Sunday, November 19, 2017
Page 2

AP top 25 poll, week one

This week’s rankings:

1. UConn
2. Texas
3. Baylor
4. South Carolina
5. Louisville
6. Notre Dame
7. Mississippi State
8. UCLA
9. Ohio State
10. Oregon
11. Duke
12. West Virginia
13. Tennessee
14. Stanford
15. Maryland
16. Marquette
17. Florida State
18. Oregon State
19. Texas A&M
20. California
21. Oklahoma
22. South Florida
23. Missouri
24. Michigan
25. Kentucky

Coach’s Chair: Tony Bozzella, Seton Hall University

Tony Bozzella has been coaching for over two decades, and enters his fifth season at his alma mater, Seton Hall. Photo courtesy of Seton Hall Athletics.
Tony Bozzella has been coaching for over two decades, and enters his fifth season at his alma mater, Seton Hall. Photo courtesy of Seton Hall Athletics.
Tony Bozzella has been coaching for over two decades, and enters his fifth season at his alma mater, Seton Hall. Photo courtesy of Seton Hall Athletics.

Tony Bozzella returned to coach the program at his alma mater, Seton Hall, in 2013. In his second season the Pirates notched a program-best 28 wins, and they advanced to the NCAA Tournament both that year and the next.

Prior to his return, Bozzella spent 11 years as the head coach at Iona College, where he turned an under-achieving program into a winner. He did the same at LIU Brooklyn before that, and as head coach of his first program, at Southhampton College of Long Island University.

Bozzella shares a unique relationship with Seton Hall athletic director Pat Lyons and men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard in that all three held the same positions together at Iona before taking jobs with the Pirates.

The longtime coach and his wife, Maria, met at Seton Hall. They have two teenage children.

How happy are you to get the season going?

Really excited. This is a great bunch of kids, and I’m excited to coach this team. Our entire team is talented and can match up with any of the Big East players. We’ve done a good job of reloading the team, and the younger kids who have stayed have matured. We’ve brought in a great influx of newcomers.

You’ve made it your trademark to turn programs around. When you’ve taken jobs at new teams, what is your approach going in? What are the keys to rebuilding?

When you take over a program, each is different and unique in its own way. You have to look at kids and identify their talent and adjust your system accordingly, or put them in a better situation to let their talents come out better. Each place I’ve coached has been different. Different talent levels mean different situations. Sometimes I’ve had a good amount of talent and put them in different places to have a different system. In some cases there has been not enough talent, so I had to add to what wasn’t there. At Iona it took until my fourth year to get things going. At SHU I was able to do it right away by moving pieces around. Have to take a look and get a fresh look.

What are the most important founding principles for a team?

Certain principles can be adjusted as you move along, and they should be, but certain ones can’t. Number one is you need to be respectful, and that goes both ways. Not just the kids, but coach and staff needs to be respectful towards them. We call it a marriage nowadays. They know you care, and we hope they care. In the old days it was “my way or the highway,” but if you still think that way you’re going to struggle. It has to go both ways. The athletes need to respect that they have a job to do and they need to put the time in on and off the court. On our end, our understanding of our student athletes is that they have to have a life. Sometimes it’s a very difficult environment on their end with Twitter and social media. In our recruiting process we’re looking for that understanding in kids that play. Another clear understanding is trying hard; nowadays that’s a skill. Nowadays you go to tournaments with other coaches and armed with scholarships and you see it. If they’re not going to try hard there, they won’t try once they get to college. The days of thinking that you can change a kid once they get to school are gone.

What is your philosophy on team culture?

Everyone wants to have team culture and get along. Once again, Twitter, Instagram and social media are factors in that. It’s a delicate balance, but we want to be team-oriented. We are not one of those teams that do 400 things together and eat dinner together every night. I want to give them their independence and let them have a life. We work on team chemistry on the court, like making that extra pass. We’ll point out who slapped someone’s hands the most.

Some have asked us why we don’t get many transfers. We’re not trying to get them to be best friends. The last thing a kid wants is to be best friends with 14 new kids when she gets to school. She wants to get a degree and play basketball. At end of the day, I want them to be effective on the court. We’ve been the most successful with fifth-year kids.

