Los Angeles – UCLA used a 31-point fourth quarter push Wednesday to outrun No. 14 Georgia, 80-69.
Sophomore Michaela Onyenwere paced the Bruins with a career-high 25 points, as well as 11 rebounds. Kennedy Burke added 21 points and Japreece Dean, 17.
The Bulldogs got off to a quick start with a balanced scoring attack, led by Caliya Robinson and Taja Cole, to take a 22-12 first quarter lead. UCLA surged in the second period and cut the advantage to two midway though, but the visitors went on another run and inflated their lead back to nine at the break.
An Onyenwere-led surge brought the two teams to a 49-all tie with 59 seconds to go in the third frame, but Gabby Connally gave Georgia one more bucket before time expired.
Both squads traded baskets in the fourth quarter, and the 62-all tie at the 5:06 mark was the fifth of the game. But in the last 2:58, the Bruins forced six Bulldog turnovers, and they capitalized on each one. Onyenwere scored 11 of her points in the period.
UCLA coach Cori Close credited her team’s defense in the win.
“We did it with our defense,” she said. “We played player to player, and depending upon who they were subbing, we were able to sub accordingly. We practice making three straight stops, and that’s what we got to live out today.”
It was a very different showing from their season opener eight days earlier, as Loyola Marymount took a large lead, and the Bruins were unable to respond. Burke – one of only three seniors – had a message for her teammates after that game.
“I told the team after the LMU loss that we have to take more pride in our defense,” Burke said. “(Today) started on defense. A couple of their players started getting hot…..it was about us having good pressure and rebounding.
The UCLA defense was noticeably improved in their second game five days later, when they beat a tough Rice team. Against Georgia, the Bruins stole the ball 12 times, to four for their opponents.
Cole scored 22 points for the Bulldogs, while Connally chipped in 19 and Robinson, 13.
Coach Joni Taylor credited the UCLA defense for their win.
“They rushed us,” she said. “In the second half they became a lot more aggressive, and I don’t think we handled it very well. We had people shooting it from areas they don’t normally shoot if from. We didn’t settle in and never really got settled in the third or fourth quarter, offensively.”
Even more than improved defense, Close was most pleased with the newfound maturity her young team is already showing.
“I’m really proud of their confidence today, and the way they handled the hard things,” she said. “Their composure, their togetherness, the way they tried to execute the game plan.”
Close said she and her assistant coaches have talked to players about game adversity.
“When the littlest thing goes wrong, it can force you to push the panic button, and that is a part of every game – you are never going to avoid it,” she said. “So you might as well embrace it and see it as an opportunity to be more defensively tough, to overcome and to be more together.”
Players seem to be taking that message to heart.
“When a mistake happened I watched their eye contact,” Close said about the Georgia game. “I watched how quickly they got to huddles. I watched what they were like in timeouts. And they weren’t think about ‘oh that just happened,’ they were on to the next play.”
“We talk a lot about winning the moments and controlling your response. Events and adversity are going to happen.”
The Bulldogs rose into the top 25 last year and were tapped for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in several years. This season, consequently, is brand new.
“Last year no one was expecting us to do what we did, now this year there’s an expectation. so how do you handle that?” Taylor said. “How do you continue to get better when you’ve had success? Our conversation has been, getting better every single day, and how are you doing that. Because if you do what you did last year, you’re not going to have more success or achieve greater things. From an offensive standpoint, we’ve got to score the ball better.”
For Onyenwere, the game may eventually serve as a coming out party for a player who showed great promise in her first season, but who was playing behind two program greats in Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. She worked hard to improve her game over the summer, and said now she is focused on stepping up.
“I have tried to embrace my new role, and part of it is believing that I can do this,” Onyenwere said. “I have great people behind me, supporting me.”
A crowd of 5,113 cheered the Bruins on in the midday match up, due mostly to UCLA’s coordination with local elementary schools for “field trip day.” Several alumni athletes sat courtside, including Canada, Kelli Hayes, and members of the classes of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2017.
For their Sunday game hosting Seton Hall, Close said the focus is on continual improvement.
“I don’t feel urgent that we have to win, but I feel urgent that we have to grow and we have to get tougher, and that doesn’t end,” Close said.
