Friday, October 31, 2014

A ghost story with the news

News items

Ohio State freshman Chelsea Mitchell has torn her ACL and will miss the season.

Baylor is forging a new identity this season.

Iowa has depth to match their talent.

Pitt preview.

Anticipation is in the air for Western Kentucky.

Butler basketball has a renovated arena.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will be on hand tomorrow to celebrate the launching of her apparel line.

Happy Halloween!

Lady Vol hoops ghost story.

Pac-12 preview: Oregon State University

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

The good news for Oregon State is the bad news for everyone else: the team that roared to a 24-11 record, tied for second place in the Pac-12, played for the conference tournament championship and made it to the NCAA Tournament's second round last season is the only team in the Pac that returns all five starters this year.

Sophomore guard Sydney Wiese (14.3 points, 4 assists per game), junior guard Jamie Wiesner (12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds per game), junior center Ruth Hamblin (9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4 blocks per game), senior guard Ali Gibson (9 points per game) and junior forward Deven Hunter (8.8 points, 7.4 rebounds per game) are all back, as are four reserves. Three promising newcomers round out a solid roster that already has both players and coaches chomping at the bit to begin play.

“We’re excited for the upcoming season," fifth-year coach Scott Rueck said. "Coming off the year we had last year, we know we have the experience to add to the talent we have on our roster. We have an incredible group of young women, and it feels great. They want to compete, they want to win and they expect to, and that's a far cry from what we started with."

Expectations for the Beavers seem to be high all the way around. Earlier this week media members picked OSU to finish third in the Pac-12. Rueck, who started rebuilding the program in 2010 with two players, said the team's goal this season is still the same: improvement.

"I think this year’s focus is to be better than we were a year ago, and to get better every day," he said. "Every coach in the world says that, but that’s where our focus has to be. Our team is determined to improve, and it’s evident in practice already. We left last season hungry, and that hunger has carried over into this season.”

Rueck said team members left "pained" after their NCAA Tournament exit, and their hunger has carried over into this year. Wiese agreed, and said players are working together as a team.

"Every player is important, first or last off the bench. Everybody has to bring their A game every day," Wiese said. "(There are) no days off. We have to want it more than our opponents. We had a lot of fun last year, but we are trying to eliminate the mistakes and up our free throw percentage from last year."

Joining the strong OSU core this season is junior guard Jen'Von'Ta Hill, a transfer from Hutchinson Community College. She averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game en route to the NJCAA Final Four. Freshman Alex Kalmbach played for state champion Bishop O'Dowd in Oakland, Calif. Another freshman, 6-foot-5 center Marie Gulich, hails from Germany, where she has played for several of her country's national teams. Only two bench players from last year were lost.

It's been a journey for Rueck from Division III George Fox University, where he guided them to a national championship, back to his alma mater. Injuries plagued the Beavers in his third season, but their potential began to shine the year after that. Last season the development of Canadian center Hamblin paced the team, as she set a school record with 141 season blocks and the second triple-double in OSU history.

"This hasn't happened in a while in Corvallis," Rueck said. "The word is spreading; there's a buzz. Something special is going on. More and more people are going out of their way to make it to our campus."

Last year OSU's pre-conference schedule included a match up with Notre Dame - one which the Irish had to pull out towards the end. This year the Beavers take on #3 Tennessee Dec. 28. Rueck said he relishes such learning experiences.

"We saw what Notre Dame did for us, what it taught us, where we needed to go, showed us where we belong," he said. "This is another opportunity to compete with the nation's elite; the uncomfortable environments are where we grow."

OSU also faces North Carolina before beginning Pac-12 play Jan. 3, at UCLA.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

High expectations

Iowa is embracing high expectations. Teammates Samantha Logic and Melissa Dixon are inseparable. When senior captain Kathryn Reynolds speaks, the Hawkeyes listen.

A day in the life of Michigan's Nicole Elmblad. The Wolverines are smaller this year, so coach Kim Barnes Arico is focusing on defense and rebounds.

Q&A with Louisville coach Jeff Walz.

Arizona State is returning enough players to be contenders this year.

Penn State will have three captains this season. Q&A with senior Tori Waldner.

Louisiana Tech season preview.

UCLA coach Cori Close talks about memorable moments.

First impression: Tennessee red shirt Diamond DeShields.

Florida practice update with coach Amanda Butler and junior guard Carlie Needles.

Out of the blue: North Carolina's Stephanie Mavunga.

Returnees and newcomers are blending at Sacramento State.

Minnesota's introduction on media day.

Have you checked out Cal's new website yet?

Preseason AP top 25 poll

Interesting list:

1 Connecticut (35) 875
2 South Carolina 824
3 Notre Dame 798
4 Tennessee 749
5 Texas A&M 702
6 Stanford 645
7 Duke 577
8 Baylor 573
9 Texas 532
10 Maryland 531
11 Kentucky 522
12 Louisville 505
13 North Carolina 504
14 Michigan State 433
15 California 423
16 Nebraska 314
17 West Virginia 306
18 DePaul 301
19 Iowa 236
20 Oregon State 183
21 Oklahoma State 158
22 Dayton 95
23 UCLA 86
T24 Rutgers 65
T24 Syracuse 65

South Carolina is a super power now.