When did you know you wanted to coach, and why?

When I was in high school, I wasn’t a good player. We had a great high school team, and my coaches told me they weren’t going to be able to me much playing time. So I became the team manager, and I sat in on team meetings with the coaches. I learned a lot of  strategy and how to deal with people. It was an inner-city team with all kinds of economic variation. I learned to look at what they do, like in scouting, and really targeting certain things in opponents.

My staff does a great job, and we all have an input. One of the things we do is to try to find the weaknesses in our opponents. In college I got lucky and saw an advertisement for a boy’s varsity basketball job. The athletic director told me I didn’t have enough experience, but he said he’d give me the girls team to coach. I didn’t want to do it at first, but we went 21-4. I had no idea what I was doing, but they liked me and I liked them. That year was one of my favorite years of coaching. If I could go back in time to coach that year again, I would. I was also dating my future wife at the time.

Since I wasn’t a good player, I got how kids couldn’t make a pass. Great players don’t always get that.

What is the best thing about coaching?

I enjoy the relationships I’ve developed over the years. I have three former players on staff. It’s Lauren DeFalco’s eighth year as assistant coach. I have had a lot of former players on staff.

What did it mean to you to return to your alma mater and take the helm?

When Pat Lyons was on the committee to hire me at Iona, after my third year we were 14-70 and I went to a meeting with him thinking I would get fired. He said Tony, you’re doing a good job. The culture has changed and we have lot of new players; you’ll be fine. He was not only great at financially supporting us, but we were well-taken care of. I knew I could win here because I know what it was like to be a student here. This is my dream job. They interviewed lots of candidates, but they still chose me. Here, they respect how hard we work at Seton Hall and how much we love Seton Hall.

What are your goals for the program? What is your approach to goal-setting?

We want to win conference championships. Our goal is to build stability in the program. When I took over I knew I had to do it one way: I had to make it a better look. Now our goal is to have stability, and to try to keep as many kids as possible each year. You do that by building the right way. In this day and age, it’s all about transfers. We’re also a good destination for transfers, but it has to be the right fit.

What has basketball taught you about life?

The ups and downs have taught me to enjoy life a little more. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the next game, the next win, the next opponent. It’s better to just enjoy the game and the moment, but try to have fun with it.

What have your athletes taught you about life?

These kids live in the moment so much now. As parents and adults we worry about tomorrow, but they’re living in the moment. The days of, after you lose everyone’s crying on the bus is not the case anymore. It doesn’t mean they don’t care, but they put a lot of things in better perspective nowadays, and that taught me.

No one has more respect for Geno Auriemma than me. After last year’s Final Four, his players were out shopping in the mall because they put their loss in perspective and vowed to start a new streak.

If you had three wishes to make, what would they be?

I would wish good health for my family, my wife and two kids. I think that’s really important. I’d like the world to be more aware of each individual and each person’s differences and respect that. Why can’t we, in this world, respect someone’s opinion and their beliefs? Just because we disagree doesn’t necessarily mean the other person is wrong, and we’ve lost sight of that.

I wish each day someone could say something nice to someone. The world would be in a much better place. Something as simple as telling a player their hair looks nice, holding the door for the marketing person, saying something nice to someone because maybe they’ve had a bad day. You don’t know what everybody’s life is about.

Behind Ionescu’s triple-double, Oregon beats Drake, 110-77

Sophomore Sabrina Ionescu scored 29 points, dished 11 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds to get her fifth career triple-double against Drake. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Sophomore Sabrina Ionescu scored 29 points, dished 11 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds to get her fifth career triple-double against Drake. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.

Eugene – The No. 11 Oregon Ducks used a second half offensive surge to blowout the Drake Bulldogs, 110-77, in the second round of the preseason WNIT Sunday.

But the big game of the day belonged to sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu, who scored 29 points, dished 11 assists and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Ducks. It was her fifth career triple-double, and she is now one shy of the Pac-12 record and two triple-doubles short of the NCAA record.

