Monday, October 31, 2016

Pac-12 preview: the University of Utah

This is the eleventh in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

Lynne Roberts guided Utah to an 18-15 record last season in her first year as head coach. Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics.

The Utah Utes smashed expectations last season, going 18-15 overall and seventh place in the Pac-12, despite being picked to finish eleventh. Lynne Roberts, in her first year as head coach, guided the team to their first winning season since 2012-2013 and their first postseason berth in three years. They advanced to the third round of the WNIT.

Utah returns four starters but lost point guard Danielle Rodriguez (9.6 points, 4.1 assists per game) to graduation. Roberts said the team will have to work hard to fill her shoes.

"You don't replace your program's four-year starting point guard and the player who was the identity of the team in the public's eye easily,' Roberts said. "But all of our returners had tremendous off-seasons and are ready to lead."

Junior forward Emily Potter (15.1 points, 10.2 rebounds per game), senior wing Paige Crozon (13.1 points, 8.2 rebounds per game), sophomore wing Malia Nawahine (9.1 points, 3.4 rebounds per game) and junior wing Tanaeya Boclair (7.3 points, 4.8 rebounds per game) may be formidable in their returning starter roles. Junior forward Joeseta Fatuesi is a reliable returning reserve, as is guard Erika Bean.

Utes newcomers are a diverse and exciting group.

Sophomore wing Daneesha Provo, a Clemson transfer, will make her much-anticipated debut this season. Junior guard Tilar Clark was an All-America standout at Salt Lake Community College. Freshman wing Megan Jacobs could contribute early, according to Roberts, and freshman guard Kiana Moore will take over the point guard spot with Bean.

Junior forward Wendy Anae returns this year after sitting out last season with a knee injury.

Sue Favor: The Utes surpassed expectations last year. How are you going to bottle that momentum to carry forward this season?

Lynne Roberts: I'm not too concerned about how we did last year and therefore how much better should we be this year. Last year’s group achieved because 1.) we stayed healthy, and 2.) they bought in to what we were doing and worked harder than they ever have. Honestly, I think that’s the formula for reaching your potential as a team, no matter what the circumstances are. That said, I’ve been extremely impressed with this group’s continued work ethic. They committed themselves this off season in a way they had never done before, and I’m excited to see how that pays off for them. I really like them – they work hard and have great personality. I want to enjoy the year.

Sue Favor: Who are the veterans/leaders we should look for?

Lynne Roberts: Emily Potter: played the entire summer with Canada basketball – learned a lot – has matured on and off the court as a leader and player.

Paige Crozon: Our only senior and one of the best kids you’ll ever meet. Worked really hard this summer – it’s going to be hard to not have her on the floor with everything she does for our team.

Tanaya Boclair: Tay had maybe the most productive off season in terms of commitment and improvement. I am so proud of her and the hard work is already really showing in practice. I anticipate this to be a breakout year for her in the Pac-12.

Sue Favor: How are the newcomers and returnees adjusting to the system?

Lynne Roberts: We had two redshirts last year that I count as “new”: Daneesha Provo and Wendy Anae. Provo is a 6-1 wing that brings us long, athletic depth on the perimeter that we didn’t have last year. She is very good - can shoot, attack, and really defend. Anae is a 6-3 athletic post that, again, is that depth we didn’t have. She plays her tail off and both Daneesha and Wendy will allow us to do some things defensively we weren’t able to do last season.

Tilar Clark: junior college All-American, 5-11, lanky, athletic scorer.

Megan Jacobs – 6-1 freshman and Kiana Moore, a 5-8 freshman. Both are adjusting to Pac-12 play, but I anticipate them both to contribute and play this year.

Again, all of our newcomers bring more length, athleticism, and scoring ability to our roster. And while they are still learning and adjusting to the system, I’m excited about what they’ll bring to our team.

Sue Favor: What are your goals for the team this year?

Lynne Roberts: I’m a process coach. I honestly don’t do end result goals, as I’ve learned the hard way that they often backfire. Our goals will always be, year in and year out: 1. Stay healthy, 2. Stay committed and loyal to each other and the process, and 3. Get better every week. If we do those 3 things, we’ll reach our potential!

What is this group’s potential this season? Not sure....ask me in March.

Utah takes on Montana State, St. Mary's, BYU and Weber State before opening conference play Dec. 30 at UCLA.

The college news onslaught begins

College team news:

Defense will be key for Indiana's progression this year.

Newcomers are expected to contribute at North Texas this season.

Oregon plans to exceed expectations.

Notre Dame preview.

Wyoming has spent the last three weeks defining roles and positions.

New-look UConn will take the court for the first time this season tomorrow night. They will be in the spotlight.

ESPN's preseason top 25 rankings.

College player news:

A Juco coach who bled blue helped Evelyn Akahtor fall in love with Kentucky.

Oregon State's freshmen are ready to continue the program's success.

Katelynn Flaherty's passion for the game fuels her prolific scoring at Michigan.

Rebecca Greenwell was showing out yesterday at Duke's scrimmage.

Blair Schaefer brings leadership to Mississippi State.

Washington guard Kelsey Plum is headed to Connecticut for ESPN/NCAA Media Day.

Hampton's Malia Tate-Defreitas is expected to be ready for the opener after knee surgery.

UConn was fun to watch, but five-star recruit Desiree Elmore saw her future with Syracuse.

ESPN's top 25 players, 21-25.

College coach news:

No Tyler Scaife causes Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer to think of the 2001-2002 season.

An era has ended at UConn, but coach Geno Auriemma's aura carries on.

Jersey retirements:

Rutgers will retire Cappie Pondexter's jersey Dec. 1.

WNBA player news:

League MVP Nneka Ogwumike was honored by her former high school a few days ago.

Tamika Catchings' new job is leading the Indiana Colts.

Candace Parker podcast.

Coach’s Chair: Kevin Borseth, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

My interview with the longtime Phoenix coach.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pac-12 preview: Washington State University

This is the tenth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

The Washington State Cougars are poised to have yet another mediocre year in 2016-2017.