Should Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Stanford, Duke and Baylor be ranked that high?

Texas and DePaul on the rise.

Nice looks for Oregon State and UCLA. It looks like voters are counting on the Bruin freshmen class.

Rutgers and Syracuse that high?

Four Pac-12 teams, baby!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of California, Los Angeles

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

The UCLA Bruins were hitting their stride in 2012-2013, coach Cori Close's second season. They knocked off Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals to play for the championship. After that they went on to the NCAA Tournament, where they went to the second round before bowing out.

Then prior to the following season, down went four players: forward Kacy Swain, guard Kari Korver, and two of the incoming freshmen, Paulina Hersler and Savanna Trapp. This came on the heels of losing three of their starters and top scorers.

The Bruins struggled, finishing the year 13-18 and 7-11 in conference play for eighth place. After a first-round loss in the Pac-12 Tournament, their season was done.

But throughout the tough times, there was always a flicker of promise in the background. This season, they are here - the number one 2014 recruiting class in the country, aka UCLA's big freshmen: #6 Jordin Canada, #8 Lajahna Drummer, #9 Recee' Caldwell and #26 Monique Billings.

More good news for the Bruins is that lll four injured players are back, as are five others, including junior guard Nirra Fields (17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds per game). There are also two additional freshmen in Kelli Hayes and walk-on Chrissy Baird.

This season is looking much brighter for UCLA.

Close took time out on Pac-12 media day last week to discuss the outlook for her team in 2014-2015. She said the freshmen have, at times, been "jaw-dropping":

So last season was a rough one especially due to player injuries, how is the health of the Bruins this year?

Cori Close: “We are healthy. I think we are healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally. I think there is so much team spirit and optimism that when we had our scout guys leave and go to class a couple days ago we were able to keep practicing against each other. I think we are in a great spot. We don’t have Corinne Costa back at a 100% yet (torn MCL), but she will be back soon and everybody else is in a really good situation.”

Along the similar lines of players with injuries coming back, how has it been having Kari Korver and Kacy Swain back at practice?

Cori Close: “They have just grown with their maturity as so many players do. They see the game from a different angle when they have to sit out and watch it, so I actually think they are moving better than before they got hurt. Especially Kari Korver. She had to work on body mechanics and efficiency and really understand how to be explosive. I think they both are really in a great situation, athletically and mentally. They appreciate their opportunity to practice and play. Their basketball IQ has risen for as much film as they have had to watch and so it has been a huge impact to have both of them back.”

As for an overall team response, how will they rebound from the difficult season?

Cori Close: “It is not just a rebound because actually we felt like we had some major victories in establishing the culture of sustained excellence that we want. So on the one hand, last year was really hard and it was exhausting and it was frustrating and you felt like so much was out of your control, but on the other hand the growth was incredible to watch the players really take on our philosophy and our vision of the program.”

“I thought we saw a shift in last year’s team, and that was a real turning point for our program. It was like at the banquet,when Kari Korver’s dad said, “did we win a national championship and I missed it?”On one hand, everything was so hard, but on the other hand, there was so much to celebrate because of the growth, comeraderie, team spirit, and perseverance in the midst of difficulty and how we responded to adversity. We feel like it was a huge shift in our mindset, so I don’t know that we need to rebound from last year. I think we need to build on the positives from last year. Now we are just adding more bodies, but it is more important to me that we made a shift on the inside and that really is going to propel us going forward.”

“I think I have been quoted saying I wrote a letter to all the freshmen last spring, we are ready to soar and we are a healthy program because of the sacrifice of last year’s team. We are in a building process and so I don’t think we are rebounding from last year, I think we are just building from what we gained in character, perseverance and vision, and it’s going to be a really fun building process.”

What are your goals for the season?

Cori Close: “This is going to sound cliché as a coach, but my goal is to grow every single day and to become a team and not just counted individuals. I want our players to really see their opportunity to grow and improve, and I want them to become a better teammate every day, and that’s it. I think we don’t really set championship goals. We want to have a championship day. We want to have a championship culture. We want to have a championship growth. That’s really how we’re measuring things, so we honestly have not set one long term goal. We obviously have a lot of optimism about who we can become, especially going into Pac-12 play and the NCAA tournament. I can honestly tell you that the only goal I think about and the only goal I communicate to our team is that we have to grow every day, and we have to become better teammates every day.”

What are the freshmen bringing to the team, and how have they impacted the program?

Cori Close: “Well I think the freshmen are versatile and explosive. There have been some jaw-dropping moments by the freshmen in practice so far. But there have equally been some overwhelmed faces, because it is overwhelming. In our mind as coaches, the freshmen have been all that was advertised, especially in their character, in their championship work ethic and in their fun spirit. They are as advertised and better.”

