Tuesday, January 29, 2019

This Week We Play Cal - Twice - in the Battle of the Bay

The Battle of the Bay usually brings out the best in both these great rivals - and you can usually throw out both team's records, rankings, and stats. This is always a battle royal and the team that wants it the most wins. Thursday evening we play at Haas at 8PM, then Saturday afternoon in Maples at 4PM.

Often a player who isn't near the top of the Scouting Report goes off and makes the difference - a la Erika Bean last Sunday in Utah. The seniors usually perform way beyond their usual games because they've played in these rivalry games so many times through the years and really want to win these games as they near the end of their college careers.

Senior Kristine Anigwe
And this time around do we ever have a couple of 6'-4" athletic seniors to watch and enjoy. Kristine Anigwe and Alanna Smith are at the top of their games and at the top of their sport. Anigwe is the centerpiece of the Cal team on both ends of the court. As Kristine goes - so go the Golden Bears. She's always doubled and often triple-teamed, which has made her become an excellent passer. She averages 22.4 points and 15 rebounds per game. Both players are on most of the Watch Lists this year and are expected to go early in the WNBA draft.

Here's how the Cal Bears preview the "Battle of the Bay".

Here's a highlight video from a recent Cal Bears win --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nX5u7f6En-w.

Alanna is equally important to her team and equally skilled, but she gets more help from her teammates both in scoring and rebounding. So, if Smith has an off game or foul trouble, Carrington has sometimes stepped up to fill the gap - and so has Williams. Also Alanna is more of a long distance shooter than Kristine, who does most of her scoring in the paint.

And here's a recent highlight video of Stanford's win over WSU in which Alanna starred and Tara got her 900th Stanford win --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fzy9VjxPQQ

Their games are different, but the results are the same - usually low-20's in scoring and double digits in rebounding. Both will leave huge holes to fill next year - but this week we have two incredible seniors to appreciate and enjoy.


Monday, January 21, 2019

On Friday and Sunday We Visit the Mountain Schools.

On Friday 1/25 we play Colorado at 6 PM (Pacific Time)

After a 10 and 1 preseason with big wins over North Carolina and Navy, the Buffs are struggling mightily in PAC12 conference play at 0 and 6. Kennedy Leonard, their senior point guard, is one of the best players in our conference - and after playing in all 108 games since arriving in 2015, she's missed their last four games with a sprained foot. She's top five all-time at Colorado in points, assists and steals - and with a dozen more assists she'll take over as the all-time leader in that category.


Colorado has four players averaging double figures in scoring - Leonard (14), Qunessa Caylao-Do (11), Mya Hollingshed (11), and Alexis Robinson (10), Their key rebounders are both freshmen - Hollingshed (6'-4") averages 7 and Peanut Tuitele (6'-1") snares 6 per game.

Needless to say, the Buffalos sorely miss their team leader, but even so they almost knocked off Washington two weeks ago with their freshman backup point guard, Lesila Finau. J.R. Payne, their third year head coach, is working hard to raise the level of play to become more competitive in PAC12 play and they're making rapid strides.  Hopefully, Friday night we'll get to see Kennedy Leonard play, but regardless we can expect an all-out effort from the Buffs.

Then on Sunday (1/27) at 11 AM we face Utah, one of the hottest teams in the West with a new AP
ranking of 21st in the nation. Overall they're 15 and 1 with their sole loss coming courtesy of a Reili Richardson buzzer-beater that gave Arizona State a two point win over the Utes.  Some of their biggest wins have come against Alabama, Brigham Young, and Florida.

So, how do they win? They average 76.5 points per game with a 19 point average margin of victory. They have a 48% shooting percentage and 38% from three on seven made threes per game. Their free throw percentage is 74%. They average 38 rebounds, 18 assists, 9 steals, and 5 blocks per game. In other words, they're damn good. Lynne Roberts is obviously a terrific coach. In her first press conference this year she put the rest of the conference on notice, "It's time for us to make the pivot to greatness."


