Los Angeles – No. 10 Oregon State snapped a three-season losing streak at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion Friday by running past the Bruins, 83-73.
The Beavers used defense in the first half and shot at a blistering 71.4 percent clip in the fourth quarter to pull away from the hosts. Destiny Slocum led four from Oregon State in double figures with 22 points and eight assists, while Mikayla Pivec scored 21 and grabbed nine rebounds.
Coach Scott Rueck said the game was especially important for the team in the wake of last year’s 35-point loss to UCLA.
“This is a place where we haven’t won for a while, and to come in here with the memories of last year and put them behind us is impressive,” Rueck said.
The Beavers had a tough week, losing key reserve Kat Tudor and Janessa Thropay for the season to injury. Rueck said the team needed to make several adjustments in their absence, and they handled it well.
“I was really pleased with this team’s resiliency and toughness,” he said. “Their courage this week in the face of adversity, having to reconfigure some things and having to play some long minutes tonight.”
Slocum started slowly, going scoreless in the opening frame, and Oregon State shot only 33 percent while holding their opponents to 20 percent. Though the Beavers shot better in each quarter, the Bruins fought back to within three points in the third quarter, and twice more in the second. But a 9-0 Oregon State run in the final period put them ahead for good.
Michaela Onyenwere had 24 points for UCLA, while Lajahna Drummer and Kennedy Burke each added 18, and Drummer grabbed 10 rebounds.
Rueck said the Beavers knew they had to change their schemes if they wanted to beat the multi-skilled Bruins.
“So we did a lot of things that were new, which takes a while to get accustomed to, so you’re thinking a little bit too much early,” he said. “I thought our defense kept us in it (early) and got us some easy looks.”
“Our defense was the key to this game. Our defense held them down and gave us opportunities to play through some of those dry spells and mistakes, and then we settled in and understood where our looks were going to come.”
Rueck said he was even more happy at the maturity of players on the court.
“Our composure and execution was at its best that it’s been all year,” he said. “We switched defenses quite a lot in the second half, and that kept them off balance. Our rebounding got better as the game went on, and that’s when we took control of the game.”
UCLA coach Cori Close said it was her team’s lack of defense that allowed Oregon State to ignite.
“They executed their game plan and played to their strengths,” she said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t have more effectiveness on the defensive end of the floor. We have a lot more fight than we showed on that end. We have to disrupt on defense. The offensive rhythm of this conference is too good.”
She also credited the Beaver defense in throwing them off.
“We’re built on being able to run in transition on defensive stops, and when you have to go against anyone’s set defense, it’s going to be to their advantage.”
Close also said the Bruins struggled with composure.
“I always say, ‘don’t let our offense dictate our defense,’ and we let our frustration at not getting rewarded effect the game plan,” she said.
Oregon State is now down to nine healthy players – all of whom must now step into different roles and play for longer periods of time.
“Nobody played over 25 minutes a game on this team (before the injuries),” Rueck said. “A couple times we had someone playing 30. It’s fascinating to see how two injuries can really impact our depth. For a while it seemed like there weren’t enough minutes to go around, and now it’s like, ‘can you keep going?’
“The other way we have had to adjust is in people playing different positions.”
Slocum, who played 35 minutes, is optimistic.
“Our execution throughout the game was really good,” she said. “There’s a level defensively and offensively that we’ve reached that we see ourselves carrying on.”
Oregon State travels to USC Sunday, while UCLA hosts No. 5 Oregon.
Sometime in the next few months, Lili Thompson will make her professional basketball debut with the Harlem Globetrotters.
The former Stanford and Notre Dame standout guard was one of five players drafted by the infamous organization last June, but she is in the final stages of rehabilitation from an ACL tear, and hasn’t yet been cleared to play.
Yet, Thompson has been preparing. The Globetrotters gave her a nickname – “Champ” – have put her in the practice rotation and given her a playing assignment. She said she is having a lot of fun.
“It’s a close-knit team,” Thompson said. “It’s pro basketball, with some of the best athletes in the world. We are focused on making it a great family experience for everyone who comes to see us.”
The Irish were in the midst of a great season, with Thompson leading them with 4.6 assists per game, when she hurt her knee Dec. 31, 2017, during a game. She and three other injured teammates cheered from the bench while Notre Dame went on to win the National Championship three months later.