“At the same time, they also are just freshmen, and they are overwhelmed. They are thinking too much, so it’s slowing down their game. It’s like Jordin Canada said, “what used to be an “ooh-ah” pass that got through for an assist is now a turnover. She’s having to adjust to everything. What used to be easily rewarded is harder, and she’s having to go to a whole other level. And all of our freshmen are experiencing that. They’re learning a brand new system, so instead of just being this fluid athlete that easily glides and makes decisions, they are sort of slowed down and a little bit mechanical right now, and that’s going to take some time to overcome.Individually, they are spectacular, but more than that, they’re spectacular teammates, and they’ve been so well received by the veterans.”

“Obviously with Recee’ Caldwell and Jordin Canada, there’s nobody else we need to run the point. We want Dominique Williams to play the wing spot because of her ability to rebound, so really they are the only two point guards. They have to mature the fastest, because they’ll be shouldering the biggest amount of pressure. They’ll be forced into the national stage to lead the team with the ball in their hands right off the bat. And I think they are capable. They are doing great and are growing every week. But I think it will be the hardest on them. But Recee’ is already one of our most vocal players. She understands the game. She studied our system before she even got here, so it was like she already knew what we were going to ask her to do before we did it. Her challenges have been on the defensive end and away from the ball and learning to read screens and play defense, whereas Jordin is opposite of that. Her impact with the ball in her hands as well as the impact extensively on the ball is so explosive, but she’s not comfortable in the system yet and being vocal and as leader.”

“Lajahna Drummer is one of our most efficient players. She has one of the highest shooting percentages on the team (we track that in practice). When we do competitive drills, her team wins. She knows who she is, and she doesn’t try to do things she can’t, but she can do a lot. She’s pretty explosive and has incredible instincts. I expect her to be one of our best rebounders. She needs to chase down out of area rebounds and to give incredible effort. And she’s a very competitive and aggressive person, so I really need her to bring that on the court at both ends of the floor.”

“Monique Billings has probably had the most jaw-dropping plays, whether it be a blocked shot, or a rebound or some finish on the break. She has incredible athleticism. If we get a defensive stop and you let her get out ahead of the ball, you are in trouble. She can catch in midair, finish with both hands, she can really get after it. She’s had a couple -- I don’t typically react too much on plays in practice -- but she’s gotten a few fist pumps from me because the plays were really, like, wow! I think for her it’s going to be having her knowledge of the game and her fundamentals catch up to her athleticism. That’ll take some time, but her ceiling is limitless and it’s been fun watching her athleticism impact our team.”

“Kelli Hayes is exactly what I thought. She comes from such a great high school program and she has been taught the intensity it takes to succeed at the next level. In our very first scrimmage, she went to another level. She just started to play the way she knows she can, and just made great rebounding plays. She was one of the leading rebounders in that game. I thought she fed the post really well. She tried to make a lot of plays with the ball in high school, but what we need her to do is to use her ability to cut. She’s a great player without the ball so I need her to really do a lot without the basketball. What I really appreciate most about Kelli is that she has a very fun personality and she’s a great teammate. She’s been one of the most consistent in her work ethic and has been so consistent in her ability to do the right thing and to lead and to bring people with her, which is exactly what I knew she was going to bring. She’s a glue person. She links the pieces together. She’s going to be the one that surprises people the most.”

“Chrissy Baird is a walk-on from Illinois. No one ever really talks about her, but if you ask our team about what teammate they really can depend on or rely on, she’s the one they’d talk about. She’s already making an impact. They already know she can be counted on. She wants to impact others and serve the team. If you were to ask our team who you would go to when they really need something, they would say Chrissy is one of those players. She may never be in the stat sheet the same way the others will, but the people who really know the inside."

More storylines

As the college hoops world turns......

Maryland coach Brenda Frese is looking to replace the rebounding prowess of her recent graduates.

Nebraska's seniors are bringing experience and a winning tradition to the team this year.

Freshman Katelynn Flaherty is opening up options at Michigan.

Washington's Aminah Williams is an irreplaceable rebounding machine.

Virginia's freshman trio is making a quick adjustment.

Q&A with Oregon State guard Sydney Wiese.

Lipscomb's Ashley Southern is developing into a mentor for the team.

Minnesota's new black uniforms are a hit with players. The Gophers also have an improved Amanda Zuhui B.

Hmmmm.....feud between Louisville coach Jeff Walz and Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell in the works?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

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

Charli Turner Thorne proved herself again last year.

After a sabbatical during the 2011-2012 season that left some angry and the rest doubting her, the Sun Devil's coach for 17 seasons again took her team to the NCAA Tournament last year, where they went to the second round. They tied for fourth in the conference, which is around where Turner Thorne has had them for most of her tenure.