The Chicago Sky introduced James Wade as the new head coach and general manager of the franchise in a press conference Tuesday.
Wade, 43, replaces Amber Stocks, who was let go in September after her second season. In 2018, the Sky was the league’s worst defending team, giving up 90.1 points per game. They lead in turnovers, averaging 15.3 per game.
A Kennesaw State graduate, Wade played professionally all over Europe for 12 seasons before entering the coaching ranks. He spent four years as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Silver Stars under Dan Hughes, was was assistant coach for Cheryl Reeve and the Minnesota Lynx for the last two seasons.
The franchise ownership sought input from players when conducting their coaching search.
“We are thrilled to have James join our franchise,” Sky owner Michael Alter said. “James is a widely-respected and dynamic leader. He has as special way of connecting with players, and a demonstrated track record of helping push them to achieve their highest levels of success, which is why we are confident in the Sky’s future under his leadership.”
Chicago boasts a talented roster of former All-Stars in Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot and Stefanie Dolson, and they have four top-five draft picks: Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams, Cheyenne Parker and Alaina Coates. The team has an ideal mix of youth and veteran leadership to make noise in the league next summer. One of Wade’s tasks will be to put those pieces together.
What attracted you to the position of head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky?
You look at the roster we have and the ownership, I think it’s a great opportunity. We have the potential to have a young booming roster with numerous core players and numerous play-makers. I felt like the team had a lot of untapped potential and I just wanted to be a part of it.
Have you begun to assemble a coaching staff?
I’m interviewing coaches right now as we speak. Within the last two to two and a half weeks I’ve been interviewing coaches consistently. We’ll keep on going, but I’ve got it down to a few candidates that I really like. It’s about finding the perfect fit. Hopefully we’ll have something done pretty soon.
What style of play will you bring to the Sky?
We’re going to move the ball a lot. I want my play-makers making plays. We’re going to build on the fact that we are a team that’s willing to pass the ball. They led the league in assists last year, but now we have to cut out the turnovers. I want to play fast, I want to move the ball, and I want to play inside-out.
Your team has a lot of free agents with only about five players under contract. What are you looking for to add to the team this off-season?
We have to secure our core. They had a great core last year. We want to secure them going forward and then maybe find a role player or two that can help balance us out.
So, is re-signing Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley the top priority?
I don’t want to say any names because I don’t know if I can, but re-signing those players is a top priority.
Cheyenne Parker had a break out season but seemed to be mis-used under the last coaching staff. How does she fit into things going forward?
She’s that one post player that likes to duck in, she wants the ball on the block, and she’s aggressive. I like Cheyenne – I’ve always like Cheyenne. I think she will be an important piece going forward.
You have the fourth pick in the upcoming draft. Will you choose the best player available, or will you draft by need?
It depends. Best player available is typically where you go with 1-through-4. It can be a balancing act, too, because if you choose by need but that player is a ninth pick talent, you don’t need that player [laughs]. I think you have to take the best player available.
Have you spoken to coach Reeve and coach Hughes about your new venture?
All the time. They actually helped me throughout the process. I lean on Dan and Cheryl for a lot of advice. They’ve always been there for me and I suspect that they always will.
What did you learn from them that you’re going to implement as a head coach?
It’s going to be a lot of non-negotiables. I’m going to put the players in a position to succeed and try to play to their strengths. I think it’s about the players and making sure that they’re in a good place, mentally and physically. I know that it’s not about me. If I can get the team going the way they’re going but doing it together and playing to their strengths, I think it will be good.
Last season this team gave up the most points in the league and averaged the most turnovers per game. How will you go about fixing those issues?
Practice [laughs]. Practice is where it happens, man. You attack those things in practice. The good thing about right now is that having the same core back, you know what their weaknesses are. You have this whole time to prepare and say, “Okay, I know what we need to improve on, so now it’s about improving in those 4-5 areas that we need to improve on.”
I think a lot of the turnover issues were due to the backup point guard situation.
It was tough. You had Jamierra [Faulkner] go down and you depended a lot on Linnae [Harper] who was young and just out of college. It was her first year in the league. That was a tough situation to be in, especially when a seasoned veteran gets injured. We’ll find ways to combat that. We’ll be fine.
