Eugene – No. 8 Oregon shook off a slow start in the first half Friday to rout Arizona, 62-44, and go 5-0 in Pac-12 play – the best start in program history.
The Ducks shot a season-low 38 percent, but used tough defense to limit the Wildcats to 29 percent shooting. Sabrina Ionescu led the hosts with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Ruthy Hebard added 14 points.
Oregon’s shooters were missing wide-open looks that they usually make – most notably, senior Lexi Bando. The three-point,hometown specialist had an off-night from beyond the arc going 3-of-10.
Bando was not the only player struggling to shoot the ball, as junior guard Maite Cazorla was 3-of-11 from the field. Five Duck players attempted at least one shot and didn’t make any.
YELENA BARANOVA (International Player – Russia)
1992 Olympic Games gold medalist.
1998 European Player of the Year.
2001 WNBA All-Star.
CEAL BARRY (Coach)
All-time coaching record of 510-284 in 26 seasons with 12 NCAA tournament appearances, including six Sweet 16, and three Elite Eight appearances.
Big Eight Coach of the Year four times (1989, 1993, 1994, 1995).
1994 U.S. Basketball Writers Association National Coach of the Year.
ROSE MARIE BATTAGLIA (Veteran – Contributor)
NJCAA Hall of Fame inductee with four NJCAA Final Four in 38 years of coaching and an overall record of 702-240-2.
Led Paramus Catholic High School (Paramus, New Jersey) to two consecutive state championships.
1998 WBCA Jostens-Berenson Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
CHRISTINE DAILEY (Contributor – Assistant Coach)
As Connecticut’s top assistant coach for the last 32 years, the Huskies have posted a 991-135 overall record en route to 11 NCAA National Championships.
Helped develop 19 Huskies into First Team All-Americans and eight National Players of the Year.
Inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
MICKIE DEMOSS (Contributor – Assistant Coach)
Her overall record as an assistant coach is 829-200.
As an assistant, she helped guide Tennessee to six NCAA National Championships and 12 NCAA Women’s Final Four appearances.
Two-year stint as an assistant for the Indiana Fever including their 2012 WNBA Championship season.
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW (U.S. Player)
All-time leading scorer and rebounder at Tennessee, leading the Lady Vols to three NCAA National Championships (1996, 1997, 1998) and was recognized as a four-time Kodak/WBCA All-American and two-time WBCA NCAA Division I Player of the Year.
Helped guide USA Basketball to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
1999 WNBA Rookie of the Year and a six-time WNBA All-Star.
VICTORIA “VICKIE” ORR (U.S. Player)
Three-time Kodak/WBCA All-American (1987, 1988, 1989).
Ranks third all-time at Auburn University in scoring with 2,035 career points, leading Auburn to two NCAA Women’s Final Fours (1988 & 1989).
1988 SEC Player of the Year.
KATIE SMITH (U.S. Player)
Three-time Olympic Games Gold Medalist (2000, 2004, 2008).
Led Detroit Shock to two WNBA Championships in 2006 and 2008, and was named the 2008 WNBA Finals MVP.
Two-time Kodak/WBCA All-American (1993 & 1996) and Big Ten Player of the Year (1996) while at Ohio State.
VALERIE STILL (U.S. Player)
Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, guiding them to the 1982 SEC Regular Season and Tournament Championships.
1982 & 1983 Kodak/WBCA All-American.
First female to have her jersey retired at Kentucky, in any sport, and inducted in the charter class of the University of Kentucky’s Hall of Fame.
TINA THOMPSON (U.S. Player)
Two-time Olympic Games Gold Medalist (2004, 2008).
Number 1 pick in the inaugural 1997 WNBA draft, guiding the Houston Comets to the first four WNBA Championships (1997-2000).
Named one of the WNBA Top 15 Players of all time in 2011.
Halfway through the season, it is safe to say that the Loyola Marymount Lions are, indeed, for real.
They seemed to come out of nowhere to start the year, roaring to a 7-0 start – their best in 12 seasons. But there was nothing incidental about it. The program is beginning to manifest its potential after a long rebuilding process.
“We feel really good about where we are right now,” sixth-year coach Charity Elliott said.
The tone was set last year, and carried over to this season. It can be seen in the Lion’s quickness, in their ability to play on both sides of the court and in their relentlessness against opponents.
Their fourth game of 2017-2018 saw them face off with the Arizona Wildcats – their first opponent from a major conference. Both teams, at that point, were 3-0.
Arizona came out firing, and hopped to a 21-7 lead, but LMU refused to roll over. They outscored the visitors in the second period to narrow their lead to eight at halftime. In the third quarter, they took control, and over the last eight minutes of the game they held the Wildcats scoreless to go on to win.
