Auburn isn't straying from their defensive identity.

Gary Blair said last season was one of the most rewarding.

Mike Neighbors is excited to take the reins at his alma mater.

Missouri is excited for the year.

Ole Miss enters the season with more experience.

Coach Stephanie White wants her Commodores to trust their instincts.

Florida aims to build a legacy in coach Cam Newbauer's first year.

LSU is excited about their improved depth and size.

ACC media day:

Write up on the day's events.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

23 days to go

College team news:

Mississippi State is set for a power struggle in the SEC.

Three preseason questions for the Bulldogs.

Is it national championship or bust? And three other questions facing South Carolina.

UConn's Final Four loss was the best thing that's ever happened to them.

Marquette has too much depth for the Big East to handle. They have been picked to win the Big East.

More than posts, Stanford's system is big on versatility.

Michigan is ready to build on their WNIT title.

Gonzaga are the heavy favorites to repeat as WCC champions.

Florida is sorting out their roster.

UNCW has heightened optimism, hope and expectations under new coach Karen Barefoot.

College player news:

Clemson's top scorer, Nelly Perry, will miss the season after shoulder surgery.

Nearing a scoring record, Michigan's Katelynn Flaherty is ready to take on a new challenge.

Kia Nurse is preparing for her grandma year at UConn.

Southern Illinois' Kylie Giebelhausen has grown into a leadership role.

College coach news:

Pepperdine's new assistant coach is Roland Jones Jr., aka the husband of head coach Delisha Milton-Jones.

Pedal for Pat Summitt:

Six WNBA teams have joined the "Pedal for Pat" initiative via social media: the Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun, Dallas Wings, Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm.

WNBA team news:

The New York Liberty have received the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award for the season.

WNBA coach news:

A new role in Las Vegas comes at the right time and place for Bill Laimbeer.

Bonus:

Seton Hall alum Brian Stanchak is the founder of the BDS Agency.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pac-12 preview: Washington State University

This is the third in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Last season for the Washington State Cougars can only be described as hopeful, as the team went through their share of ups and downs, which included several injuries.

They finished the regular season 12-18 overall and 6-12 in Pac-12 Conference play, earning a tie for seventh place after being picked to finish tenth. One of their six wins was against the nationally-ranked UCLA Bruins in January. The 82-73 victory was the biggest upset in program history.

The influx of injuries meant that many of WSU’s losses were decided by two possessions or less, or in overtime. Every time they gained momentum, there would be another injury – and on a catastrophic scale. The Cougars didn’t lose one or two players to injuries last season; they lost four key contributors, in top scorers Lou Brown (10.4 ppg), Bobi Hristova (14.7 ppg), freshmen Cameron Fernan (4.7 ppg) and Chanelle Molina (12.8 ppg). The squad was eventually rolling 11 deep while competing in a conference that does not hold back punches.

“I think one of the unique things is when something bad happens, there is a lot of good that comes out of it, and there was a lot of good that came out of it for our team,” coach June Daugherty said. “I think the mental toughness that this group showed last year, not losing one (or) two, but three starters and then a fourth player for the season like they did, they just bounced back. They did not allow anyone to make excuses for them.”

WSU earned an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), and they delivered winning the first four rounds before being eliminated by Georgia Tech in the semifinals.

Daugherty said the magical run was a blessing to the team.

“I think it has definitely built a lot of confidence into our players,” she said. “They’re a lot more hungry about continuing to play in postseason.”

The momentum carried into offseason workouts and practices.

“We’ve had the best spring and summer that I’ve witnessed in my 10, 11 years here at Washington State,” Daugherty said.

While the offseason is general focused on player development and recruiting, it also is the time for welcoming new players. The Cougars add three new players this season, but also return with many familiar faces.

Newcomers include power forward Taryn Shelly and guard Celena Molina. Redshirt freshmen Jovana Subasic will also play her first season for the team, after sitting out her first year with injury.

As they have in recent years, WSU has many international players on the roster.

“Basketball is a global game. Because of FIBA TV, now Facebook, the Internet, you know, there is quite a bit of interest from the student-athletes overseas. They can check us out,” Daugherty said. “Pac-12 Networks is in 30-some countries, and they see our games.”

The Cougars return senior guard Krystle McKenzie (Australia), senior guard and co-captain Pinelopi Pavlopoulou (Greece), redshirt junior Louise Brown (Australia), junior center Maria Kosturkova (Portugal), sophomore guard Johanna Muzet (France), and redshirt sophomore forward Borislava Hristova (Bulgaria).

Sophomore guards Kayla Washington, Chanelle Molina, Cameron Fernandez, and junior guard Alexys Swedlund return, as well.