What do you hope to achieve in your first season in Chicago?
What do I hope to achieve?
What will you achieve [laughs]?
We’re going to be a competitive team. I want to go as deep as we can in the playoffs. That’s the reason I’m here. We’re not rebuilding. We’re trying to put together a team and we want to go on a deep run.
This is probably the most ridiculous time of year in college basketball, as stakeholders try to act like they know what to expect from 2018-2019. There are a million cliches out there about the beginnings of a season, and all of them are essentially on a loop from the mouths and keyboards of pundits and prognosticators.
To wit: Team X “hasn’t played anybody yet, just wait until conference play starts.” Player X is “adjusting to her new role in the offense” or (if it’s a freshman) “adjusting to the game at this level,” “learning to see the floor,” etc. Whether it’s the squishy and undefined (“establishing team chemistry”) or the hard-line statistical approach (“SMALL SAMPLE SIZE”), week one reveals so little.
But one significant aspect of the first week of a season is that a baseline is established, from which all else will launch. Teams and players that look dominant, even if they haven’t actually proven it, get the early-season buzz and rankings boosts that set the table for the rest of the year. Wins and losses count now, and a dramatic showing of either in the early going can set a team up for how opponents might approach them, how they’ll fit into the national picture, and whether or not they’ll be chosen for the NCAA Tournament in March. After week one we know everything, and we know nothing.
So, thus far, here is what we know about the ACC:
Sue Semrau’s Florida State Seminoles began their campaign with a pair of home victories in Tallahassee – a 103-67 drubbing of Troy, and a 74-53 rout of North Florida. They capped the week with a solid win over rival Florida, 63-56. This year’s ‘Noles are mostly a young team, but they have a few very talented veteran leaders and some bright new stars. Freshman forward Valencia Myers is putting up 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game so far, while sophomore Savannah Wilkinson is contributing a solid eight and six off the bench. The junior duo of Nicki Ekhomu and Kiah Gillespie are averaging a whopping 36.3 points combined. If the team can continue to produce these kinds of numbers, they will be dangerous.
No. 24 Miami routed Florida International, 94-43, dispatched Stephen F. Austin, 81-60, and pulled out a closer-than-expected 75-62 win over Hartford on the strength of a balanced scoring attack. The Hurricanes have two starters averaging double digits in Mykea Gray (13.3 points per game) and Beatrice Mompremier (15.7 points, along with 10.7 rebounds per game). Sarah Mortenson and Emese Hoff contributed 12 and 11.3 points per game off the bench, respectively. Coach Katie Meier has mostly sophomores and juniors, which is an ideal mix of experience and potential for further growth. If everything clicks, Miami could be dialed in and scary come March.
Wake Forest has thee solid, but by no means dominant, victories. Beating Towson, Mercer and Richmond by a combined 191-155 at home is good for the win-loss column but is less beneficial for the season’s overall outlook. The Demon Deacons’ trio of dynamic scorers (Ivana Raca, Elisa Penna, and Ona Udoh) are filling it up as expected, but coach Jen Hoover will need to find better contributions from the rest of her roster moving forward.
No. 5 Louisville started the year on the road, where they beat Western Kentucky 102-80 in their debut and then handled Chattanooga, 75-49. Coach Jeff Walz’s squad has predictably been led by the electric play of senior Asia Durr, whose 28.5 points per game are coming via truly insane shooting splits: 54.3 percent from the floor, 48 percent behind the arc, and a perfect 100 percent at the stripe. Arica Carter is the team’s only other double-digit scorer so far, averaging 11 off the bench. But this is a deep squad, with five other players averaging between six and nine points in various capacities. The Cardinals will need to step up their rebounding (no player is averaging double-digit boards; senior guard Yacine Diop has the team high at 7.0), but Durr by herself is enough to keep them competitive with just about any opponent.
Sylvia Hatchell’s Tar Heels routed Elon in their opener, but put up a less-than-ideal performance in their first home game, against Kent State. A 73-60 final is still a win, but a team with North Carolina’s aspirations shouldn’t allow runs like the one the Golden Flashes had going into halftime. On the bright side, the Tar Heel’s primary weapons are performing as advertised thus far, with Paris Kea averaging 21 points per outing and Janelle Bailey, 13 points and 8.5 boards. Shayla Bennett, a transfer from Gulf Coast State College, has been a revelation. The junior guard is averaging 12.5 points, 6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game and has stolen the ball a team-high seven times. North Carolina is still finding their groove, but the signs are there for good things to come.