Their performance was similar to their matchup against highly-touted St. Louis eight days earlier. The Billikens ran out to an early lead, which was matched by a Lions run, and ended in a 62-60 win for visiting LMU, who didn’t back down and made crucial baskets down the stretch.
The Lions didn’t lose a game until Dec. 1, when they narrowly fell to USC. Currently they are a healthy 12-5, which is tops in Elliott’s tenure.
The never-say-die attitude and buoyant attitude of the team culminates the culture-building that Elliott began when she took the helm of the program in 2012. It was hard-fought, but is paying big dividends.
Through a combination of great personnel and cohesive chemistry both on the off the court, LMU is suddenly a contender in West Coast Conference play. But Elliott said the work is ongoing.
“We aren’t anywhere close to reaching our potential,” she said. “We still have some ways to go. Everything really depends on our consistency, and the effort we put in.”
Prior to Elliott’s arrival, the Lions had four seasons of lackluster performances under the previous coach, who ran the program for 17 years. Elliott, who had been head coach at the University of California at San Diego and Portland State, had to rebuild LMU from scratch when she arrived.
It was slow going, as the team had a losing record her first four years. But a game against West Coast Conference rival BYU in January, 2017, proved to be a turning point for the program.
The Lions opened the matchup cold, connecting on just 1-10 from the floor before heating up to end the first quarter, shooting 7-8 in the final three minutes to take a three-point lead. The teams took turns going on runs in the second and third quarters, with LMU at a 45-41 advantage to begin the last period.
The fourth frame proved to be as epic as those before it, but a shot miss by the Lions at the buzzer sent the game into overtime. The back-and-forth that ensued came down to free throws at the end, but on the last possession it was defense by LMU that shut down the league-leading Cougars. They went on to win four of their last eight games with an enthusiasm that is ongoing.
Elliott said the new attitude is because players started believing in themselves.
“Last season was our first year of having a winning mindset,” she said. “We learned how to close out games and how to compete with people we normally didn’t compete with.”
Elliott is excited about this year’s squad, and their potential.
“This team, they have so much heart, and the way that we’re just giving up ourselves and just really making it all about the team,” she said. “We know how hard we have to play, I think that’s what we’ve learned over (the) past few games. The energy, the intensity, we’ve got to get out there. I told them, ‘get out of yourself and get into the team.’ That’s the most important thing right now, because it’s everybody on a different night stepping up.”
Elliott believes her team’s defense will be a deciding factor over the next three months.
“We want to be the team that forces the issue early,” she said. “We want to dictate the other team’s offensive pace.”
The new-look Lions are a mixture of new faces and returners that include a star-studded freshman class, along with stellar transfers.
This year Elliott welcomed a top 50 recruiting class that featured Southern California natives Chelsey Gipson, Jasmine Jones and Aiyana Barnes. Returners rave about the newcomers.
“Sometimes I forget that they’re freshmen,” said junior forward Chyanne Wallace, who is averaging 17.1 points per game this season. “They’re so talented, and they blended in very well.”
Redshirt juniors Josie Buckingham and Gabby Green sat out 2016-17 after transferring from Minnesota and Cal, respectively.
Buckingham, at 6-5, is the tallest player to don an LMU uniform since the 1998-1999 season. Green earned multiple honors as a Bear, including making the all-Pac-12 freshman team and honorable mention defensive team. Green has played a big part in the Lion starting lineup this year, and is averaging 15.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Other key returners are juniors Andee Velasco, a guard, and Bree Alford, who plays forward. Both are averaging more than eight points per game, and Alford is pulling down a team-high 9.3 rebounds.
The group was able to get into a groove in their first few practices, finding a good mesh within different lineups.
“We do a lot of breakdown drills.” Elliot said. “It’s about finding the right group and team that plays well together. A person might not be a good player one on one, but could be great five on five.”
Elliott is pleased with the flexibility and versatility of her athletes.
“I love this team’s togetherness and mindset,” she said. “We have a lot of different weapons out on the floor, and it’s just exciting to see our girls step out and thrive in different situations.”
The Lions are successful on the court because they get along well off of it, and that includes the coaching staff. Associate head coach April Phillips said coaches worked to build relationships with each player.
“We have a lot of new pieces,” she said. “Each coach has to be all in, which requires a lot of time off the court with the girls.”
The upside to Green having to sit out a year is that it fostered greater bonds and connections between teammates. Elliott said the on-court chemistry between Green and Wallace is “insane in practice.”
“We have a lot of love playing together,” Wallace said. “I have so much respect for [Green]. Her leadership has been huge for our team.”
Phillips said the entire team is close.