Senior guard and co-captain Caila Hailey returns after receiving recognition last year as one of the conference’s top defenders. Last season she averaged 2.1 steals per game, which ranked third in the Pac-12. Hailey said she was surprised to be named a captain.

“I’m always the one that’s trying to learn,” she said. “I feel like once I started taking outside of basketball more serious, and I felt like that kind of carried over, I’m way more mature than I was my freshman and sophomore year. I know the system inside and out now.”

The Cougars WNIT run sparked a new level expectation among the team.

“We have new goals this year with everybody coming back. There are high expectations, and as it should be,” Hailey said.

Daugherty is excited for the upcoming season.

“We are so very excited about the season,” she said. “We have a great schedule and a great team.”

- Candice Evans

SEC stacked, and Stars have a new home

College conference news:

South Carolina tops the SEC in the preseason poll.

The Big East Conference has signed a multi-year deal to have the conference tournament at Wintrust Arena.

College player news:

Why UConn's Kia Nurse is a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Tania Davis will be the X-factor this year for Iowa.

Ohio State's Makayla Waterman expects a bigger role this year.

College coach news:

Scott Rueck's contract at Oregon State has been extended five years, through the 2026-2027 season.

Towson's Diane Richardson took the long, winding road to her first Division I head coaching job.

Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors says all his players are starting at the same level.

Recruiting news:

Imani Lewis has committed to Wisconsin.

WNBA franchise news:

Earlier today it was made official: MGM resorts has bought the San Antonio Stars, and they're moving to Las Vegas.

Can the league find a loyal fan base in Sin City?

The move could make the WNBA more visible.

WNBA player news:

Basketball never stops for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

WNBA coach news:

Katie Smith can't wait to challenge Bill Laimbeer.

Pat Summitt:

More on Michelle Marciniak's ride for her former coach.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Before week three of college practice

College team news:

Podcast: UConn is motivated by their loss to Mississippi State last year.

Northern Colorado has been picked to win the Big Sky Conference.

College player news:

Baylor's Kalani Brown and Kristy Wallace enjoyed international play this summer.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves says the sky is the limit for freshman Satou Sabally.

Temple's Alliya Butts is out for the season with an ACL tear.

College coach news:

Bonnie Henrickson is reconstructing Cal State Santa Barbara from the ground up.

WNBA news:

Las Vegas power brokers are unaware of a WNBA team's move there.

Podcast with Nneka Ogwumike on mental strength.

Pac-12 preview: the University of Southern California

This is the second in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

If the 2017-2018 USC Trojans had a movie title, it might be "Back to the Future."

The program enters the season with a new-but-not-new coaching staff, a sixth-year senior, plenty of upper-class leadership and a bevy of young talent. With experience and a fresh approach, they aim to better the 14-16 overall finish they had last year, which also tied them for last place in the Pac-12, with a 5-13 showing.

One day after USC's conference tournament first-round loss last March, coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke was let go. After almost a two-month search, the school re-hired Mark Trakh, who coached the Trojan women from 2005-2009. Senior guard Sadie Edwards said Trakh wasted no time in establishing team goals upon his arrival.

"From day one coach Trakh and our new staff were very clear about their vision for our program moving forward," Edwards said. "I think every single day, we're taking a step towards that goal. The foundation we're building right now is very strong, and it's founded on togetherness and unselfishness. Giving your best effort every day, every second. Being consistent is a big thing for them."

Something else that is major is that senior guard Jordan Adams will be back for a sixth season, after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA last spring. Adams tore her ACL after playing - and starting in - only five games last season. Trakh said his return coupled with hers was ironic.

"I'll tell you a story about Jordan," Trakh said. "I started coaching her and she came up to me. She said, 'coach Trakh?....you realize that you recruited me when you were a coach the first time here.' That's how long she's been at SC."

Edwards (9.2 points per game) returns to the starting five, as does senior forward Kristen Simon (14.6 points, 8.7 rebounds per game), and three others who started most games between them after Adams was out. Sophomore guard Minyon Moore (11.7 points, 3.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds per game) is poised to electrify fans again with her hustle play. Junior guard Aliyah Mazyck (6.6 points per game) and sophomore guard Ja'Tavia Tapley (5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds per game) will likely pick up where they left off, as well. Moore's sister, senior guard Mariya Moore, transferred to USC from Louisville last spring and will sit out the year due to transfer rules, but she practices with - and helps - the team.

Also returning to the Trojans are sophomore forwards Asiah Jones and Dani Milisic, and junior forward Marguerite Effa. USC has one new international player in junior guard Candela Abajon, from Spain, and one true freshman: guard Shalexxus Aaron.

The team worked all summer and is focusing on consistency. Simon said they should not be underestimated.

"We're ready for this year, we're ready," she said. "I think we'll shock a lot of people."