Like Stanford they recently lost one of their senior mainstays, Daneesha Provo, to an ACL tear. But they have three freshmen who have earned PAC12 Freshman of the Week honors so far this season - Dre'Una Edwards (four times), Dru Gylten, and Andrea Torres. Megan Huff, a 6'-3" senior, is their leader at 19.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Dre'Una, a 6'-2" freshman, isn't far behind at 12 points and 7 boards. 

This will be one of the great battles of the season for the Cardinal, but unfortunately it isn't being shown on the PAC12 Network, so we'll have to watch it live-streaming on our computer. This is the signature win the Utes are looking for, and they don't call their building the Huntsman Center for nothing. Do you think the Utes are gunning for the Cardinal? I think so, too. Sure would help if Maya could play in this one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Home Games Up Next Against UW and WSU

On Friday evening (1/18 @ 7PM) we take on Washington at home. When I think about the Huskies, I still lapse into memories of their 2016/2017 Cinderella team that had the leading scorer in the nation, won 29 games, and lost a great battle in the Sweet Sixteen to Mississippi State. Man, were they fun to watch.

Kelsey Plum went no.# 1 to the WNBA, Chantel Osahor graduated, Mike Neighbors left to coach his alma mater, Arkansas, and Aari McDonald transferred to Arizona. Jeez!

Well, two seasons later they're in the middle of re-building. Jody Winn is the new coach and Amber Melgoza, a junior from Santa Barbara, is their motor. Darcy Rees is their 6'-4" Aussie, out of Adelaide. Strong building blocks. They've had some good wins this season - they've beaten Duke, George Mason, and Ohio State, but right now they're 8 and 9 overall and 1 and 4 in PAC12 play.


Jody's in a rich recruiting area and Washington is a great school. Soon, I figure, they'll be back in the hunt.

On Sunday (1/20) we play WSU at noon, a team with a number of international players.

When I hear the Cougars roster it sounds like a Eurobasket All Star team. Their star is from Varna,
Bulgaria and they call her Bobbi Buckets - that's because her real name is Borislava Hristova. Jovana Subasic is from Sabac, Serbia. Next, we go further east to Israel and introduce Shir Levy from Ness Ziona. Hailing from Lyon, France we have Johanna Muzet. Then on the other side of the planet we land in Logan, Australia and give you Ula Motuga. To meet Maria Kostourkova  one would think Russia, but she's a 6'-4" forward from Lisbon, Portugal. To find Alexys Swedlund you might think Scandinavia, but she's a 6' guard from Rapid City, South Dakota. Michaela Jones is from Nebraska and the three Molina sisters come from Kailua Kona, Hawaii - Cherilyn, Celena, and Chanelle.


Wouldn't you love to coach this group? What a kick to listen in on one of their crucial timeouts - everyone talking at once in seven really different languages. I'll bet their trash talk can get colorful too. What about their basketball? Overall they're 7 and 9. In conference games they're 2 and 3. In their three point win against Washington, Bobbi Buckets had 38 points. Their team hit 11 of 24 three pointers. And 4 of 11 free throws (Jovana missed all of hers.) Their other important win was by three points over Nebraska.

Their new coach is Kamie Ethridge and I'll bet she's having a great time. I've only seen Bobbi on tape, but man can she shoot. June Dougherty was let go at the end of last season after recruiting this amazing menagerie of talent. I've always wondered how you would recruit if you coached in Pullman. That has to be the most remote location on the west coast. June turned away from Seattle, Spokane, and the rest of America - and went global. Sorry it didn't work out better for her.