Four other Oregon players were in double-figures, including freshman Satou Sabally, with 20 points in an efficient 8-of-11 from the field and senior Lexi Bando, who caught fire early in the third quarter and finished with 16 points, including 4-of-6 from three-point territory. Junior Maite Cazorla had a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists, as did sophomore Ruthy Hebard, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

After playing a sluggish first half, the Duck’s offense picked up in the second half, led by Ionescu and Sabally. Ionescu had 14 points, six assists and six rebounds after intermission, while Sabally exploded for 15 points in the second half. Ionescu wasn’t even thinking about getting the triple-double until coaches told her to go after the rebound.

“The coaches were telling me to rebound, but I didn’t know why,” Ionescu said. “Right when I got the rebound, it was like ‘tri-ple dou-ble’ and it was like ‘Oh that’s why they’re yelling at me to get every single rebound.'”

It was only Sabally’s second collegiate game, but the native of Germany is learning about how the game is played in the U.S.

“It’s a way faster game and more physical than I’m used to, but it’s a lot of fun,” she said.

She added that she gets to “play more free, and it’s not as structured,” as basketball is in her home country.

The improvement in Oregon’s offense from the first two quarters to the last two was noticeable.

“I thought we really put it together on both ends of the floor, especially in the second half,” coach Kelly Graves said. “Our rebounding, which we focused on this time, was much better this game.”

“It was just a good team effort. Everybody contributed. Offensively, we were in flow the whole game. We got great shots the entire night, shared the ball well: 31 assists on 40 field goals. That’s playing good team basketball.”

The Ducks will play at Texas A&M Thursday.

 

A bit of amazing

Epic performances:

#9 Louisville toppled #5 Ohio State in overtime, 95-90. Asia Durr led the Cardinals with 47 points. And what an exciting, gut-buster of a game. This is going to be a great season.

Taeler Deer paced Texas State past Texas Tech, 87-70, with 44 points.

Sabrina Ionescu’s triple-double led Oregon over Drake, 110-77.

More results:

The #14 Lady Vols set the tone in their season opener.

#1 UConn handled #10 Stanford, 78-53.

North Carolina beat Colorado in overtime, 87-80.

#12 Duke was challenged by Grand Canyon, but prevailed, 74-61. Rebecca Greenwell passed the 1,500-point career mark.

Arkansas is 2-0 after their win today. Five players were in double figures.

Wisconsin 80, Charlotte 66.

Seton Hall 67, Wake Forest 57.

South Dakota State 97, George Washington 88.

Idaho State 79, Washington 59.

Saint Mary’s 81, Washington State 75.

FGCU 85, Illinois 61.

Montana State 62, Long Beach State 51.

All scores.

Tomorrow’s schedule features #4 South Carolina at #15 Maryland.

College team news:

Five takeaways from Louisville’s win over Ohio State.

Stanford is off to an historically bad start.

In its first road trip of the season, South Carolina’s strength will be tested.

Transfers are set to lead the way for Florida State this season.

Arizona State embarks into a new era.

“So much love and support:” Marquette features home-grown talent.

There are great expectations for a more experienced FGCU.

A culture change in the works at Kent State?

College player news:

Check out a young Asia Durr in this Atlanta Dream commercial.

After the death of her father, LSU freshman Khayla Pointer refused to miss the season opener.

Shaelyn Martin is back for Kansas State.

Second-graders fill Pittsburg State’s Mikaela Burgess’ cheering section.

College coach news:

UCLA-Presbyterian photo gallery

Photos from UCLA’s 76-40 win over Presbyterian today.

Tennessee season preview: Lady Vols will rely on both veterans and newcomers

Anastasia Hayes. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

Once again this fall, I sat down with 247 Sports Tennessee reporter Maria Cornelius to preview the Tennessee Lady Vols for the upcoming season. Cornelius has been covering the team for two decades, attending both games and practices, and sometimes travels for road games.

Jamie Nared. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.
Jamie Nared. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

There are only two returning starters in Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell, and three reserves coming back. How is the team performing together with five newcomers?