The Globetrotters drafted her as just the 17th woman in their 92-year history to make the squad. And it was a kind of full-circle move for Thompson, whose first encounter with them was when she was seven years old.
“Both my parents were in the military – I was an Army brat – and every year the Globetrotters do a military base tour,” Thompson said. “After the game I got to meet one of the players, named Scooter, and it was a really cool experience. I remember vividly having so much fun out there.”
Thompson eventually learned she had a connection to the organization when she found out that one of their former coaches played for her grandfather, a Michigan High School Hall of Fame coach, almost 40 years ago. She was thrilled that they chose her to be on the team.
“All these years later, to have them draft me, it’s incredible,” she said.
For the Globetrotters, it was an easy call to make.
“You need three qualities to be a Harlem Globetrotter: you need to be a great basketball player, a great entertainer and a great person. Lili excels in all areas,” a spokesman for the organization said.
In preparation for the season, which begins tonight in Pennsylvania, Thompson and her teammates have been practicing and making appearances. One last month was with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.
Globetrotters players are split into four teams, and Thompson isn’t sure which one she’ll end up with. But her role is already defined: she’ll be a shooter.
“Some of the guys are working on high-flying dunks and acrobatics, and others are specializing in trick shots, ball-handling and running the play,” Thompson said. “The Globetrotters have a four-point line, and I’m excited to get out there on the four-point line. It’s longer than an NBA three.”
Thompson is philosophical about her injury, saying that getting hurt is part of the game. But as she continues her rehab, it is with a measured approach.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said. “Focusing on a date to be cleared isn’t the best process for me.”
Kennedy Leonard came into her senior season at Colorado with her usual bag of hoops tricks.
The star point guard is once again the team’s scoring leader, their on-court boss, and the personification of hustle and grit. In the Buff’s last game of 2018, Leonard broke the school’s all-time assists record – 612 – and is now creating a new one with each game outing, including an 11-assist performance in the team’s Pac-12 opener Friday. She ranks sixth in Division I in that category, with a 7.2 per-game average.
But if her game has flourished during her time in Boulder, Leonard has grown as a person, a student and an athlete even more so. While never losing focus on the game she holds so dearly, she has expanded her focus outward to developing peer relationships, co-founding a peer advocacy program at the school and becoming a more vocal leader.
Coach JR Payne said Leonard’s evolvement has been impressive.
“She has lightened up a lot,” Payne said. “She’s very charming, and can speak to the little kids to come to our games. They adore her because she gets down to their level and talks to them.”
“She can speak to athletic directors, regents of the University. She understands the social part of it and the importance of her role in appearing on posters and advertisements. She came to my daughter’s game one recent Saturday morning, just to cheer for my kids.”
The road to the present day, however, was not easy.
A decorated high school athlete, Leonard was ranked ninth at point guard and 40th overall out of Southlake, Texas, when she signed with Colorado. But in her freshman year in Boulder, despite averaging 12.1 points and 4.63 assists per game, the team racked up a 7-23 record.
To say it was hard on Leonard is an understatement.
“I can’t even begin to articulate what going 7-23 does to you,” she said. “Basketball had always been everything to me, and it was a safe place to get away. But during seven-game losing streaks, you forget how much you love it, and it becomes a chore. I had never had been through that before. I had always been: eat, sleep and breathe basketball.”
The Buffs fired the previous coach at the end of the season and hired Payne, but Leonard was already out the door.
“Kennedy had asked for, and got her release, before I got here,” Payne said. “We talked on the phone, about what we wanted to do with the program and how we wanted to do it. She decided she wanted to stay in this place. She really was my first recruit.”
Coach and player bonded quickly. Payne called Kennedy the team’s hardest worker; Leonard said Payne is “like a mother.”
In Payne’s first season, Colorado started well and picked up steam, finishing with a 17-15 record and advancing to the third round of the WNIT before bowing out. Leonard was the team’s top scorer, averaging 17.1 points per outing, and dishing 5.75 assists.
Last year the Buffs began with a strong pre-conference run, but they stumbled when they reached Pac-12 play. Despite winning their first conference tournament game in several years, they failed to make the postseason because, Leonard said, they “should have won four or five more games.”