I looked up Varna, thinking Pullman might seem like a metropolis to a recruit from Bulgaria - but no, Varna is a bustling seaport and major resort city on the Black Sea. I'd love to hear the story behind each of their foreign recruits and I'm looking forward to watching Bobbi shoot.  But as usual, Tara's defense will key on her and she'll have a tough night in Maples.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

There's danger in the Arizona desert

Charlie Thorne's bunch down in Tempe are from all over the map - and that's the way they play too. Geographically they're from pretty much everywhere except Arizona -The Canary Islands, France, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Illinois, California, Washington, and British Columbia. Oh yeah, Courtney Ekmark is from Arizona (by way of UConn). But that's pretty much how they play, as well - all over the map. They scare the pants off the (currently) #4 ranked Baylor Bears, up by six going into the fourth, and then lose to their instate rival Wildcats by twelve and only score 39 points. They lose to the (currently) # 2 ranked Louisville Cardinals by two, and then escape last weekend from Salt Lake City with a two point win over Utah.


So, I guess we just need to assume they'll be loaded for bear Friday evening when the Cardinal come to call. That's what Charlie's hoping. Obviously, they're talented and they've got a lot of heart. As Tara said in her Press Conference after UCLA, we can't afford to come out of the gate slow any more. We have to assume we'll be getting the giant-killer Sun Devil team and play accordingly. If we come out hitting 2 of our first 12 shots - in their building - we'll have a hard time catching them. They're 5 and 0 in Tempe.

Kianna Ibis is their leading scorer and has a remarkable feel for the game. Her timing is impeccable and her 6'-1" frame is strong and effective. Underneath she plays like a bigger player and always seems to get her shot off in heavy traffic. I still can see her last second winning fall-away jumper that beat the Cardinal in Maples a couple of seasons ago. What Baylor and Louisville learned is you let the Sun Devils hang around at your peril. They both almost got knocked off.

Ekmark is their shooter and when she gets hot - she'll show you how hot it can get down in the desert. If we play defense like we did Sunday afternoon in the first half against the Bruins  - we'll get scorched. Our defense needs to get much more intense - soon - or we could have a bunch of nasty jolts up the road in conference play. Every PAC12 team can beat you this season, if you rest on defense.

Then on Sunday afternoon we take on the Wildcats. You remember them - they used to be one of the sure-things on our schedule - a guaranteed "W." Well, those days are over - just ask the Sun Devils. Adia Barnes has transformed them and now they sound and fight like their mascot. Coach Barnes is an Arizona grad who scored over 2200 points for the Wildcats in the 90's and then went on to win a championship in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm.


Since arriving back in Tucson in 2016, Adia has had one highly ranked recruiting class after another and is in the process of building a national contender. Right now they're 12 and 2. Their roster is loaded with four and five star talent, but the transcendent star this year is Aari McDonald. She's one of the leading scorers in the nation at 25.4 points per game. Their leading rebounder at 8.5 per game is Cate Reese, a 6'-2" sophomore out of Cypress, Texas - the same suburb of Houston that is home to the Ogwumikes.

The PAC-12 is being transformed - Corey Close, Scott Rueck, Lindsay Gottlieb, Kelly Graves, and now Adia Barnes. You and I get to watch the transformation. It used to be the nowhereland of women's basketball out on the wrong coast. Then came Tara. Then Charlie. During the NCAA tournament two years ago you could sense the shock and awe gripping the eastern sports writers and commentators - as the usual high seeds got whipped - one after another by PAC-12 teams - Maryland went down, Duke went down, Texas, then Notre Dame. ASU lost to South Carolina, the eventual champs, by two. You could sense the perceptions changing - the biased thinking, writing ,and seeding was ending. The rest of the country had better get used to it - the PAC-12 is just getting warmed up and we ain't even broke a sweat yet.

Be warned Cardinal fans. There are dangerous critters lurking down in the desert these days - and if you're not tough enough and don't shoot straight - they'll get ya.

ESPN's Charlie Creme and I Have Stanford In The Final Four Next Season

Charlie Crème of ESPN has three PAC12 teams in the top six in his "Way too early" top-25 rankings for 2019/2020. His "Fina...