Coach Holly Warlick has made it a point to commend Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell for their leadership all summer and throughout preseason. Warlick knew that the senior starters had to embrace the newcomers and help them on and off the court.

That process has been eased by a freshman class that is low-maintenance and doesn’t need a lot of attention. The freshmen have confidence, but it’s not arrogance or an attitude that would annoy upperclassmen. They are talented, and they know it – but they work hard, ask questions and listen. It is encouraging to see a highly-touted class arrive that already is so grounded.

During Tuesday’s exhibition game against Carson-Newman, the seniors helped calm down the freshmen, who had a somewhat wide-eyed look when they took the court. During warmup drills and pregame introductions, the newcomers were taking it all in – and looking to the seniors in terms of exactly what to do.

Thompson-Boling Arena is a big venue, and about 7,000 fans were on hand for the game. That number will increase for Sunday’s regular season opener against East Tennessee State University. The freshmen looked nervous for a few minutes against Carson-Newman, and then showed why they were the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country in 2017. Team chemistry is noticeably improved. The seniors want a successful season, and they know that won’t happen without the freshmen.

Only Nared and Russell averaged double-figure scoring last season. Which of the new players can make an immediate impact? Maybe you could talk briefly about the strengths of each.

All five newcomers are being counted on to make an immediate impact, though not equivalent ones because of position and need. Russell is rooted at the center spot with relief coming from junior college transfer Cheridene Green and freshman Kasiyahna Kushkituah.

Green is from London, England, and is the Lady Vols’ first international player. She is an agile post who can guard on the perimeter and in the paint. Green, from ASA College in New York, sat out of the exhibition with a minor injury, and her defense was missed. The injury was an upper body one (not her surgically-repaired knee), and Tennessee is counting on Green for considerable help this season. She doesn’t shy away from contact, and is mentally tough.

Kushkituah is a physical player, which is rare for a freshman. She instinctively plays at the rim and keeps the ball high on shots and rebounds. Kushkituah has been well-coached because she arrived in college with sound fundamentals. Hybrid posts who play inside and out seem to be popular now, but the 6-4 Kushkituah, who played at St. Francis High School in Atlanta, Georgia, wants to be a low-block presence. She is exactly what Tennessee needs this season in terms of post depth.

Rennia Davis was compared in preseason to Chamique Holdsclaw in terms of the smoothness of her jump shot. That assessment is accurate, but for Davis’ sake, let’s pump the brakes on that comparison. Holdsclaw, along with Candace Parker, are the two greatest Lady Vols of all time, and both of their banners hang in the arena’s rafters.

With that said, Davis can be a superstar in college. The product of Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Florida, is 6-2 and can dunk. She aggressively gets on the offensive glass and then switches gears and lofts a soft shot. She started the exhibition game, misfired on her first shot and then settled down and put up 27 points in 29 minutes. She added 13 rebounds for good measure.

Evina Westbrook also started the exhibition game, scored 17 points and dished six assists. She is from South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon, and can set up at point or switch seamlessly to the two spot. At 6-0, she gives the Lady Vols options to go big at point or let her operate from the wing. Westbrook is a competitor and is undaunted by the big stage. Like Davis, she looked a little nervous at tipoff, and then settled down.

Anastasia Hayes. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.
Anastasia Hayes. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

Anastasia Hayes is one of the fastest Lady Vols to ever take the court – her speed is reminiscent of former Tennessee point guard Shannon Bobbitt. Hayes, who played at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, also is unselfish and helped to recruit the entire 2017 class. While Hayes can play point, she told Westbrook and Tennessee’s coaches that she would slide to the wing if needed. Hayes also is a competitor and wants to win. The late Pat Summitt said she wanted players who hated losing more than they loved winning. Hayes is one of those.

How are the three seniors prepared to lead the team this season? Did the U23 experience this summer help Nared and Russell?

The Lady Vols are a mix of experience and youth. The three seniors, Kortney Dunbar, Nared and Russell, along with junior Meme Jackson, have played in a lot of venues and situations. Sophomore Kamera Harris played in seven games last season. The four freshmen and Green make their Tennessee debuts this season. So that’s five players with Division I experience and five players with no minutes logged at that level.