They lost five players from last season, including one transfer, and they bring in five freshmen that include two international athletes, continuing a trend coach June Daugherty has had in place for years.

Sophomore forward Borislava Hristova, from Bulgaria, (16.3 points per game) is the Cougars' bright spot. All of the other eight returnees average 5.5 points per game or less, and five of them hail from other nations.

This is Daugherty's tenth season as head of the WSU program, where she has a 107-177 record. Last spring Colorado dispensed of coach Linda Lappe after five years, and Arizona let coach Niya Butts go after eight. But Daugherty's contract was extended two years ago to 2018-2019. It is puzzling, to say the least.

The Cougars went 14-16 overall last season and 5-13 in the Pac-12 for ninth place, which is about where they usually are. The average-to-low team performances that precipitated Daugherty's arrival is no doubt why the program has trouble attracting and keeping recruits. Three of the athletes who graduated last spring averaged 6.5 points per game between them. One of the program's best-ever, Lia Galdeira, left in 2015 after her junior year to play overseas.

This year's freshmen include Hawaii natives Cameron Fernandez and Chanelle Molina, and Kayla Washington of Southern California. Johanna Muzet is from France and Jovana SubaĊĦic comes from Serbia.

During Galdeira's last year in Pullman she pushed the Cougars to some surprise wins, including a pair over cross-state rival Washington. Perhaps it is in this spirit that lead Daugherty to schedule the preconference opponents for her team that she did this fall.

WSU will take on San Francisco, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Maryland, San Diego, Gonzaga and Kentucky before beginning Pac-12 play Dec. 27 against the Huskies in Seattle.

Some great nuggets

College team news:

DePaul is a great fit for a sparkling new arena.

Takeaways from North Carolina media day.

Penn State's youth will play an important role this season.

Rutgers preview.

St. Bonaventure preview.

College player news:

Cornell senior Nicholle Aston is Living Truth as an out athlete.

College coach news:

Texas coach Karen Aston will participate in Women's Basketball National Media Day at ESPN HQ this week.

New Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White is stumping for the school like she's in an election.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pac-12 preview: California

This is the ninth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

After graduating program greats Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd in 2015, the Cal Bears knew they were in for a rebuilding season the following year. Coach Lindsay Gottlieb characterized it as a year of lessons.

"We started well and ended well, but were disappointing in the middle," she said.

Cal went 15-17 overall and 4-14 in the Pac-12 for a tenth-place finish. They made it to the semifinals of the conference tournament, but lost to UCLA in overtime. They didn't receive an NCAA Tournament bid.

The good news for the Bears this fall is that they return all but one player, and add three talented freshmen to the mix.

Pac-12 freshman of the year Kristine Anigwe (20.5, 9.3 rebounds per game) is back, and the bad news for opponents is that she's even better.

"She's our most-improved player," Gottlieb said. "I've never had a kid who loved basketball so much and worked so hard."

Senior guard Courtney Range (13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds per game), junior forward Mikayla Cowling (11.4 points, 4.5 rebounds per game) and sophomore guard Asha Thomas (8.3 points per game) round out the returning starters. Also back is junior forward Penina Davidson (5.7 points per game) and three reserve players.

Freshmen include forward Jaelyn Brown, the 54th best player in the nation in the 2016 class; Mi'Cole Cayton, who was ranked 78th overall and No. 17 among guards; and forward CJ West, the 15th-best post player. Gottlieb is excited about all three.

"Brown and Cayton are both tenacious defenders," she said. "West is both physical and smart."

The optimistic Gottlieb has seen many different scenarios in her five years as Bears coach. Last season was another where freshmen and sophomores dominated the roster. This year the team is more experienced and very familiar with each other.

"Our sophomores, juniors and seniors have been through a lot of battles and won't rely on the freshmen as we've had to in the past," she said. "The freshmen will get a chance to be freshmen."

Gottlieb said Cal is excited going into the season.

"We're hungry and competitive," she said. "Our male practice players are making us better, too."

The Bears will take on San Francisco, Nebraska and Oklahoma before beginning Pac-12 play Dec. 29 at Arizona.

Appetite whetting

14 days 'til college season.

College team news:

Washington has a one-two punch in Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor.

Florida is practicing with the Marine Corps.

Stanford is catching fire on the recruiting trail.

Butler will lean on their youth this season.

Duquesne preview.

Florida State preview.

Olympic memories aren't fading for UConn's Geno Auriemma and Kia Nurse.

College player news:

Tennesee's Diamond DeShields: "Today is our only focus."

Jessica Shepard goes into her second season as Nebraska's leader.

Raigyne Moncrief excels on and off the court for LSU.

College coach news:

New contract negotiations and a new Rutgers facility has lead to a new Vivian Stringer.

Q&A with Penn State coach Coquese Washington.

WNBA news:

The Sky has fired coach and general manager Pokey Chatman.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016 WNBA season was an odyssey

Season overview.

View of a Championship season from behind the voice recorder.


College team news:

Rutgers is trying to replace Tyler Scaife's points.

Today Syracuse earned the highest preseason ranking in program history.

Do fans need to temper their expectations for UConn this year?

USA Today preseason top 25 team outlooks.

College player news:

Diamond DeShields hopes to bring a championship mindset back to the Lady Vols.

Kathryn Westbeld is a key piece of Notre Dame's basketball puzzle.

Loyola Chicago transfer Taylor Johnson is bringing stability and experience to Louisville.

Penn State freshman Siyeh Frazier hopes to become a defensive dynamo for the Lions.

Carlie Wagner applies lessons learned from Rachel Banham at Minnesota.

College coach news:

Niele Ivey has been promoted to associate head coach at Notre Dame.

WNBA news:

Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike had a lively interview on SportsCenter.

The WNBA title is starting to feel real for Chelsea Gray.