She played through plantar fasciitis, yet increased her assists average, and she still thinks of it as a good year. And despite any disappointment, Leonard has kept the big picture in mind and remains optimistic.
“It’s been a good process for me, though it hasn’t been the easiest,” she said. “We haven’t made an NCAA Tournament yet, but if I hadn’t gone through everything I have here, I wouldn’t be the person I am.”
“I’m hoping this year in the Pac-12 that we can reach where we’re supposed to be. I’m trying to leave behind a legacy.”
Payne, who brought Leonard to three straight Pac-12 media day appearances as the face of the team, said she has already left a lasting mark on the University.
“Kennedy’s going to go down as one of the best and most successful players to ever wear a Colorado jersey,” Payne said. “She owns the single-season assist record twice over – she broke the record and then she broke her own record. Now she has the career assists mark. To have that at the point guard position is remarkable because all those assists are someone else’s points.”
Leonard has done it the right way, too.
“She is an example of time spent and dedication to not just basketball, but the weight room, nutrition, and making good decisions about how to use her free time,” Payne said.
Though her name is already in the school’s record books, Leonard’s impression will also be left with all of her peers in athletics at Colorado.
Along with soccer standout Jalen Tompkins, last fall Leonard co-founded the Bolder Buffs – a group of about 20 student-athletes who train each other on how to recognize when their peers are struggling with mental health issues. They work with the school’s sports psychologist and counselor using what they call “the three R’s”: recognize, respond and refer.
The goal is not only to make mental health a priority, but to create a safe space where athletes know that it is OK to talk if they’re struggling.
The idea began as a class project for Tompkins, who quickly asked Leonard to be involved. Getting on board was a no-brainer.
“Some of my extended family members have struggled with mental illness, and I love to help people,” Leonard said. “A lot of athletes go through things, and there is a lot of stigma about it. Depression and mood swings are common. If you’re not playing well, that can lead to depression, and if you don’t know how to handle it, it can spiral.”
“I personally don’t experience those issues, but I have known others who have, and I don’t like seeing what they’ve gone through. I like being able to help people through those moments.”
Leonard and Tompkins worked to get representatives from every team on campus, from both genders and from various ethnic backgrounds, so all athletes would feel comfortable talking with someone. So far, the program has been successful.
“It’s good to know that there’s a place to go where it’s OK to not be OK,” said sophomore forward Annika Jank, also a member of Bolder Buffs.
Tompkins said the endeavor wouldn’t have happened without Leonard.
“She has such a passion for the project and for the group,” Tompkins said. “She has helped turn it into something that really helps people.”
Leonard has taken this new, more inclusive focus on to the basketball court, as well. A classic gym rat, she has always been laser-focused on the game and has typically put basketball before people, with the exception of her family.
“I’ve said she’s the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached as far as time and dedication to the game, because she’s always in the gym,” Payne said. “On days she’s dinged up, she thinks the trainer and I are conspiring against her. She wants every rep, and she’s secretly pissed when we sub her out in practice. Basketball is her first love.”
But the coach has noticed a change in her star player this season.
“She’s worked hard this year to be a teammate and to be invested in her teammates,” Payne said. “She’s always been just about the basketball: ‘if you’re doing other things, I’ll be in the gym.’ Now she is investing in relationships.”
Leonard said she has worked on changing so she can be a better leader in her last collegiate season.
“Even last year, if someone wouldn’t catch a pass, I’d get upset about it and wouldn’t handle it very well,” she said. “This year I made a conscious effort to let it go, knowing everybody would be looking at me. I want to lead by example.”
Payne has noticed the difference in her approach.
“We were up 30 a couple weeks ago and she didn’t get a chance to play as much,” Payne said. “I texted her later and said, ‘I’m proud of you for really celebrating on the bench.’ It hasn’t always been that way.”
Leonard’s more relaxed approach appears to be paying dividends in her game, too.
“This year she’s shooting the ball much better, and her shot selection is a lot better than what it has been,” Payne said. “When I got here she felt like she had to take 30 shots to help the team get better. She’s changed and developed, is more balanced and doesn’t rush things. The things we used to talk about a year ago, we don’t see that anymore.”
Most of the talking these days is by Leonard – to her teammates.