Mercedes Russell. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.
Mercedes Russell. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

Fortunately, the Lady Vols have two senior starters. Nared and Russell are not what would be called natural leaders. But they have both embraced the challenge and accepted the role. Nared is more demonstrative and vocal, while Russell helps to steer a steady ship. Hopefully, Dunbar can have a healthy senior season – she has dealt with plantar fasciitis in her foot, a particularly troubling injury for a long-range shooter who needs to curl off screens and get lift from the feet – because she is one of the better three-point shooters on the team.

Both Nared and Russell have said the U23 experience with USA Basketball was a great experience and focused on basketball, not sightseeing or being a tourist in Tokyo, Japan. It is beneficial to just go through training camp, much less make the team and then win a gold medal. The experience was invaluable for both of them, and it’s always a jolt of confidence and affirmation of their skills to make a USA team.

What is Holly Warlick’s approach to the season?

Warlick seems to really like this team because the players work hard. She and her staff are not having to coach effort. That doesn’t mean there is not slippage at times, but the newcomers seem to take a serious approach to the game. Warlick has noted that players are getting in the gym on their own and asking coaches for additional workouts. Granted, as a full season unfolds, it takes a toll on a team because of basketball and academic demands. Will the freshmen hit a wall? Probably. But they seem willing to push through it.

Evina Westbrook. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.
Evina Westbrook. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

The coaches know they have a mix of veterans and newcomers, so the approach has been a demanding one but also a patient one. As one coach said, “Freshmen don’t know what they don’t know.” Experience is the best teacher and that means mistakes. Warlick has shown a willingness to let youngsters play through mistakes. That approach will be needed again. A lot will be placed on the shoulders of freshmen, and it can’t weigh them down. They have demonstrated early mental toughness to push through tough workouts. The four freshmen also love the program. They came to Tennessee to win. Period.

What has former Lady Vol Bridgette Gordon added since she was named assistant coach this past summer?

In a word, toughness. Gordon is very involved and vocal at practice. She knows the expectations at Tennessee. She is thrilled to be “home.” June and July are tough months to hire a new assistant coach as staffs are set and ready to head out on the summer recruiting trail. But Old Dominion plucked former Lady Vol Nikki McCray in late May, South Carolina called Tennessee assistant Jolette Law back to her home state in mid-June, and Warlick was left with an open spot going into July.

Gordon checked a lot of boxes. She had recruiting success at Wichita State, she had a great relationship with Warlick and Dean Lockwood and knew Sharrona Reaves from the recruiting road. The learning curve wasn’t steep at all for Gordon. She understands the culture of Tennessee and how to teach it and reach players. Gordon also had to hit the ground running as she arrived in Knoxville in August.

Her jersey hangs in the banner – Gordon led the Lady Vols to their first two NCAA national titles in 1987 and 1989 – and her resume includes All-American honors, NCAA Final Four MVP, U.S. Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA player. But Gordon also knows that no player on this team was even born yet when she was at Tennessee. While Gordon is steeped in Lady Vol lore, she recognizes that this team has to carve its own path. The players can see her jersey in the arena. Gordon has no need to point it out.

Does the team have goals for the year? What are they?

Win. How big? That depends on overall health and how the freshmen hold up over a full season. A Final Four is a tall order – but the staff and players know it’s the expectation every season. The SEC coaches didn’t even pick Tennessee to finish in the top four in its own conference, instead putting the Lady Vols at the fifth slot. (The media voted Tennessee to finish fourth.) So, while Final Four is always the goal, Tennessee has to first prove itself in the SEC.

During Media Day in October, the players were asked about goals, and the answers varied from making the All-SEC freshmen team to being a consistent scorer. This was Westbrook’s reply: “For me I don’t feel like I really have any personal goals other than having the most successful year possible for my team. My biggest thing is winning, so I just want to win. I want to win big, and I think that’s all of our goals really.”

Renina Davis. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.
Renina Davis. Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

Who might have the potential to break out and surprise this season?