USA Today top 25 coaches preseason poll

USA Today top 25 coaches preseason poll:

1. Connecticut
2. Notre Dame
3. South Carolina
4. Baylor
5. Maryland
6. Ohio State
7. Texas
8. Louisville
10. Stanford
11. Mississippi State
12. Florida State
13. Syracuse
14. Tennessee
15. Washington
16. Arizona State
17. Oregon State
18. Oklahoma
19. Kentucky
20. Miami-Florida
21. DePaul
22. Michigan State
23. Texas A&M
24. Florida
25. West Virginia

This poll tends to be more accurate than the AP top 25 poll, but Arizona State and Oregon State in the mix?

Are they not reading my Pac-12 team previews?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

This is the eighth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

After an unexpectedly good season last year, Arizona State forages into unknown territory in 2016-2017.

Three starters are gone in Katie Hempen, Arnecia Hawkins and Elisha Davis (9.3, 8.9 and 8.4 points per game, respectively), which was the Sun Devils' back court. Several reserve players also graduated, opening up spots for the five freshmen on this year's roster.

The good news for ASU is that top scorer Sophie Brunner (10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), a senior forward, and senior center Quinn Dornstauder (9.7 points, 4.5 rebounds per game) are back, as is key reserve Kelsey Moos, a senior forward. Sara Hattis, a graduate transfer forward from Texas, will also play this season.

But with no juniors and four sophomores, the Sun Devils' polarized mixture of older and newer players makes it unlikely they will duplicate last year's tie for first place in Pac-12 regular-season standings and top 10 ranking. Coach Charli Turner Thorne, entering her 20th season, said this year's team is figuring out how to work together.

"We have incredible senior leadership with Kelsey and Sophie, and with Quinn Dornstauder," she said. "We have this amazing experienced front line to go with all of our babies in the back court. So I will say, our babies in the back court are really, really good. Incredibly talented. So we just have a great combination of just youth and experience."

ASU fell early in the conference tournament last spring, and then made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Moos said that loss made them want to play again right away.

"I think that was one of our main motivations going into the off-season," she said. "That was our drive. As soon as we ended that game, we were instantly hungry for this year, and we knew we wanted more in this season."

The freshmen include guards Sydney Goodson, Relli Richardson, Kiara Russell and Robbi Ryan, as well as forward Jamie Ruden. They are all competing for spots.

"In terms of on the court, it's coming. It's coming," Turner Thorne said. "I think...the veterans are helping the young players. But the young players - Reili Richardson, Kiki Russell - those are probably our two leading candidates (for starting positions). One of them as our starting point guard."

"They have some incredible strengths and we're feeling very confident about them developing. Robbi Ryan really, really dynamic guard. Of course we've got Sabrina Haines returning. I think that core group in and of itself is really coming along."

The Sun Devils' youth doesn't mean they're shying away from a strong preconfernce schedule: they take on Maryland, St. John's, Kentucky and Middle Tennessee before opening Pac-12 play Dec. 30 at Stanford.

Let the college basketball copy flow

College team news:

Syracuse: what is orange collar basketball?

The Maryland Terps are seeing more this year.

Cincinnati is out to prove doubters wrong.

New look New Mexico looks to push the pace.

DePaul preview.

Illinois State wants to prove their eighth-place projection wrong.

College player news:

There's no stopping the optimism of Tennessee's Diamond DeShields.

The Gamecocks' Kaela Davis learned the game from her NBA father.

FIU twins Amari and Aajah Hawkins hold family values on and off the court.

Jasmine Weatherspoon's improved versatility is helping Ohio.

Now healthy, Marissa Janning gives Creighton another option.

Sharpshooter Lauren Huggins looks to expand her game for Colorado.

Two LSU players share a sisterly bond.

UConn's Napheesa Collier is healthy going into the season, and Kia Nurse is already in overdrive.

College coach news:

LSU coach Nikki Fargas says "Pat Summitt is still watching over us."

Purdue assistant coach Beth Couture is a fighter and a survivor.

Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy is excited about a more athletic team this year.

Geno Auriemma loves the challenges UConn faces and doesn't plan to retire.

WNBA news:

The Sparks have watched Game 5 "about seven times" since winning it all last week.

Candace Parker reflects on her career.

Swin Cash on her retirement transition.

Sparks celebrate 2016 Championship in style

Yesterday's celebration in pictures and videos.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pac-12 preview: Oregon State University

This is the seventh in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

Oregon State couldn't have had a better season last year.

They set a school record with 32 wins, went 16-2 in Pac-12 play and took a share of the conference title for the second straight season. The Beavers were ranked in the AP top 25 poll all year, rising as high as No. 7 late in the season. They won the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time and hit the NCAA Tournament like bulls in a china shop, with their final performance knocking off powerhouse Baylor to advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history.

OSU won't repeat that performance this year, with three key players gone. But their incoming freshman class provides a glimpse of the future.

All-American and all-everything guard Jamie Weisner (17.3 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) may be the biggest loss for the Beavers, as she could not only score but ignite her team to action. Center Ruth Hamblin's height, at 6-6, will be missed, as will her stat line (11.8 points, 10 rebounds per game). Forward Deven Hunter also graduated, as did reserves Samantha Siegner and Jen’Von’Ta Hill.

The good news for the Beavers is that senior guard Sydney Wiese (12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) will bring her electric play back, and guard Gabriella Hanson (7.8 points, 3.5 rebounds per game) also returns. So does junior center Marie Gulich, sophomore guard Katie McWilliams, and three other reserves.

Coach Scott Rueck said it won't be easy filling Weisner and Hamblin's shoes.

"We will look for others to step up into those roles, as well as the roles of Deven Hunter and Samantha Siegner," he said. "We may look a little different schematically to play to the strengths and characteristics of this particular group."

OSU welcomes the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the nation: guards Kat Tudor and Mikayla Pivec and forwards Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay. Forward/center Tarea Green, will also join the freshmen lineup. So far they are fitting in well, and could make an impact quickly.

"All four of our incoming students have the opportunity to contribute in a significant way this season," Rueck said. "They are already comfortable and learning at a rapid rate. Mikayla Pivec and Kat Tudor are competing at our guard positions, and Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay at the forward spots. These are phenomenal people and athletes.

