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.