This year the question is what Arizona State will do after losing two starters - the top two scorers - and one key reserve. So far, Turner Thorne and her coaching staff are trying to breed consistency and defense.

"We’d like to establish some consistent scorers within our core group," she said. "In our opinion as coaches, that is what needs to evolve to help separate ourselves and be better than we were last year.”

"We are committed to being a better defensive team than we have been the last couple of years.”

Returning starters are sophomore forwards Sophie Brunner (7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds per game) and Kelsey Moos (7.3 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), and senior guard Promise Amukamara (6.9 points per game). Junior guard Katie Hempen (8.3 points per game) and junior guard Elisha Davis (5.4 points per game) are also back.

The good news for ASU is that they play team basketball. Departed players didn't score that much more than the rest of the roster, and there wasn't a lot of separation between scoring averages from one end of the bench to the other. Thus, it will be easier to make replacements, and it could be dangerous for opponents if several players step up this year.

The Sun Devils will also be boosted by a stellar class of newcomers.

Joining them is junior guard Peace Amukamara, the sister of Promise. She transfers from Mesa Community College, where she helped lead the program to an NJCAA Division II Championship for the first time last season, and was the player of the year. Other newcomers include freshman center Ayanna Edwards, who was 14th at her position in her class; guard/forward Nicole Iademarco, the 36th-ranked guard; and guard Tia Kanoa, who helped her teams in California and Hawaii win state titles.

Turner Thorne is clear that she and her team's eyes are on going dancing next spring.

"Expectations for ASU women’s basketball are always very high," she said. "We expect to win a lot, we expect to compete for the Pac-12 championship – we absolutely think we have a team that can do that this year – and we really want to advance in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Sun Devils open their season Nov. 14 with a tough opponent in Middle Tennessee. They also face Miami, SMU, and could face either Georgia Tech or Green Bay in a Thanksgiving Tournament. They open Pac-12 play at home Jan. 3, as they host the University of Washington.


What happens when you graduate one of the best classes in college hoops history? You get a lot of "needing to step up" issues:

Penn State is taking the team approach to replacing their graduates.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is on the look out for leaders.

Ole Miss is looking to their freshmen to replace their point guard.

USC had a "clinic" yesterday.

Duke is ready for new faces to step up.

Sara Hammond is taking the leader role at Louisville.

NCAA transfer rules are a blessing in disguise for Tennessee's Diamond DeShields.

Courtney Ekmark resurfaces for her first year at UConn.

Liz Brenner is a multi-sport, all-star Oregon Duck.

Aryanna and Kelana Gilbert are enjoying a family reunion at Chattanooga.

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck has received an extension on his contract extension: it now runs through 2020.

You liked that Kentucky performance? Coach Suzy Merchant went Beyonce' for Michigan State's midnight madness.

Pac-12 approves sweeping changes on scholarships, health care and more

The Pac-12 made landmark reforms today that include guaranteed four-year scholarships and health care coverage after graduation.

ESPN breaks it down:

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has said that figure likely will range between $2,000 and $5,000 per athlete depending on the university. The 65 institutions in the five major football conferences -- granted autonomy by the NCAA earlier this year -- and 15 representative athletes will vote on the issue at the group's inaugural meeting in January......

Starting in 2016-17, if an athlete leaves an institution in good standing and has completed at least 50 percent of their degree, they can "return and receive necessary educational expenses for the remaining terms of the agreement."

Medical expenses for athletes injured during their college careers will be covered up to four years after they leave school under a rule that goes into effect in 2015-16. Athletes who transfer between Pac-12 universities will be able to receive athletic scholarships immediately "without restriction."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pertinent questions

NCAA women's basketball on Facebook has started a nice tradition: they're counting down the days until tip off with a question. Here they are so far, starting Oct. 16:

Georgia Tech's Kaela Davis set the ACC's freshman scoring record last year, and she wasn't satisfied. What will she do for an encore?

Another Sweet 16 appearance just won't do for Nikki Caldwell's Tigers. How far can LSU go?

Can the Fighting Irish return to a fifth straight Final Four?

YES or NO: Can South Carolina knock UConn off its throne?

Fill in the blank: Texas A&M will finish __________ in the SEC standings.

YES or NO: Are you happy to see the NCAA Championship first and second round sites go to the top 16 seeds?

Will a healthy Crystal Bradford return Central Michigan to the NCAA Championship field of 64 in March?

Is Cal Women's Basketball's star power enough to topple preseason favorite Stanford Women's Basketball in the Pac-12?

Alex Harden led Wichita State to a school-record 26 wins and second-straight sweep of the Missouri Valley Conference championships. What can the bracket-busting Shockers do for an encore?

Leading the unanimous favorite from the Atlantic 10, can Andrea Hoover and the Dayton Flyers make a deep run in March?

As a freshman, Aerial Powers led Michigan State to a Big Ten title. Does the sophomore have the ability to lead the Spartans to a Final Four?

Great questions.