Rueck said he loves the way the team is shaping up so far.

"I love this team," he said. "The way they compete each day, the way they take care of each other, and the fact they demand elite effort and execution from themselves and each other. I am excited to watch them take on each challenge that comes their way this year."

Known for his attention to detail and high standards, Rueck is expecting nothing less of this year's squad than he did last year.

"Our goal for the season is the same as it is each year and that is for this group to reach their potential as a team," he said. "We have outstanding leadership and they choose to put the team before themselves and that is the prerequisite to achieve that goal."

The Beavers face Idaho, BYU and Southern Utah, among others, before beginning conference play Dec. 30 at home, against Washington State.

Oregon State celebrates their regional win and advancement to the Final Four last March. Photo courtesy of OSU Athletics.

College season beginning to come to the stage

It's quiet today, but slowly, college season creepeth upon us. Thank goodness.

College team news:

Syracuse chilled with fans today at their meet-and-greet ice cream social.

College player news:

Lexi Bando and Maite Cazorla are giving Oregon a talented and experienced back court.

Experience last year has Maddie Simon ready for her second season at Nebraska.

Duke freshman Emily Schubert is out for the season with a torn ACL.

WNBA team news:

The Lynx fell short this season, but they'll be back.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sparks’ journey back to the title has been long, arduous, and unpredictable

I was pretty happy for the Los Angeles Sparks the other night.

When they pulled out the Game 5 win to take the 2016 WNBA Championship, I congratulated each one of them on social media, and I wore a smile on my face for the next 24 hours.

Even though I'm media and don't officially have "a team," I couldn't help but be happy for these women considering all the sad press conferences I've attended since I began covering them in 2010 (not to mention the games I watched before then). You can see pictures I dug out showing one of those interview sessions in my new story:

Sparks’ journey back to the title has been long, arduous, and unpredictable

It was great to see them end a season happy for a change this year. There were times in the past when the sorrow was almost unbearable to witness.

The worst was the 2012 Western Conference Finals loss. The last minute of the game was surreal - a typical Sparks-Lynx back-and-forth match up. Candace Parker had the hot hand on the night, but the decision was made to give Alana Beard the final shot of the game with LA behind by one. I could hear the ball clank on the rim across the arena. Then the buzzer sounded. I sat there blinking, my mouth partially agape, as I tried to register that the season was over. Then Candace Parker was sobbing, walking towards her mother sitting courtside.

The press conference afterward was not fun, nor was the one the following year when they lost to the Mercury in the first round. But in 2014, I noticed a change in Parker and other players. They handled that press conference like pros. Parker acknowledged the Mercury had what it took.

"Swing swing, pass pass - that's a championship team right there," she said.

I saw her in the hallway as I was leaving. We had a few words. Then I paused.

"It's nice to see you so...." I halted.

"Not devastated?" Parker said.

I smiled. "Yeah."

Now this year Parker is acknowledging her past errors and efforts to grow in public interviews.

I love the women in this league. I truly do.

Dust still settling

More on the Finals:

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti won a bet with Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges on the Finals outcome.

Garcetti's statement on the Championship.

Sparks celebration videos.

Duke has that Alana Beard and Chelsea Gray angle.

Minnesota successes were many in their second-place season.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said her team isn't too old to keep winning next season.

She says "something must be done about the officiating in this league."

College player news:

Ohio State's Shayla Cooper has stepped into a leadership role.

Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale has expanded her game.

College coach news:

Dawn Staley never ignores a chance to make her team better.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pac-12 preview: the University of California Los Angeles

This is the sixth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

The UCLA Bruins exceeded expectations and preseason predictions last season with their strongest performance in 17 years. After going 26-9 overall, tying for third in the Pac-12 and losing to Oregon State in the Tournament championship game, the Bruins advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Texas. It was a culminating moment for a sophomore class that were ranked first in the country when they were signed.

UCLA takes a hit this year with the loss of dynamic starting guard Nirra Fields (15 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), as well as center starter Kacy Swain (6.6 points, 6.9 rebounds per game). Key reserve Lajahna Drummer (6.2 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) is also out until at least midseason with a knee injury.

So why did Pac-12 coaches pick the team to finish first in the conference this year? It is for the improvements of the returnees and the strengths of the newcomers.

Junior guard Jordin Canada (16.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.7 assists per game) had a breakout season last year, as she was ranked second in the conference in both assists and steals. Coach Cori Close said Canada has improved even more over the last six months.

"Jordin is realizing that she doesn't need to take that much on. She is distributing the ball and is making better decisions at high speeds," Close said. "She has grown as a vocal leader."

Junior forward Monique Billings (12.7 points, 8.1 rebounds per game) - the other emerging star of 2015-2016 - has also grown by leaps and bounds. Together, Canada and Billings' on-court chemistry was nothing short of explosive last year, and promises to be more so this season.

"Monique Billings continues to take it to another level," Close said.

Key reserve guard Kennedy Burke (5.8 points, 3.7 rebounds per game) has grown steadily, and Close said she expects her to step up this season. Also returning is senior sharp-shooting starter guard Kari Korver (7.9 points, 3.1 rebounds per game) and reserve junior guard Kelli Hayes (4 points, 2 rebounds per game).

Oklahoma transfer Nicole Kornet is ready to play after sitting out last season. Close expects her to surprise.

"She adds such an offensive punch with her ability to shoot the three," Close said.

The Bruins also have two freshmen that could contribute immediately. Guard Lindsay Corsaro averaged 25.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in high school, and was a McDonald's All-American. Forward Ally Rosenblum was ranked 58th in her class and averaged 17.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in her senior year.

Close said the team will miss Fields most on defense, where she wreaked havoc. For that reason, they are stronger right now on offense.

"I feel good because we will play differently, but use our pieces more creatively," she said.

A good sign for UCLA is that they beat their male practice squad on their first scrimmage with them.

"We've beaten the guys before, but never on the first scrimmage," Close said.

UCLA plays Baylor, Michigan and South Carolina before beginning Pac-12 play Dec. 30 at home against Utah.