Clemson started off with two victories at home: 85-77 over Wofford, and a 68-26 thrashing of Lipscomb. Their dynamic trio of Danielle Edwards, Simone Westbrook, and Kobi Thornton is averaging a preposterous 44 points and 18.5 boards combined, and that’s including a lot of down time during the Lipscomb game. Coach Amanda Butler’s squad looks promising, but will need more contributions from the bench as they move towards tougher tests on the schedule.
Boston College is 2-0 after beating up on Rhode Island, 88-64, and Saint Peter’s University, 89-57. The Eagles have four players averaging 10+ points, and a whole team full of glass-cleaning rebound hounds. So far the team is snagging 58.5 boards a game, while opponents are managing just 34.5. If they can maintain anything like that superiority against ACC competition, they should be able to give anyone a fight simply by keeping the ball out of the opposition’s hands.
Virginia Tech logged two convincing home wins over South Carolina Upstate (96-45) and Georgia Southern (78-49), as both starters and bench players poured in points. Seniors Regan Magarity and Taylor Emery, sophomores Trinity Baptiste and Aisha Sheppard, and freshman Dara Mabrey (younger sister to Notre Dame standouts Michaela and Marina) are all averaging double figures so far. With that kind of firepower at coach Kenny Brooks’ disposal, there’s a chance Tech might make a little more noise this year than anticipated.
Wes Moore’s North Carolina State squad has put away two double-digit wins against Belmont (77-62) and Kent State (78-61). Strong contributions from starters Grace Hunter (15.5 points per game) Aislinn Konig (13), and Kiara Leslie (11), are being bolstered by bench scoring from Kai Crutchfield (11.5) and Elissa Cunane (10.5). That uptick is coming partly from efficient shooting behind the arc. The Pack are 20-44 (.455) from deep, compared to opponents going just 22-73 (.301.) Tack on 20 more total assists than their competition so far, and that’s a great recipe to move forward with in Raleigh.
No. 1 Notre Dame has played just one game so far, but it was a doozy: a 103-58 thrashing of Harvard. The Irish opened their title defense with the same terrifying attack that allowed them to cut down the nets last year. Arike Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard equaled their opponent’s point total by themselves. Brianna Turner, back as a graduate player after missing last year injured, looked looked back to form with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double. Throw in the returning production of Jackie Young and a coming-out game for sophomore Mikayla Vaughn (12 points, six boards), and it was a demolition of a game. What’s even more scary is that Marina Mabrey didn’t even play; the senior guard is out with a quad injury to start the year, but is scheduled to return to the court soon. A fully- healthy team, with coach Muffet McGraw in charge of this level of talent is, in a word, terrifying for the rest of the conference, and the country.
No. 18 Syracuse, meanwhile, played the game of the year so far over the weekend. After opening with a typical 85-49 win over North Dakota, the Orange went to Oregon to face the No. 3 Ducks, and gave them everything they could handle. Behind impressive performances from Tiana Mangakahia (15 points, eight assists, four rebounds), Gabrielle Cooper, and Amaya Finklea-Guity (11 points each and nine combined boards), ‘Cuse very nearly took Oregon down in their own gym. The 75-73 barn burner may have ended in a loss, but coach Quentin Hillsman’s team proved they can hang with the best in a hostile road environment, and that should put their expectations, already substantial coming into the year, at the highest level.
Georgia Tech and Pitt are both 1-1, and both teams will likely be erratic all year and play the part of spoiler rather than making any serious charge at conference bragging rights.
Virginia is 0-1. But in fairness, losing to No. 6 Mississippi State, even by a 44-72 margin, isn’t horrible on its own. The problem was that outside of a well-played third quarter, the Cavaliers just aren’t yet a coherent team.