Rennia Davis has break-out potential. Her athleticism and shot-making ability are noticeable to novice and expert alike. She plays at the rim and her motions appear effortless. She has excellent body control in the air and is a good ball-handler. Tennessee can use Davis in multiple ways offensively, and she has a knack for being around any loose balls and the offensive glass.

Westbrook has a preternatural intensity about her. She is not always openly demonstrative, but she has a fire burning within – another Summitt-type player. Summitt always said she would teach and coach, but a player has to start her own engine. Westbrook’s engine is running.

Hayes has the quickness to make a difference on both ends. She puts pressure on the defense because she can drive and either dish or hit the layup. She flipped a no-look pass over her shoulder against Carson-Newman when it appeared she was going to the rim. The pass startled Russell and everyone watching because it was perfectly placed. This team will stumble along the way as everyone gets on the same page on the court and adjusts to different combinations, but where Tennessee is going with this group has engendered considerable enthusiasm, with good reason.

What did Tamika Catchings tell the team on her recent visit? Are there any other former Lady Vols who have stopped in?

Tamika Catchings always delivers a positive message to the team and makes herself available for one-on-one conversations, too. Catchings is the gold standard at Tennessee for effort and excellence on and off the court. She also remembers what it was like to play on a big stage and the pressures and demands of college basketball on this level. Catchings relates well to the players and already has their respect because of her accomplishments at every level of the game. She finds common ground, and the players feel comfortable around her.

Chamique Holdsclaw and Alexis Hornbuckle also have stopped by campus recently. Candace Parker was in town last season for the Notre Dame game in January.

Shannon Bobbitt was in town Saturday to sign copies of her book, “Bobbitt: 5-2 Giant Handling the Odds.” Catchings wrote the foreword for the book. Bobbitt, who won national titles at Tennessee in 2007 and 2008, attended practice and talked to the players. She told them the legacy of a Lady Vol is to be a champion.

UCLA opens season in record-breaking fashion

Jordin Canada notched the seventh triple-double in UCLA history with 26 points, 11 steals and 10 assists. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Jordin Canada notched the seventh triple-double in UCLA history with 26 points, 11 steals and 10 assists. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.
Jordin Canada notched the seventh triple-double in UCLA history with 26 points, 11 steals and 10 assists. Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

Los Angeles – No. 8 UCLA got the season off to a record-breaking start Friday with a 129-69 rout of San Jose State.

The point total broke the program record of 125, dating back to 1976. The Bruins bettered school records for most points scored in a first quarter (38) and in a first half (69).

Senior point guard Jordin Canada also had a history-making night, as she posted the second triple-double of her career with 26 points, 11 steals and 10 assists. It was the seventh triple-double in program history, and Canada joined former UCLA great Ann Meyers as the second player to notch two such games.

Three Bruins had double-doubles: senior center Monique Billings, with 19 points and 11 rebounds; freshman forward Michaela Onyenwere, with 19 points and 10 rebounds; and junior guard Kennedy Burke, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Lajahna Drummer and Chantel Horvat each added 12 points.

UCLA clamped down on defense in the second quarter and held the Spartans to just 18.8 percent shooting. Freshman Kayla Owens made a three-point shot late in the fourth period to put the Bruins over the scoring mark.

Coach Cori Close said the record was cause for reflection.

“Whenever you break a record that’s stood since 1976, you’ve got to be respectful,” she said. “Think of the amazing players who have played here. I’m very proud because I know the great people who have laid the ground for us, who sacrificed: Denise Curry, Maylana Martin, Ann Meyers. Noelle Quinn was here tonight. To be able to break a record that so many people built a foundation for, that’s pretty special.”

Canada, who has been on the All-Pac-12 team for two years and was the conference’s defensive player of the year last season, was in a zone against San Jose State. She eclipsed the triple-double mark with a leaping steal midway through the fourth quarter.

“The biggest difference with Jordin is her efficiency,” Close said. “She’s getting 26 points on 12 shots. “Her maturity is seen in her efficiency with the triple-double in how she’s facilitating the team. That’s what’s really exciting. The triple-double is just a by-product of all that growth.”