College news hues

College team news:

Washington aims for a repeat Final Four run.

Kentucky is ready to move past last year.

The Bluegrass hues to Kentucky's roster has positives and negatives.

Impact transfers litter the SEC.

Central Michigan is loaded and motivated.

Size won't deter the mission of Southern Mississippi's front court.

Skill work still comes first at FGCU.

College player news:

Kansas transfer Lauren Aldridge has settled in with Missouri.

South Carolina's point guard spot is Bianca Cuevas-Moore's to lose.

The tale of Makayla Epps, Boom Williams and the beloved belt.

What happens when a bitter rival transfers to your school?

Former Florida State Seminole Angel Gray is making a media career for herself.

College coach news:

The worst day of Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell's life yielded positive results.

Mitchell is looking for more defensively.

WNBA news:

Would the Bay Area support a WNBA team?

More on the Finals

Post finals:

Candace Parker's resume is complete with the title. She is at long last, a WNBA champion.

Sparks coach Brian Agler started last night's press conference by playing "Rocky Top" for Parker.

Nneka Ogwumike got the rebound of her life last night.

Chelsea Gray was the unsung heroine of Game 5.

Minnesota sold out the Target Center and broke a WNBA Finals record with 19,423 in attendance.

The missed call:

"Sore loser or league president someday": Cheryl Reeve's comments on the officiating have stirred strong reaction.

Minnesotans have long been strong on blaming defeat on officials.

....took away from the ambiance at Target Center.

It's time for the WNBA to fix officiating

Earlier this morning the WNBA announced that for the second game in a row, there had been an officiating error:

NEW YORK, Oct. 21, 2016 – Renee Brown, WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, issued the following statement today regarding a play late in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Sparks’ 77-76 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Thursday at Target Center:

“After reviewing postgame video, we have determined that Nneka Ogwumike’s shot with 1:14 remaining in regulation time should not have counted due to a shot-clock violation, and that the referees improperly failed to review the play under the instant replay rules.”

In Game 4 Sunday, referees failed to call the Lynx for an 8-second back court violation, which would have given the ball to the Sparks.

To cast uncertainty and doubt on not one but two games of the championship series of a professional sports league is unconscionable. Not to mention shocking.

It's not like longtime fans of the WNBA, like myself, are unfamiliar with the league's trademark of horrendous officiating. Newer fans have trouble believing me when I tell them it used to be worse, but it did. There were too many games in early days that would leave me enraged afterwards for the terrible and unfair calls. It definitely took away from the game experience.

If officials had made the right call Sunday, I don't believe there would have been a Game 5, as the Sparks would have won. Last night the shoe was on the other foot, as a call on LA was missed. It seems even.

I've never quite got over last year's Western Conference showdown between the Lynx and Mercury, where a foul was called on Phoenix's Noelle Quinn that was later retracted. The call gave Maya Moore a foul shot and Minnesota a one-point win. The Mercury should have won that series, but because of that error, the Lynx went on to win the whole thing.

Games should never, ever be decided by officials, but by play itself. The WNBA has done a great job this season of boosting interest in the playoffs. Their next step now is to clean house and hire some competent referees. The life of the league depends upon it.

Finals Game 5 post-game press conferences

Interesting quotes from last night.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Three weeks til college season!

One great thing about a late WNBA season finish is that college season is just around the corner......

College team news:

Coaches have tabbed UCLA to win the Pac-12 title.

Garnet is the new orange for the SEC.

Mississippi State preview.

Florida State team primer.

North Carolina season preview.

Georgia season preview.

Expectations are rising at Utah.

Colorado looks to rebound this year.

Young Akron looks to continue their winning tradition.

College player news:

High school teammates Jordin Canada and Courtney Jaco don't let the UCLA-USC rivalry get in the way of their friendship.

South Carolina transfers Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis lead the transfer trend.

Now more than ever, Missouri will rely on Sophie Cunningham.

Dominique Doseck is looking to continue in her shooting role at Ohio.

The Canada-to-Utah pipeline is still going strong with Paige Crozon and Emily Potter.

Transfer Taya Reimer is boosting the outlook for Michigan State.

College coach news:

The contract of Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb has been extended through 2020-2021.

SEC coaches see parity - not dropoff - with the Lady Vols.

Charli Turner Thorne hopes ASU isn't exposed during the regular season.

Los Angeles Sparks edge Minnesota Lynx to win championship, 77-76

The Sparks won a classic, 77-76.

Nneka Ogwumike's shot in the final seconds lifted LA to the win.

Star Tribune game story.

Candace Parker said immediately after the game that the win was for Pat Summitt. USA Today story talks about that.

WNBA recap.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve lost her temper criticizing officiating after the loss. She is livid.

WNBA greats picked Minnesota to win the title.

Photo gallery.

Lynx and Sparks speak after Wednesday practice

Four and a half hours til Game 5.

Here's what Sparks and Lynx players said yesterday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pac-12 preview: the University of Colorado

This is the fifth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

Just a few years ago the Colorado Buffs were soaring, and got as high as 11 in the AP top 25 rankings. But it came crashing down the following season, and continued to decline. Last year Colorado went 7-23 overall and 2-16 in the Pac-12, finishing last.

Out went coach Linda Lappe after six seasons, and in came high-energy JR Payne, who had just grown Santa Clara into one of the nation's top defensive teams in only two years as head coach. She hit the ground running in Boulder, and hasn't let up.

The Buffs saw top scorer Jamee Swan (13.5 points, 7 rebounds per game) graduate last spring, but the four returning starters are long on talent.

Senior guard/forward Haley Smith (10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) is what Payne calls "a utility kid" for her versatility.

"She will have to play 2-5 positions," Payne said. "She really fit us (the new coaching staff). We adore her - she's working hard."

Sophomore guards Kennedy Leonard (12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds per game) and Alexis Robinson (7.6 points, 3.2 points per game) are big for Colorado because of their on-court energy. Both received pac-12 all-freshmen honors last season, and Payne said the team will rely on them more than is the case for most second-year players.