Last but not least: the now-unranked Duke. The Blue Devils, who were No. 21 going into the season, opened with a blowout win over Evanston, and were, in turn, blown out by Northwestern. Leaonna Odom put up a nice 14-14 (points/rebounds), Haley Gorecki scored 10 points, and Rayah Craig kicked in 13 off the bench. But despite some good showings from other players, there were two problems: 1. Duke shot the ball poorly and turned it over 24 times. Coach Joanne P. McCallie is too experienced and the squad, too talented to think of this as much more than an opening-game fluke from a team that is still adjusting to losses from graduation and injury.
The same 25 teams remain in this week’s WomensHoopsWorld top 25. The Fighting Irish continue to lead the way, as they defeated Harvard, 103-58 in their season opener. UConn, Oregon, Baylor, and Mississippi State round out the top five. Louisville, Oregon State, South Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee and Stanford (tie) finish 6-10 respectively. The Gamecocks climbed the highest this week, moving up four spots from last week; the Duke Blue Devils dropped the most spots, falling from 20 to 24.
This week’s games will feature No. 19 Texas A&M traveling to No. 20 Syracuse, No. 1 Notre Dame at No. 16 DePaul, and No. 12 Maryland at No. 8 South Carolina. No. 13 Georgia will be tested this week as they hit the road to face UCLA and Georgia Tech.
Since taking the reins of CSUN basketball in 2010, Jason Flowers has reshaped the culture and identity of the program. En route to becoming the most winning coach in school history, Flowers has guided the Matadors to three Big West Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, and set the single-season record for most wins in 2015. Flowers is a three-time conference coach of the year, and has helped numerous players achieve conference and tournament honors.
Flowers is a master at fostering good team culture, while pushing individual players to greater heights. He hired the program’s all-time leading scorer, Ashlee Guay (class of 2015) as an assistant coach last year.
A Bellflower native, Flowers played two years for UC Irvine and two years for UCLA, where he served as academic coordinator and volunteer assistant coach for two seasons after graduation. He began his coaching career at Long Beach State, where he was an assistant for four years. Flowers was an assistant coach at UC Riverside for two seasons before coming to Northridge. He and his wife – the Matador softball coach – have three children.
How did you know when you were ready for a head coaching job?
To be honest, I’ve always been someone who thought they could win, but I probably wasn’t ready to do it. There was a difference between when I was ready and when I thought I’d be able to get a shot at it. I thought I was ready as soon as I decided to go into coaching, but God knows much better than I do. I was put into situations where I learned a lot: at Long Beach State with Mary Hegarty and at Riverside with John (Margaritis), seeing different sides of things and having different experiences. Then when some assistant coaches who I had started with began being hired as head coaches, I thought it was time to begin looking.
I remember your first official practice. When you came into the program with the task of rebuilding, what were the first steps you took towards that?
We just wanted to establish how we were going to do things. We were looking for a certain kind of work ethic and a certain kind of toughness, and we wanted to establish that kind of mentality. We worked on how we were going to be a group and come together, and what that looked like and sounded like. We were about addressing the culture and how we wanted to do things. When you come into new situation, it’s about changing the mentality. Handling the mentality of 12-13 people you’re coming across for first time, some of it may be similar to what they’ve had in the past and some may be the same. It’s a challenge every single year. Hopefully the kids you’ve had will help you, but when you walk in you have to prove yourself and know what you’re talking about
When did you know that a culture was beginning to build?
I don’t know if there was a time; I just knew we were making progress, even that first year. We lost our first 11 games that year, but we’d show glimpses of potential here and there. Our first win was at Pacific, who had been picked to be one of the top teams in the league that year. We won on the road, and for our kids, that helped them understand that if we continued to do some things, that we’d make progress and get better. Progress was the goal that year. The next year the freshmen came in and exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Going back to the 2013-2014 season, which was your first time taking the Matadors to the NCAA Tournament: did you see that coming, or was it a surprise?
We thought we had the pieces. We thought we were pretty good the year before, and we were challenged. Things didn’t play out that way, but that outstanding freshman class – it was their junior year in 2014. We started off that year rough, going 4-12, and then we went on a run. They started doing the things they needed to on a daily basis, and gained momentum as it went on. That was the year we added (transfer guard) Cinnamon Lister. That was a good year.
What keeps you going every day, even during the tougher seasons?