Here are some of mine so far:

This is coach Kim Barnes Arico's third season at Michigan. Is this the year they make a serious run in the playoffs?

Will Kansas rise back up?

How will Stanford replace passion and leadership like this?

Will Tennessee return to super-elite status?

Will Ohio State get it together?

When are Bowling Green, St. John's, Green Bay and St. Bonaventure going to take the next step?

More Pac-12: How will the Huskies and Bruins look healthy, and how different will the Ducks look with coach Kelly Graves at the helm?

Will West Virginia stay on top?

How different will Kentucky be with a new assistant coaching staff?

Can Louisville be relevant considering what they've just lost?

Is coach Marlene Stollings going to be the difference at Minnesota?

What will the Big Ten look like with the new teams?

Is this finally the year for Texas?

Nineteen days til tip off.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pac-12 preview: Stanford University

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

The biggest mystery in the Pac-12 going into the season is what Stanford will look like this year. Conference coaches picked the Cardinal to win the conference again, but the fact is that no one will know for sure until they step on to the court.

For starters, Stanford is Ogwumike-less for the first time in six years, with the graduation of Chiney Ogwumike last spring. Not only did the sisters lead the team statistically, but they carried it and kept the Cardinal relevant for the past three seasons.

After the graduations of Jayne Appel in 2010 and Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen in 2011, the team has not reloaded as it has traditionally, leaving the roster thin. The Ogwumikes propelled Stanford to the Final Four in 2012, and Chiney Ogwumike guided them back last season, after having stepped up in her sister's absence beyond anyone's expectations.

But there were cracks in the pavement last year, with a late-season loss to Washington and an unprecedented semifinal loss to USC in the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Cardinal's anemic roster this season is being downplayed. But the loss of Chiney Ogwumike, who averaged 26.2 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in her senior season, is severe. Also lost is Mikalela Ruef (7.1 points, 9.3 rebounds per game). Senior point guard Amber Orrange is now the leading scorer at 10.3 points per game, followed by sophomore Lili Thompson (8.3) and senior forward Bonnie Samuelson (7.3). All other returnees average 5.2 points per game or less. Much less, in some cases.

Of course, Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer is taking the pro-active approach. She's scrapped her years-old "triangle offense" for a more perimeter-oriented approach that will put the offensive emphasis on Orrange.

Stanford also has three new freshmen who could contribute right away: guard Taylor Rooks, ranked 19th in her class, guard Brittany McPhee, ranked 25th, and forward Kaylee Johnson, ranked 30th.

Whether or not the Cardinal will stay atop the conference depends upon who, if anyone, will step up. Orrange has shown quiet leadership since her freshman year, and Thompson is promising because of her youth. Samuelson will likely be made a starter with them. But all three will have to increase their production substantially, as teams who survive significant player losses do so when others fill in the gaps.

VanDerveer acknowledges that it will be a whole new Stanford this year.

"Everyone has been working extremely hard throughout the summer and in practice thus far and we’re looking forward to the season," she said. "It will be a different look for us, but we are going to win by committee and will be doing some new things on the offensive end that will lend itself to having a more balanced attack."

The Cardinal jump into the fire their second game, as they take on Connecticut. They also face Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee before beginning conference play Jan. 3, against Colorado at home.

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.

College, WNBL teams working it out

Illinois coach Matt Bollant is looking for the correct combination.

First-year coach Katy Steding is ready to make her mark on the Boston University program.

There will be no Iowa homecoming for Maryland coach Brenda Frese or Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer this year.

UConn junior Moriah Jefferson is trying to meet expectations.

Siena guard Brianna Logan is out for the season with a torn ACL.

UAlbany's roster will be smaller this year.

Missouri has a few questions to answer.

Harvard freshman Kirby Porter blogs about her first days at college.

Professional news:

Cappie Pondexter and other WNBA players lead a stream of talent into the WNBL season in Australia.

Melbourne's star, Rachel Jarry, is out for the season following knee surgery.

Kristi Harrower will take an encore and play a final WNBL season.

Monica Wright says God helped her overcome criticism after she broke her engagement to NBA star Kevin Durant.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of Southern California

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

To say Cynthia Cooper-Dyke's first year as USC's coach last season exceeded expectations is an understatement.

Having lived near the basement of the Pac-12 with a losing record for the last several years, the Trojans soared to a 22-13 finish and tied for fourth place in the conference. Improbably, they knocked off Stanford in the conference tournament semifinals, sending the Cardinal home without a finals appearance for the first time ever. Then USC beat Oregon State in the final, for their first NCAA Tournament berth in eight years.

How to top that? The Trojans won't have it easy this season.

Gone is reliable leading-scorer Cassie Harberts (17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), who had also been the "glue" player for USC during her four years. So is Ariya Crook (16.1 points per game), who was dismissed from the team last month. Four other players have been lost to graduation or transfer.