"They will have to carry us for a while," Payne said, adding that both players have a deep love for the game.

"They are two of our hardest-working players - they are always in the gym. They want to compete, and they do more than typical sophomores."

Senior guard/forward Lauren Huggins (7.2 points, 2.5 rebounds per game) leads five other returnees.

Colorado's newcomers are a diverse bunch. Guard Quinessa Caylao-Do comes from Bellevue High School in Washington State, where as an ESPN three-star recruit, she lead the school to the state title last year. Eleanor Jones, a freshman forward/center, hails from Great Britain, where she played on the U-18 European Championship Division B Team. Ariana Freeman is a redshirt sophomore guard transfer from Louisville who sat out last season after the move. Monica Burich is a redshirt freshman who missed last season due to injury.

Payne said she and her coaching staff have been hard at work instilling a new work ethic in players.

"The foundation is hard work with discipline, which is harder than it sounds when your goal is to be a tough, physical team," she said. "We practice with a lot of discipline: do your job, run your lane correctly."

"If we can get them to grasp that, then even if we have to suffer some losses, it will be worth it."

Payne said patience is necessary.

"We have to be patient, while holding them to a level of accountability," she said.

But despite the hard work, Payne is ever-optimistic.

"It'll be a fun season," she said. "We're excited."

The Buffs will take on Air Force, Kentucky and Wyoming before beginning conference play Dec. 30 at USC.

One more night, one more game

At this time tomorrow night, we'll know who the WNBA champions are. And like the election, I can't wait until it's over! I hope tomorrow's game is epic.

Finals news:

The Lynx and Sparks prepare to finish an electric finals.

Lynx practice report: experience and grit.

Sparks practice report: some Magic.

Finals series musings from Michelle Smith.

The Sparks play for a title on Minnesota's court, but may have an advantage of their own.

The Lynx are eyeing another attendance record for Game 5.

LA is hoping their Game 4 loss will prove to be a growing experience.

The Lynx are on the verge of an historic finish.

Mature Minnesota has little more to prove.

The Lynx need one more victory to start talking big.

Will LA regain glory, or will Minnesota maintain?

One more game.

Candace Parker ignores the slights she's seen this year, heeding the life lessons of Pat Summitt.

Lindsay Whalen brings out the best in the Lynx.

College team news:

Vanderbilt is embracing a fast-paced style under new coach Stephanie White.

Missouri remains determined despite injuries.

New Mexico's starters have begun to emerge.

College player news:

UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson is looking to fill the void left by the Big 3.

Notre Dame's Brianna Turner hopes for a happy Houston homecoming next month.

College coach news:

Alabama coach Kristy Curry's contract has been extended through 2020.

Recruiting class of 2017:

ESPN's first recruiting class rankings, and look who's on this list! Parity might be coming.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Finals, WNBPA, NCAA and WBCA news on tap

Finals news:

The WNBA Finals are headed to a Game 5 for the second straight year.

The Lynx can match the Comets with a fourth title.

Sparks guard Alana Beard knows how to hold on loosely to dreams, thanks to advice long ago from Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale.

MVP Nneka Ogwumike has a chance to make history Thursday.

WNBA union news:

The WNBPA has new officers: Nneka Ogwumike as union president, Chiney Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon and Monique Currie are vice presidents, and Monica Wright is secrtary-treasurer.

WNBA past:

The rise and fall of the WNBA's first dynasty, the Houston Comets. (The picture of Kim Perrot is a trip)

NCAA news:

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw says Division I might finally see some parity this season.

McGraw is confident and optimistic about her deep squad.

Talented Irish freshmen need to be thinking about defense.

Five games to get excited about this year.

Pat Summitt remembered UT Martin in her will.

New-look Oregon State looks versatile and competitive.

FGCU is still working on skills first.

Shoulder surgery could mean a slow start for Syracuse's Bria Day.

UT Arlington freshman point guard Ericka Mattingly is fitting right in.

Missouri forward Bri Porter will miss the season with a torn ACL.

Jasmine Sina returns healthy and improved for Binghamton.

Former Colorado coach Linda Lappe is now associate head coach at San Francisco.

WBCA news:

The WBCA has formed a Diversity and Inclusion Committee:

Melanie Balcomb, director of coaching offensive analytics at the University of South Carolina, will chair the committee, which is initially composed of the following additional individuals:

Joeleen Akin, associate athletic director/senior woman administrator, Georgia Tech (vice chair)

Kai Duncan, retired high school teacher, coach and contest official

Tracy Ellis Ward, associate commissioner, Big East Conference
AnnMarie Gilbert, head coach, Virginia Union University
Shimmy Gray-Miller, assistant coach, University of Florida
Diane Richardson, assistant coach/recruiting coordinator, West Virginia University
Norman Rodriguez, head coach, John Wood Community College
Julie Shaw, head coach, University of La Verne
Stephanie Stevens, head coach, Gallaudet University
Mike Terry, assistant coach, Wake Forest University
Steve Yang, director of basketball operations, George Mason University
Dana Drew Shaw, attorney, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP

WBCA 2015-2016 report.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pac-12 preview: the University of Washington

This is the fourth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

Coach Mike Neighbors and the Washington Huskies celebrate their regional win and advancement to the Final Four last March. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Athletics.

The Washington Huskies gave new meaning to the term "Cinderella team" last season.

They were picked to finish midway through the Pac-12 Conference, which they did - but not without beating Stanford, UCLA and USC along the way. Then the Huskies began peaking. They lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament to eventual champions Oregon State, and they won a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Then Washington went on an unforeseen run that shocked even themselves. They knocked off Penn, Maryland, Kentucky, and finally Stanford in the Elite 8 to win regionals and advance to the Final Four for the first time in school history.

"I had to cancel all my tee times at the Final Four," coach Mike Neighbors said before the Sunday semifinals last April. "I was telling people, 'I can't make it - we're playing!'"

How will the Huskies follow up such a season? Neighbors, entering his fourth year as head coach, said they will continue where they left off.