The process. Regardless of a year like this year, where people have high expectations of our group, or year in the past where they thought we wouldn’t be that good. Seeing the growth and development of the athletes is tremendous. It never stops, no matter where you are on that pendulum, whether it’s a lot of improvement or small nuances. It’s all about seeing growth and development.
You seemed to have a lot of alumni support from the beginning, which has continued. Is that where the program’s slogan, “always family” came from?
That came as part of changing the mindset. (Coach and former UCLA Bruin) Cameron Dollar, the year I tried to walk on at UCLA, he kicked my butt for a week. Then he took me under his wing and asked me what I wanted to do. When I told him I wanted to coach, he laid out a blueprint for thinking like a coach, even when I was still in college. I had tinkered with some ideas around what I wanted my mantra to be. I liked Dean Smith’s “play hard, play smart, play together.” I wanted something like that, so over the years I played around with different things and the mantra I settled on was “always family.”
One thing I wanted it to mean is that everyone who has worn the uniform here should feel like they’re a par of what’s going on. They can feel the success, they can feel the struggle. I wanted our women to have a feeling of their own sorority, their own group of women who understand that if they played here, there are certain characteristics that they have in common. It is not uncommon for former players to be in our locker room before and after games.
What’s it been like to have Ashlee Guay back, as an assistant coach?
Having her back has been good. She has certain characteristics that you’d have to be around her to understand. They jump out, and you have to be here on a daily basis to see how having her back is big time, for what she brings to a group. It’s not a proud moment for me personally, but a proud moment for our program to see her working with our kids, trying to get them to understand things she’s learned along the way. The great things about her are that she’s competitive, strong-willed and hard-working. We butt heads at times and disagree, but we do it respectfully. She asks intelligent questions, and all of that has been good for us.
When she first got here I asked her about coaching because I could see it in her. At first she said no, but as she got older she warmed up to the idea.
Do you and your wife have similar coaching philosophies? What have you learned from one another about coaching?
At the core we have similar philosophies, but our personalities are different. That comes across in how we deal with situations. From her there’s a lot I’ve picked up over the years, even before she was a coach, because of the athlete that she was. She has been on winning teams her whole life. And it’s good to get a different perspective. I may come home and say this this and this, and she’ll say, “have you ever thought about this?”
What got you from UC Irvine to UCLA?
I graduated from high school when I was 16, and I tried to walk on at UCLA in the 1996-1997 season. They were one year removed from the national championship, and every guy had been on that team, so there was no way I was going to get on. My high school coach suggested I try to walk on at UC Irvine, the worst team in America at the time, and that’s where I ended up. In the midst of this they hired a new coach in Pat Douglas, and over two years I went from a walk on to a scholarship athlete to becoming a starter.
In my first year, Cameron Dollar was an assistant coach, and that was my guy. Then he leaves for the Vanguard University job. Without him in my second year, communication between me and the head coach wasn’t good. So I decided to leave Irvine and the plan was to play for Dollar at Vanguard. In the springtime he calls me and says hey, it’s all set, you can go back – you can go back to UCLA. I was still in their system, so we talked on Monday and on Tuesday, I was on campus at UCLA.
What do you like about coaching women?
I don’t approach it differently; I coach young people. Naturally the dynamics of relationships with women are going to be different. But at the end of the day, I think the one thing that makes the biggest difference is that on the men’s side you can get away with not necessarily caring, because other factors are involved. On the women’s side, if you don’t care about the kids, they aren’t going to give you a whole lot,. If they know you care, they’ll give you everything they’ve got. Relationships pay dividends, maybe more overtly on the women’s side.
What are your goals for the CSUN program? What are your goals for your career?
To be the best program we can possibly be, and there’s no ceiling. We’re not putting a ceiling on that, and other people might and might think we’re crazy, but if we’re not trying to get better we’re not doing anything.
Personally, God will put me exactly where He wants me. I don’t know how many wins we will have. I’m not chasing money. It’s really about the fit, about having the opportunity to have an impact. And as long as that’s the case, then I’m going to be happy whenever I am.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, knowing what you do now, what would it be?
The same thing we tell our freshmen when walk through the door: God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should listen twice as much as you talk.