Three starters return: senior forward Alexyz Vaioletama (8.4 points, 6.9 rebounds per game), junior guard Brianna Barrett (6.5 points per game) and senior guard Kiki Alofaituli (5.1 points per game). Other significant returnees include sophomore guard Courtney Jaco (4.4 points per game) and senior forward Keneisha Horn (3.8 points, 3.1 rebounds per game).

The remaining three bench players - Jordan Adams, Destinie Gibbs and Drew Edelman - and five newcomers will have to step up and learn fast. Cooper-Dyke acknowledged the team will have an all-new on-court cast this year, and that they are rebuilding.

“We’ve lost two big scorers, it’s true, but we treat it much like we would if there was an injury," she said. "We move on and need to find leadership from our returning players. We’re a work in progress this year more than others, but it really is an opportunity for other people to step up. The door is open for other players to be a big part of the success we have this season."

Sophomore guard Alexis Loyd joins the Trojans after transferring from Virginia Tech and sitting out last year. Four high-powered freshmen round out the list of new players: Chyanne Butler, who averaged 17 points per game at Junipero Serra High School in Southern California; McKenzie Calvert of Texas, who was ranked sixteenth in the 2014 class; Kristin Simon of Windward High School in Los Angeles, who was also ranked; and another ranked player, Amy Okonkwo, who was part of the nationally-ranked Etiwanda High School team.

The Trojans will be shorter this season than in recent years, with Edelman the only player at 6-foot-4. Eight guards and five forwards are on the roster.

Cooper-Dyke also made changes to the coaching staff, adding veteran coach Beth Burns as associate head coach, and Taja Edwards, who graduated from Fresno State in 2011. The only assistant coach retained from Cooper-Dyke's first year was Jualeah Woods, who coached with Burns at San Diego State.

USC will waste no time making adjustments, as they travel for their first game to take on SEC power South Carolina. Other pre-conference opponents include Saint Mary's, Cal State Northridge, Sacramento State and Oklahoma State. They open Pac-12 play Jan. 3 against Oregon at home.

So it begins

Kentucky and UConn kicked off their midnight madnesses tonight.

Wildcat coach Matthew Mitchell put on a one-of-a-kind performance, channeling singer Bruno Mars.

UConn recap.

There was madness at Maryland.

Rhode Island players showed off their dance moves at Rhody madness.

Hoya madness went down at Georgetown.

Creighton had Bluejay madness.

Ole Miss got things rolling with a "square jam."

Alabama State had tip off madness.

More college news:

Targets are on the back of Middle Tennessee once again.

Bowling Green is young, but undeterred.

UMass is focusing on defense.

Some mid-day madness

Some midnight madnesses happening around the country tonight. In the meantime..............

Is Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell the coolest college hoops coach?

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico says the new Big Ten feels like the old Big East. A new season beckons for the Wolverines.

New leaders must step up for Nebraska.

Michigan State hopes to overcome injuries again.

The NCAA's snub of Rutgers last year motivates them going into the Big Ten.

Q&A with Iowa coach Lisa Bluder.

UConn forward Morgan Tuck is thrilled to be back from injury.

Stacy Dales will be the first woman to have her jersey retired at Oklahoma. The ceremony will be at halftime of the team's Nov. 21 game.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of Arizona

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

Coach Niya Butts' six-year tenure with the University of Arizona has been full of ups and downs. Perhaps the lowest valley was last season, which saw the Wildcat roster depleted with injuries. Chief among them was second-leading scorer Alli Gloyd's ACL tear just weeks before the season opener, which put her on the bench for the year.

Arizona ended with an overall record of 5-25, and they were 1-17 in Pac-12 play for last place.

The sting of last season still seems to be on Butts' mind, as she emphasizes pushing forward this year.

“It’s over. That’s all I want to think about. It’s behind us," Butt said. "We just want to move forward. Obviously last year needs to serve as a reminder because it’s obviously somewhere you don’t want to go back to. Right now we’re just hoping we can stay injury-free, and right now we’re pretty healthy.”

Gloyd (9.4 points, 6 rebounds per game) is back, which is good for the Wildcats both on and off the court.

“It’s such a relief," Butts said. "Practice is a bit louder. She talks on defense and talks on offense. She’s constantly communicating with our teammates on the sidelines letting them know what she sees. That’s something you want from one of your leaders.”

Last year's top scorer, senior guard Candice Warthen (11.1 points per game) is back, as are two other starters: LaBrittney Jones (7.4 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) and Breanna Workman (6.7 points, 4 rebounds per game), both sophomore forwards. Other key returnees are junior guard Keyahndra Cannon and redshirt freshman Dejza James, who also sat out last season injured.

Though it wasn't the ideal situation, Butts said Jones and Workman learned and grew from getting a lot of minutes last year as newbies. They also became leaders.

“It was valuable," Butts said. "When you’re talking about a kid getting 20, 30, or 40 minutes a game for a freshman that’s now a sophomore, that’s basically the level of a junior as far as her experience on the court. That has served us really well, especially during the early stages of summer workouts, now going into fall practice. We feel really good about our leadership.”