"We will continue to live up to the high standards we set last year," he said. "We had a team retreat recently to make sure we're all on the same page."

They have no monikers, special clothing or any other remembrances of their Final Four run.

"Our attitude is, that was last year's team and this is a whole new team," Neighbors said.

And though Washington lost Tournament star Talia Walton (16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds per game) and fellow starter Alexux Atchley, there is still plenty left in the cupboard.

All-American Kelsey Plum (25.9 points per game) is poised to break more records in her senior season. She notched 1,000 career points early into her sophomore year, hit 2,000 the following season, and will break the 3,000-point barrier soon. Her quickness and versatility combined with her relentless work ethic has her poised for another monster year.

Another returning giant - both literally and statistically - is senior forward/center Chantel Osahor. She averaged 10.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game last season with her unorthodox shooting style and imposing presence in the paint, and combined with her uncommon poise, she became an NCAA Tournament sensation.

Redshirt senior forward Katie Collier (6 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is the third returning starter.

Guard Brianna Ruiz, a sharp-shooting starter before tearing her ACL midway through last year, will be back, as will redshirt senior guard Heather Corral.

"There is a lot of experience in that group of players," Neighbors said.

He called the three Husky freshmen "electric." The group includes guard Aarion McDonald, who got 17 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists in one game on Washington's summer trip to Australia. The other newcomers are forwards Mai-Loni Henson and GiGi Garcia and guard Amber Melgoza. Star guard Natalie Romeo, who transferred from Nebraska last spring, may get eligibility this year.

Neighbors, an assistant for the Huskies before stepping into the top post, said he made team goals his first year. In year two, when the team reached the goal and made it to the NCAA Tournament, Neighbors said "they thought they'd made it" just for being selected to the field of 64. They lost in the first round.

"I abandoned goal-setting after that," Neighbors said. "Our theme is 'be boundless.' If we do that, wins and losses take care of themselves."

Washington will play in the preseason WNIT and will face BYU before beginning conference play Dec. 27 at home, facing cross-state rival Washington State.

College season countdown: 25 days to go

College team news:

OK State must replace Brittney Martin as a team - not individually.

A look at DePaul.

College player news:

Vanderbilt transfer Kendall Shaw feels at home with Wisconsin.

Margot Hetzke is playing a waiting game for Siena.

Taylor Agler is eager to play for Ohio after her transfer season.

International news:

Natalie Achonwa is proudly putting Canada on the world basketball map.

Breanna Stewart's next hoops journey is in China.

WNBA admits 8-second call missed in Game 4: Referees should be suspended

The WNBA today admitted that the 8-second call in last night's Game 4, with 16 seconds to go, was missed. Said the WNBA's Renee Brown:

“After reviewing postgame video, we have determined that with 0:17.7 remaining in regulation time, Minnesota released the ball for a pass from the backcourt and the ball was still in the backcourt when the shot clock turned to 0:16. An 8-second violation should have been called on Minnesota. This play is not a trigger to review via instant replay.”

Right away last night, I thought of the situation in the Mercury-Lynx 2015 playoff game when Phoenix's Noelle Quinn was called for a foul on an inbounds pass with 1.5 seconds to play. Maya Moore made one of two free throws to send Minnesota past the Mercury and win the series. The league later admitted the foul shouldn't have been called.

If the 8-second call had been made last night, the ball would have been turned over to Los Angeles, and a different outcome might have resulted. Sparks players and coach Brian Agler have graciously said "champions don't make excuses" and "that's life," but the cases last year and last night weren't right. If a game is going to the wire, as usually happens in the Finals, then officials should take extra care to ensure their accuracy.

If players can be suspended for their clothing, referees should be suspended for making unconscionable errors. Roy Gulbeyan, Kurt Walker and Maj Forsberg shouldn't be allowed to officiate anymore WNBA games for a while. Referees should NEVER decide a game.

Coach’s Chair: Dan Burt, Duquesne University

It's baaaack!

Every Monday through college basketball season, I will feature an in-depth interview with a dynamic DI coach.

First up: Dan Burt, Duquesne University.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sparks return to form, win Game 3

Sparks 92, Lynx 75:

LOS ANGELES — With Snoop Dogg at one point standing and cheering courtside, the Los Angeles Sparks delivered a dominant 92-75 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals series against the Minnesota Lynx on Friday at the University of Southern California's Galen Center.

More playoff news:

Sylvia Fowles is Minnesota's gentle giant.

More WNBA news:

Dream forward Reshanda Gray blogs.

Elena Delle Donne says her wedding planning is crazy.

College team news:

Fans got a glimpse of the new-look Terps tonight.

Gonzaga could be deeper and better on defense.

Tiffany Mitchell is gone, but layers of talent remain for South Carolina.

UTEP is making progress as the season nears.

Wichita State is using "Gainz" as motivation for a bounce-back season.

Florida's newcomers are fitting in early.

Clemson season outlook.

College player news:

Nine stats leaders return this season.

Former FIU player Destini Feagin is suing former coach Marlin Chinn and the University for sexual harassment.

College coach news:

Coach Laura Beeman has brought success to Hawaii.

Green Bay has extended coach Kevin Borseth's contract through 2020-2021.

All-WNBA first and second teams named

The teams:


Player Team Position Points

Nneka Ogwumike Los Angeles Sparks Forward 195
Tina Charles New York Liberty Center 193
Maya Moore New York Liberty Guard 185
Elena Delle Donne Chicago Sky Forward 162
Sue Bird Seattle Storm Guard 128


Player Team Position Points

Angel McCoughtry Atlanta Dream Forward 122
Breanna Stewart Seattle Storm Forward 117
Sylvia Fowles Minnesota Lynx Center 89
Diana Taurasi Phoenix Mercury Guard 86
Jewell Loyd Seattle Storm Guard 48

No Candace Parker?


Thursday, October 13, 2016

The night before Finals Game 3

Finals news:

No more chess games for the Sparks and Lynx.

Minnesota reserves could be pivotal for the remainder of the Finals.

