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.

Replacements

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."