“She’s getting better at being vocal,” Payne said. “It’s night and day from where she used to be. She has always been one to lead by example. She’s not a yeller, but she’s worked hard to do a better job at that and be consistent at instructing. We have a point guard freshman, and she’s tried to explain and talk through things with her.”
Jank said she and her teammates appreciate it.
“Kennedy has really grown into her role,” Jank said. “We all look up to her because she works so hard in the gym, the weight room, and is aggressive on the court.”
Leonard hopes to play in the WNBA and overseas. When her playing career is done, she wants to coach.
“I want to coach at the college level, to coach and give back,” she said. “I have had coaches who have taught me things about life that others haven’t taught me, so I would hope I can give back.”
For now, however, Leonard’s focus is on getting her team to the postseason.
“My personal goals are to stay consistent – especially with my shooting percentage and assists – and do whatever I can do to help us get wins,” she said. “Whatever gets us closer to the NCAA Tournament. For me it’s never been about how many points I score, but doing whatever I can to get us there.”
Now in his sixth year as head coach at Ohio, Bob Boldon has led the Bobcats to numerous program milestones. They were Mid-American Conference regular-season champions two years in a row, earned a program-best 27-win record and put up the most points in one season in program history. Ohio has advanced to post-season play four times under the in-state native, and several players have earned honors and broken records. In winning their conference opener Saturday, the Bobcats are 12-0 – one of only three unbeaten teams left in Division I.
Boldon was a standout point guard at Walsh College and led the team to the NAIA Final Four. He remains the school’s assists record-holder. Boldon was an assistant coach for 10 years under three different head coaches: Karl Smesko, Jodi Kest and Jerry Scheve. He was head coach at Youngstown State for three years before signing on with the Bobcats, turning a Penguin program that was 0-30 into a WNIT participant at the end of his tenure.
Boldon earned a Master’s Degree in liberal studies from Indiana in 2003.
You’ve become known as a turnaround expert. How has that process evolved?
Each time, it’s a unique process. I don’t think there’s an exact formula, or a time in which the process takes; it takes as long as it takes. In particular, at Ohio, this staff has been amazing, and it’s been great having them with me the whole time. It can be a grueling process, and there are a lot of bad days. You need a staff that believes in you and keeps the energy going.
You’ve got to take the jobs they’ll give you. When I got the Youngstown job, I was excited. I applied for the Ohio job, and when they released the list of applicants, it sat at 100 and I thought I had no chance. But a lot of them didn’t want to deal with (the rebuilding process). I was just grateful to be given a chance.
What are the characteristics of a Boldon-coached team?
I like to think we take care of the basketball and that we play hard. Throughout the years we’ve got it down pretty well – though not as well as I’ve hoped – but we’ve typically been in the top 10 or 15 in three-pointers. If we don’t turn it over, we tend to shoot it more than other teams do.
If I walked into an Ohio practice, what would I see?
What you wouldn’t see is a lot of standing around. People are very active, and practices are 75-85 minutes long. We do quite a bit of shooting, we play five-on-five every day, and we see a lot of interaction between the staff and players and coaches. We are all trying to help players get better.
Our fundamental job is to make every player as good as she can be. It doesn’t always feel good, because we’re often telling them what they don’t do correctly, but I applaud (my staff) because they have to be willing to tell players what they’re doing wrong. It takes a good player-coach relationship to be able to express that effectively. If you don’t have a good relationship with kids, they’ll tune you out. As a new coach, sometimes you have to deal with “the old coach didn’t do it that way” thinking. It’s almost easier to coach the players you recruited because of the relationship you built through recruiting. Both times I took over a program I initially knew more about those I had recruited than those who were on the floor. Relationships take time and you have to build trust; often times the previous coach wasn’t successful and that’s why the new coach is there.
How do you approach goal-setting with the team?
It’s pretty basic: we try to win every game we play. Our goal is to win the next game we play, and in order to do that we have to make improvements from previous game, whether we win or lose.
How do you define success? How do you define a successful season?
For a successful season, you have to look back and say, what could this team accomplish, and did it accomplish that? Too often we get caught up in, did you win 20 games, which is an arbitrary number to represent success and I don’t know why. Being 11-0 can mean different things for different teams.
If we won 22 and could have won 26, you have to take that into account and whatever comes with it. If that gets you a league championship, your boss will be happy with that, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We have to take into account how well we played our schedule, because a lot of factors go into who we play and how we played them.