Los Angeles needs Nneka Ogwumike to get back into the offensive groove in Game 3.

The Lynx are expecting a long-range assault from LA in Game 3.

Is Kristi Toliver the key to a Sparks championship?

Candace Parker is looking to regain her form as the series shifts to LA.

Michelle Smith grades the players in the series so far.

More WNBA news:

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello has signed a multi-year contract extension.

Amber Cox is the new vice president of the Connecticut Sun.

The September WNBA Cares Community Assist Award goes to Swin Cash.

College team news:

UConn: replacing the big three will be toughed, but the Huskies are still stocked.

A number of questions face UConn.

Can UCLA go further than the Sweet 16 this year?

Michigan has their sights set on returning to the NCAA Tournament. They are optimistic about their chances.

Kansas State is working toward finding its identity.

Creighton's run to the Big East has them anticipating a break out season.

Injuries are already piling up for New Mexico.

UNC Wilmington hopes to turn things around with a new-look team.

College player news:

Forward Peyton Ferris is the lone veteran in Montana State's front court.

College coach news:

New Arizona coach Adia Barnes is excited that players are buying into her system.

Lynne Roberts has Utah back on track.

Jalie Mitchell has North Texas poised to move up in Conference-USA.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pac-12 preview: Stanford University

This is the third in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

Tara VanDerveer makes a point during last spring's NCAA Tournament match up with South Dakota State. Photo by Bob Drebin/

It's a new era for Stanford, who has had to share their spot atop the Pac-12 Conference the last few years, after owning it for more than a decade.

Last season they tied for third in the conference and didn't play for the tournament title for the first time in many years. Two other Pac-12 teams went to the Final Four besides them.

But of all of the squads in the Pac, the Cardinal is one that is in great shape due to minimal losses and a great recruiting class. Gone is starting point guard Lili Thompson (14.7 points, 3.5 assists per game), but four other starters return: senior forward Erica McCall (14.9 points, 9.4 rebounds per game); senior guard Karlie Samuelson (9.8 points per game); junior forward Kaylee Johnson (6.1 points, 6.9 rebounds per game); and senior guard Brianna Roberson (5.8 points per game).

Top reserves Brittany McPhee, a junior guard, and Alanna Smith, a sophomore forward, are also back.

An all-star recruiting class will join this tight contingent. DiJonai Carrington of California was the seventh-ranked guard in the 2016 class, while Florida native Nadia Fingall was ranked seventh at the forward position. Anna Wilson of Bellevue, Wash. was the 12th-ranked point guard, and Canadian Mikaela Brewer was ranked 51st at wing.

Tara VanDerveer, who enters her 31st season at Cardinal head coach, has already seen growth from 2015-2016.

"Last year we had a very young group and I was really proud of their improvement. This year maybe the expectations are a little bit higher, but in fairness to all of our players, this is a new team," she said. "What we’re hoping for, number one, is that we stay healthy. That will give us the best chance to be successful."

"So far I’ve been very impressed with the camaraderie and energy in the gym – how hard people are working and how well they’re playing together. We have so many talented players and I think what I’m seeing that I’m really liking is that the upperclassmen are helping our freshmen a lot. We are going to get great contributions from our freshmen, but it just might take them a little while to learn the system."

"In the meantime, we have excellent leadership with Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson, Kaylee Johnson, Bri Roberson and Brittany McPhee. Those are our five upperclassmen that are really leading the way in practice. They know what it takes so they’re really helping the younger players get up to speed."

McCall, in particular has grown her game at a phenomenal pace during her Stanford tenure.

"The thing that helped her the most [heading into the last season] was her confidence," VanDerveer said. "By making the USA team [for the World University Games], she developed confidence in her outside game."

"What I’m seeing that she’s doing so much better is that she’s really scoring around the basket and using her body to get in deep and finish at the rim. It will take more than just one person playing really well, but it’s also other people recognizing that she wants the ball in deep and getting her the ball – passing it inside. I think a lot of our success will be our ability to move the ball, share the ball and find the open player."

"We want to be a multi-dimensional, multi-attack team so it’s not just Erica [McCall] and it’s not just Karlie [Samuelson] out there, but you’ve got four and five different weapons on the floor at all times."

VanDerveer said Samuelson's basketball IQ is what helps her to be great.

"Karlie’s 3-point shooting is phenomenal, but she’s a very smart player also," VanDerveer said. "She knows you just can’t stand out there and shoot threes, so she’s working on her ball handling, putting the ball on the floor, working on her passing, finishing, posting up, getting to the free throw line and defense."

"I think that her leadership is really key for our team’s success. She’s vocal and she’s a very intelligent player. I really think Karlie, somewhere down the road, is going to have to coach basketball. She sees things before they happen."

Defense will continue to be key for Stanford, according to VanDerveer. And they will experiment.

"I think our team really worked hard defensively [last season]. We play scouting report defense and our team locks in to 'this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play.'" she said. "Maybe we can play some different defenses and have a little bit more variety this year. We played 99 percent player-to-player defense last season, and maybe this year we can throw in a little zone, press and trap a little bit. We’re experimenting with doing some different things."

"Obviously the same blockers are there. [McCall] and Kaylee [Johnson] are still there and we’ve really improved our inside presence with Shannon Coffee healthy, Alanna Smith is a year older and we’ve got Nadia Fingall, who I think is going to make her name by being a shot blocker and physical presence inside."

Though the Cardinal made it to the round of Eight last season, the ever-competitive VanDerveer is not satisfied.

"We’re going to work hard to win the conference, and we’re very excited about our chances, but we’re really interested in going a long way in the NCAA Tournament," she said. "We were very pleased to go to the Elite Eight last season."

"I think there’s still a little bit of a bitter taste in not going to the Final Four and knowing that we had beaten two teams that went to the Final Four. We know we can compete with the best. It’s a matter of staying healthy and working really hard to improve every day."

Stanford will take on Texas, Gonzaga, Purdue, Tennessee and George Washington in preconference play before traveling to Arizona in late December to begin Pac-12 competition.