Myzhanique Ladd and Megan Anderson each had 11 points for the Spartans. Coach Jamie Craighead declined to comment on the game.

Close said she still sees a lot of room for improvement with the Bruins.

“We’re not playing with the consistency and the focus on the defensive end that I think we’re going to grow into,” Close said. “I love the team spirit, I love the selflessness of this group. That’s at a top ten level.”

“The good news is I think we could be really good down the road.”

UCLA has now won 30 straight home games – the second-longest streak after Connecticut’s. The Bruins next face Presbyterian College on Sunday.

Oregon’s new commitment to defense shows against CSUN

Maite Cazorla scores two of her 10 points on the night. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Maite Cazorla scores two of her 10 points on the night. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Maite Cazorla scores two of her 10 points on the night. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.

Eugene – The No. 11 Oregon Ducks used stifling defense to blow out Cal State Northridge in their season opener Friday, 91-43.

Sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu led five Oregon players in double figures with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Ruthy Hebard had 11 points and eight rebounds, and freshman Satou Sabally came off the bench for 11 points. Mallory McGwire and Maite Cazorla each added 10.

After unexpectedly vaulting to the Elite 8 in last year’s NCAA Tournament on the strength of their offense, Duck coach Kelly Graves asked his players over the summer to commit to defense. Their acceptance was apparent against the Matadors.

On one of the first defensive possessions of the game, senior guard Lexi Bando stepped into the passing lane and got a steal, creating a CSUN turnover – one of 29 on the night for the visitors. Things got no better for the Matadors, as they posted only three steals to 21 for Oregon.

“We’re athletic and long and it’s so fun to be out there, especially on defense because we tip balls,” Ionescu said.

Oregon’s swarming help-defense limited CSUN’s shooting to 26.7 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from the three-point line. Graves said the Duck defense set the tone for the match up.

“I think we just got them off their game early, and that was a good sign,” he said. “We’re not the most athletic team in the world, but if we’re playing good team defense and we’re in sync, then we’ll create some turnovers.”

Channon Fluker led the Matadors with nine points and nine rebounds.

Though defense was key, Oregon was equally-potent on the offensive end, shooting 44.7 percent on the night and committing only nine turnovers. Graves was pleased with the performance.

“I thought we came out with intensity right off the bat,” he said. “I thought offensively and defensively, we were on point. Once we got it going, we were sharing the basketball. As a coach what I really appreciate the most is two or three or four passes.”

The Ducks next face Drake on Sunday.

Some shockers and some history on opening day

What an opening day!!!!!

It is so very awesome to be back.

Upsets:

Western Kentucky 79, #16 Missouri 76.

Northern Colorado 94, #25 DePaul 88.

Almost-upsets:

#19 Oregon State pulled away from North Dakota in the game’s final minutes to win, 65-55.

#20 Cal got by Saint Mary’s, 87-80.

No. 23 South Florida got by LSU, 61-55.

Herstory:

#8 UCLA broke the program scoring record with a 129-69 win over San Jose State. Jordin Canada became only the second Bruin (after Ann Meyers Drysdale) to notch a second triple-double (her first was last year). She had 26 points, 11 steals and 10 assists.

#5 Ohio State’s Stephanie Mavunga broke a school record with 26 rebounds in their win over #10 Stanford.

#22 Oklahoma retired Courtney Paris’ jersey tonight.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder notched career win 700.

The Gamecocks hung their banner.

No other surprises, but some interesting scores.

Thoughts/points of interest:

Washington State was supposed to be amazing, but they lost to UC Davis.

Rutgers started out with a win.

So did Loyola Marymount.

UC Santa Barbara is picking up where they left off, as is Navy.

Middle Tennessee over Vanderbilt and Hampton over North Carolina.

USC, Colorado, Arizona and #11 Oregon all making strong statement wins in the Pac-12.

First-year Pepperdine coach Delisha Milton-Jones getting her first win, over Long Beach State.

First-year Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors getting an inaugural win.

It’s going to be an awesome season.

Tomorrow’s game schedule.

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