The Wildcats will need it, as they lost five players from last year, including starters Kama Griffitts and Carissa Crutchfield. The seven newcomers this season may help fill the void.

The most heralded recruit is guard Taryn Griffey - the daughter of baseball great Ken Griffey. She was ranked 86th in her class and 21st at her position by ESPN. A year ago this month she injured her knee and was forced to miss her senior year, after missing her junior season with injury as well. Griffey won't be ready to play immediately, but the goal is for her to suit up by the time Pac-12 play begins.

“The one thing we want to do is make sure we’re really careful with her," Butts said. "Even it was a close timeline for us, we would probably push it back just to be safe. We want to be extra careful and give her body time to heal and recover.”

Three of the newcomers are junior transfers - all guards. Lauren Evans transferred from Virginia Tech, where she made 28 starts as a freshman. Chy Cunningham and Malena Washington came from Paris Junior College and Tyler Junior College, respectively.

Rounding out the freshman class are three guards: JaLea Bennett, a standout sharp-shooter from Texas; Cherice Harris, who played for nationally-ranked Etiwanda High School; and Charise Holloway, a high-scorer from St. Mary's High School in Northern California.

The freshmen are still getting used to the pace of the college game.

“They’re very talented. We still have to light fires under them every now and then, but the talent is definitely there," Butts said. "We just have to work on getting them to be more consistent.”

The point guard position starter hasn't yet been decided.

“It’s up for grabs," Butts said. "Obviously Candice Warthen is a returner so she’ll be playing on the ball a lot, but we want to move her off the ball a little bit so that it opens up that spot for some of the young ones to get in there. Washington and Harris are possibilities to fill that spot, but it all depends on how they come out and perform in practice.”

The floor leader position will be especially crucial this year. Though long on guards, the Wildcats have only four forwards, and are short on size. Speed will have to be the name of their game.

Among their pre-conference opponents are Texas Tech, Wake Forest, UAB and UT Martin. Arizona opens Pac-12 play at home Jan. 3, against Washington State.

ESPN releases season broadcast schedule

2014-2015 ESPN game broadcast schedule.

OOOweee!!! I'm getting excited now.

I'm intrigued by South Carolina at Duke, Louisiana Tech at LSU and West Virginia at Texas in pre-conference play.

More college news:

Georgia is already ahead of schedule, and aims to return to the top of the SEC standings.

South Carolina's "Gamecock confidential," episode one: rise and shine.

Oklahoma begins the season with a defensive emphasis.

Iowa looks to continue their success with senior Sam Logic.

New VCU coach Beth O'Boyle is creating a culture of success.

George Washington wrapped up training sessions with the United States Marine Corps this past Saturday.

Lipscomb coach Greg Brown previews the season.

Pro news:

Becky Hammon will be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame next year.

Starting the day's news

UConn's late start? No worries.

Q&A with Louisville coach Jeff Walz.

Adding to their ring collection won't be easy for Nebraska.

Kari Korver and UCLA have great momentum.

Arizona's freshmen have a chance to lead.

Oregon State is bringing an International flavor into the season.

The two alleged sides of former Boston University coach Kelly Greenberg.

Mount Saint Joseph freshman Lauren Hill:

The NCAA has allowed the school to move their season opener up two weeks so terminally-ill Lauren Hill can play.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of California

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

This is Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb's fourth season at the helm of the program, which has been punctuated so far by the Bears' trip to the 2013 Final Four. But this year may be the most challenging yet for the East coast native and her team, as personnel have become fewer and younger.

Gone is Afure Jemerigbe (12.1 points per game), Gennifer Brandon (8.2 points, 8.5 rebounds per game), Hind Ben Abdelkader (4.9 points per game) and Mikayla Lyles (4.2 points per game), leaving ten players on this season's roster.

That slate includes four seniors, three sophomores and three freshmen - a youthful team not unlike the one Gottlieb inherited her first year in Berkeley. These Bears are all hers, however, having played for her their entire careers, or transferring to play for her.

A light roster means no one can take a night off. The young group will also have to learn fast.

Gottlieb was the Pac-12 coach of the year in 2013, and has lead Cal to a tie with Stanford for the conference title each of the last two seasons. She is a master of utilizing the resources she has, and her plan for this year looks to be much the same.

"I think championship teams are built less by stockpiling as many players as you can, and more by putting the right pieces together and then working to make sure they fit in a cohesive way," Gottlieb said. "You have to work at chemistry, you have to build trust, and you have to drill what cohesion looks and feels like on the court."

The good news for the Bears is that top scoring senior duo Reshanda Gray (16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds per game) and Brittany Boyd (14.7 points, 6 assists per game) return. Both broke the 1,000-point mark last season and both were named to the all-Pac-12 team. The chemistry between them has become better each year, and both have matured into team leaders.