How did you begin coaching women? What is fun about coaching women?
Karl Smesko is a very good friend of mine, and when he had the women’s job at Walsh he asked me to be his GA. We won the national title that year, and he made it seem like coaching was easy. I just enjoy coaching. I often get asked if would rather coach women than men, and and I don’t really care – I just like coaching. At this point I’d rather coach women because I have strategies that work, and it wouldn’t be good to start over at my age.
How has the game changed since when you played it?
The biggest difference from playing is the hand checking and the way you can guard. You used to be able to be way more physical. We used to chuck cutters, and you can’t do that now. The game has been moving to position-less basketball, and we’ve played that way for years. Now other people are catching up. I don’t necessarily like it (position-less). Everyone is shooting more now, and all five positions are shooting threes.
Have young people playing the game changed much from when you played?
I think that for young kids the game has become more structured. There are less kids out playing basketball in parks because it’s harder to get into gyms. I don’t know why, but gyms are locked up now, so everything is coach-run. When that happens, it hinders the development of kids.
When I was growing up, every good player had access to a gym. Now, that’s not the case. Maybe part of it is we have a heightened sense of security, but it’s lead to less open gyms and more team-run stuff. Everything is set for kids, so they aren’t as good of thnkers as they used to be.
How are you different now than when you first started coaching? What are the keys to evolving in the coaching profession?
When I started I thought I had to be a really good X’s and O’s person, and now I know I need to be a really good communicator. I’m still an X’s and O’s person, and it’s important to get your kids on a plan that works. But if you can’t communicate with your kids what the plan is, it won’t work. If you can’t get them all on the same page, then you might as well throw your plan in the trash.
What do you want players to take from your program when they leave it?
I hope we’ve installed a work ethic in our players and encouraged them to be able to do things on their own. That we’ve not been enablers and crutches to lean on, but challenged them to do more than what they thought they could do, bot on and off the court. And that we’d given them the confidence to take on the world. My biggest fear is that someone graduates and feels like we didn’t push her hard enough. For example, I wish I would have had a coach who told me to go hard with my left hand. When a player graduates, we went to know she’s the best she can be. With women, once they graduate, their basketball career is most likely over. I want to make sure we’ve enabled them outside of the basketball floor and have taught them about hard work and coming to your job even if you’re tired or hurt. I make sure they’ve prepared academically, and that we’ve pushed them to get A’s.
Is basketball life?
At times it has been. It’s been kind of a roller coaster. At times it’s been my whole life and at times it’s been too much. One of my biggest challenges is to have some balance. That I’m still treating my family and friends properly. There were a number of years where my life was dictated by winning, and I had a hard time with losing -I didn’t handle it really well. I’m trying to find some balance to that, but not a lot, mind you. I don’t want to have too much balance in my life. I don’t know how good you can be with too much balance. I try to do a good job being balanced, but I don’t want to do too good a job because I’d be a terrible coach.
Per a statement released by North Carolina State, redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter will miss the remainder of the season. Hunter suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s 63-51 win over Duke.
The injury will be a tough one for the Wolfpack to overcome. Having already lost point guard Kaila Ealey in the preseason, their back court will now be even thinner moving forward. Hunter has been integral to NC State’s success this season. Starting every game and playing 31 minutes a night, she helped guide the team to their current ACC-best, and best start in program history, 15-0 record and a No. 9 ranking. Before the injury, Hunter averaged 14.6 points on .503/.227/.800 shooting splits along with 2.9 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and 12 total steals on the year – the best on the team.
Coach Wes Moore will have to make up the difference with his remaining arsenal. Based on playing time and production so far this year, it is likely sophomore Kai Crutchfield and redshirt senior Armani Hawkins will be tasked with increased responsibility. Moore has proven more than capable of getting the best out of his players and recalibrating on the fly in Raleigh, but sustaining his team’s perfect start without Hunter will be a significant challenge.
NC State host 9-6 Pitt and travel to 6-9 Virginia in their next two contests. Their first significant test without Hunter will come Jan. 20 against a 13-2 Virginia Tech squad that just took No. 14 Syracuse to the wire in overtime Sunday. The adjustments Moore makes in Hunter’s absence will likely determine the rest of the season.