“I think the biggest impact on our success has been the girls’ love for each other,” Phillips said, “This has to be one of the more fun and happy teams we’ve had. Gabby worked really hard to strengthen her relationship with the team, you know as the new kid on the block, and it’s been a dream come true.”
Players said being around each other is their choice.
“We’re together a lot,” said Green. “We all have a good connection. We have game nights, basketball games, we’re almost together too much.”
As the Lions face another WCC opponent tonight, Elliott is optimistic that the off-court chemistry of her team will continue to translate on the hardwood.
“Having high-level players is a huge piece for winning,” Elliot said. “Every person on our team and staff has a huge impact in our success, both on and off the court.”
Storrs, Conn. – Connecticut has never lost a game in the American Athletic Conference, and they padded that statistic Tuesday with an 80-44 rout of the University of Central Florida. But it wasn’t as easy as the final score indicates.
The contest for the Huskies was supposed to be a romp like so many others against league competition. For a half, however, UCF demonstrated the kind of athletic, physical play that can cause UConn to look uncomfortable and ineffective.
The Huskies, playing just their second game on campus, may decide they prefer road games. Faced with an aggressive and athletic Knights team, UConn scored just 32 points in the first half, a season low. By contrast, they scored 33 points in the first quarter against a ranked South Florida team just three days earlier.
UCF is extraordinarily quick and physical defensively, and the officials on this day were content to allow the contact. The Knights successfully packed the paint, stifling the Husky interior game, while recovering speedily to contest all but a few threes. UConn, clearly rushing to try to beat the defensive pressure, missed six of their first seven shots. UCF, meanwhile, milked the clock to limit possessions, missed even more shots, but matched the Huskies on the boards, to finish the period down just 18-8.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma returned to his sarcastic self when analyzing his team’s poor first-half play.
“I think the first half offensively . . . we got a little chip on our shoulder towards the officials,” he said. “I think that some players on our team think it’s the officials’ job to help them be really good. ‘Cause as you noticed in the first half, we are incapable of making a bucket when somebody touches us, we are incapable of making a layup when somebody else is in the lane with us. . . . Once we got that crap cleared away at halftime, it was pretty good.”
The Knights kept up the pressure throughout the second period, and at times the usually-confident Huskies looked shell-shocked. As a team, UCF was more athletic, which clearly threw their opponents off their game. The visitors contested every cut, every drive, every three. Along with the season-low 32 first half points, they held UConn to a season-low 36.4 percent shooting – 18 below their average. The clearly-flustered Huskies also missed four of nine free throws, and six of nine three-point attempts.
Fortunately for UConn, the Knights are not a good shooting team. With their deliberate style, they average just 61.4 points per game. But their active defense and clock-burning strategy has held their opponents to an average of just 54.7.
The second half became interesting, as the Knights shooting improved, mostly on pull-up jumpers off penetration. The Huskies rushed a series of shots and for a time, their opponents kept pace with them. A 5-0 UConn run, including a fast break, stopped the UCF momentum, but then they answered with a rare (for them) three, and the host’s lead was just 14.
Halfway through the third quarter, however, Gabby Williams took over the game defensively. Her steal and fast-break layup ignited the Huskies, and both their confidence and their scoring recovered. They kept up the pressure, led by Williams, and created some separation, closing the third ahead by 24, 56-32.
“Gabby Williams single-handedly turned the game around in the second half,” Auriemma said. “And once that [defensive pressure] started to happen and we started to get out and run, they didn’t have the chance to set up. Great players change the game by making great plays, not by taking something from the playbook & running with it.”
By the end of the third period, UConn had doubled their halftime lead to 24, and the Knights began to fade. They appeared winded and a step slower in the fourth quarter, while the Huskies regained their confidence, and maybe a bit of swagger. Shots that had been contested earlier, suddenly were not, and they were 11-17 in the fourth and led 14-5 in rebounds, which had been more or less even through three periods.
By shooting over 63 percent in the second half, UConn just managed to bring their shooting to a more familiar 50 percent. Azura Stevens led five playes in double figures with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes of play. Williams pulled down 13 rebounds, and was everywhere on defense.
Kay Kay Wright scored 17 for UCF.
The Huskies hit the road again for games at Houston and Texas next weekend, while the Knights travel to face South Florida on Sunday.
Wow. What changes in this week’s AP top 25 poll. South Carolina drops like a stone, Arizona State rises like a kite. Villanova and Stanford out, and Rutgers and Green Bay in. Welcome back, Scarlet Knights. It’s been a while.
2. Notre Dame
4. Mississippi State
9. South Carolina
10. Ohio State
13. Florida State
15. West Virginia
17. Texas A&M
18. Arizona State
20. Oklahoma State
22. Oregon State
25. Green Bay