Justine Hartman and Brittany Shine both return for their last year, as well. Hartman switched her initial verbal and Shine transferred to Cal to play for Gottlieb and her staff, which includes associate head coach Charmin Smith and Kai Felton, who are well-regarded by players.

Another bright spot is sophomore forward Courtney Range (5.6 points, 6.2 rebounds per game), who turned heads last season and was an honorable mention on both the Pac-12 team and freshman team.

The newcomers may hold the key to the future for Cal. Two are from their own backyard, and come with chemistry already built between them.

Mikayla Cowling is a forward/guard from Saint Mary's College High School, who was ranked eleventh in her class. Guard Gabby Green, ranked twelfth, played with Cowling at the same school. The third freshman, Penina Davidson, comes from New Zealand, where she played on that country's national team.

Gottlieb said she likes the look of her squad, which consists of all California natives, except for Davidson.

"I love our mix of players: we have seniors that understand leadership and toughness, sophomores that have taken the next step in their skill and preparedness, and freshman that have the luxury to just come in and make plays will a solid foundation of veterans lifting them up," Gottlieb said.

The growth of the conference doesn't leave much time for a learning curve, however.

"The Pac-12 is as dynamic and talented as it has ever been in my tenure on the West Coast," Gottlieb said. "There is talent and good coaching all across the board. It will certainly be a challenge to finish at the top, but that’s what the goal is for Cal Basketball."

The Bears host their own tournament on Thanksgiving weekend. They also play Kansas, Louisville and Old Dominion before beginning conference play Jan. 3, against Utah at home.

The news net is spread far and wide

Miami has extended coach Katie Meier's contract through 2020-2021. In return, she donated $75,000 to women's athletics at the school, and challenged donors to match her.

Duke's Ka'lia Johnson is ready for her senior year.

UConn's Moriah Jefferson has a chance to step into a leadership role.

Middle Tennessee is searching for Ebony Rowe's replacement.

Ole Miss preseason notebook

The New Mexico Lobos are ready to rewrite history.

Missouri sophomore Davionna Holmes has left the program.

Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson and her team are eager to get started this season.

UNCW is poised for a breakthrough season.

Northern Iowa is trying to build off a strong 2013-2014.

Ohio State alumni and WNBA great Katie Smith joins the Big Ten Network as an analyst.

Coach Patrick Harrington:

The Northwest Florida State community gathered yesterday to remember coach Patrick Harrington, who died from injuries he sustained in a car accident two weeks ago.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pac-12 preview: the University of Washington

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

The Huskies may be poised to see their resilience pay off this season.

Hammered by injuries two years ago, and then seeing their coach hired away by Ohio State, Washington bounced back in 2013-2014 to go 20-14 and sixth in the Pac-12. They made it to the quarterfinals of the WNIT before bowing out.

The Huskies' top four scorers return this year: Kelsey Plum, who electrified the conference with her play and her consistency, averaging 20.9 points per game as a freshman last season; fellow guard Jazmine Davis (18.8 points per game), a senior; junior forward Talia Walton (11.1 points per game); and senior forward Aminah Williams (7.4 points per game).

Coach Mike Neighbors, who was an assistant coach for two years at Washington before taking the head position, said making up for the versatility and reliability of the graduated Mercedes Wetmore will be hard.

"You don’t replace a player who graduates as the all-time leader in games played," Neighbors said. "You hope younger kids learned from her example and can collectively fill the role."

But the door is wide open for the six returning bench players and four freshmen to step up. Neighbors said the bar is set.

"We return everyone else and add some really nice pieces, so our expectations will be very high," he said. "I think the Pac-12 is as deep as I have seen it since being a college coach. We hope we can become a team that is in the NCAA talk come March."

Junior guard Heather Corral (5.7 points per game), sophomore forward Katie Collier (3.8 points per game) and sophomore forward Chantel Osahor 2.7 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) are notable returnees. Joining them are four freshmen: Kelli Kingma - the sister of two-time All-Pac-12 team member and Washington three-point single-game record holder Kristi Kingma; Khalia Lark from nationally-ranked Mater Dei High School; Hannah Johnson from Bishop Alemany in Los Angeles; and local product Mackenzie Wieburg.

Just as exciting for the Huskies right now is the fact that they're starting the season healthy, with a full roster.

"At this time have no 'season-type' situations," Neighbors said.

They also have a core who has played together for a long time, and assistant coaches Kevin Morrison and Adia Barnes who, like Neighbors, have been there four years. Neighbors said the Huskies' main focus is taking care of the details that it takes to win more games.

"We must improve on consistency, which I think will come from the added depth," he said. "We had enough 'good wins' last season to be an NCAA tourney team. We must eliminate the let downs to be the team we want to be."

Neighbors knows exactly what he wants to see on the court.

"Rebounding and shot selection will determine key for us to be that team," he said.

Washington faces Oklahoma, Florida State, San Diego State and Texas A&M in preconference play. They kick off their Pac-12 slate Jan. 3 on the road, against Arizona State.