Sunday, July 23, 2017
Page 708

Tennessee and Tennessee-related items

The UT Sentinel reports today that Briana Bass will start for the Vols tomorrow against Middle Tennessee State. She’ll replace Cait McMahan, who’s having “issues with her surgically-repaired knee.” (

I had a feeling this would happen. I wish McMahan a speedy recovery – hopefully it’s just a flare-up. And I hope Bass brings the tremendous energy and good dishes/ball movement that we’ve seen from her so far.

This will be the Vols’ first game in a week.

In ex-Vol news, Shannon Bobbitt is at last playing for a Turkish team, as had been long-rumored. She is on the Botasspor Adana team with two other Americans, a German and a bunch of Turks. Here’s the page:

Sparks season ticket holders today received a copy of the Sparks monthly newsletter via email, which included a short interview with Bobbitt. Since it isn’t posted on their site, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to copy it, even with attribution. But I will mention the two things she said that cracked me up: 1. On the topic of her recent birthday, she commented “I’m getting up there!” I hope to god she’s being sarcastic. Few things are more annoying than a young person saying they feel old. 2. She was asked what her first experience overseas was like and her first sentence was, “I try to look at everything as a learning experience.” Read between the lines if you will, because Turkey ain’t New York City.

I’m proud of Bobbitt, as she’s so far been averaging 16 points, 4 assists and 3 steals per game. I recall fellow ex-Vol Sidney Spencer was also averaging 16 points per game for her overseas team as well. It’s good to have both kinds of training – playing in a difficult league like the WNBA, with the best players in the world, and a league more akin to the American college experience. You train for field events like the shotput the same way: use the 20-pound shot for strength training and the 8-pound shot for speed.

But the best news to me? Bobbitt’s been shooting 67 percent.


Jasmine Dixon story continued

The same New Jersey paper that reported her transfer last night now says she “appears to be headed to UCLA.”

What is up with this newspaper? Why not tell us why you think so?

But if it’s true, WOO! Good for us in Los Angeles.

Upsets and mysterious transfers

So first thing this morning, I saw this – Kentwood High School of Kent, WA upset number one-ranked St. Mary’s of Stockton:

I didn’t see that one coming, at least not this early.

Then I just got home from my high school scouting adventure to hear that Rutgers pulled out a horrible game against Georgia, and guess who was sitting in the stands and not playing? Freshmen Jasmine Dixon of Long Beach Poly! I didn’t see this one coming either:

Obviously this is fresh, spankin’ new information. But why didn’t this newspaper give a reason other than Stringer’s comment that “it’s not a good fit”? And where is she transferring to? More information better come out in coming days. Those of us who just watched Dixon play for four years deserve an explanation.

Surprising losses

I listened to the last part of the audio feed, and I hated to hear Cal lose. They had been undefeated before going down to TCU at home tonight, and it had been fun riding the Cal train. I hope they’ll use this as motivation for future games, and I hope they don’t fall too far down in the rankings.

Maryland also bit it again, getting blown out by Pittsburgh 86-57. They sure are inconsistent this year – and quiet. You don’t hear much from them. What happened to the spirit of the 2006 championship team? Like the Seattle Storm, it makes you wonder if it was just a mistake.

The last upset tonight was Bonaventure’s victory over Michigan State, who had been ranked 24.

Tomorrow both Baylor and Rutgers play, but I will be on the road, as my schedule is busy this week.

Monday I’m heading to the Redondo Union tournament to check out Washington Prep and whomever else I want to see; Tuesday I’m catching the Southwest CC-Pasadena CC game; Wednesday it’s the View Prep game; Thursday no live action, but Tennessee action; Friday it’s Dorsey-Crenshaw day. If Prep makes it to the championship game, I’ll have to go back to Redondo Saturday.

I wore my Santa hat that’s orange with black lines like a basketball to the UCLA game today. One of my daughters from another mother said I think basketball 24/7.


UCLA 62, Nevada, 47

The Bruins finally played an athletic, solid team who beat a ranked opponent last week – and beat them. So that might shut up some of the naysayers for 45 seconds.

But I’m hung up on the number 54 right now. Because today, for the third game in a row, UCLA pulled down 54 rebounds.

I’m like my role model Pat Summitt; I understand why she reached down into that toilet a decade ago to pull out the lucky penny. So I wonder what is up with the number 54 – que significa? I’m sure we’ll find out eventually.

Nevada played the Bruins tough today: they were physical, and played some serious defense. In fact, they shut down all UCLA post play early in the game by keeping them from getting inside. Coach Nikki Caldwell acknowledged that in her post-game interview.

“I challenged them at halftime to get the ball inside, and they responded,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, UCLA lead comfortably throughout the first half, but in the second half, Nevada went on a mini-run and closed the gap 33-27. Thanks to sophomores Darxia Morris and Christina Nzekwe, however, the Bruins went on their own run.

Morris, who ended the day with 10 points and six assists, unleashed some jumpers. Nzekwe, who posted four steals, six rebounds, five points and one block she wasn’t credited for, played some amazing defense. At times she completely shut down her opponent. The Bruins, who had been turnover-happy in the first half, cut them down to almost nothing. Forward Chinyere Ibekwe also pitched in 12 boards and eight points on the day.

“They don’t start slow anymore,” my seatmate Daniel said.

Nope, and it’s nice to see. This team is growing extremely fast.

The only fault I’d find with them today was their shooting percentage: 29.7 for the first half and 48.1 for the second for a total average of 37.5. Their free throw shooting also still needs work. Caldwell noted some things too at a first-half timeout. From my seat, I could hear her tell the team, “Offensively, we’re better than them, but we’re bailing them out. Quit fouling!”

They have an entire week before their next game, so I’m sure Caldwell has several things in mind for practice this week.

Other notes:

Every game, the crowd gets bigger and bigger. Daniel and I are very encouraged. And Caldwell took the time to thank the band, the cheer squad and the fans during her post-game time at the mic. Daniel also noticed that the coaches seem to recognize some of the regular fans now; relationships are being built!

Tennessee fans will appreciate that Caldwell has a small stool to sit on during timeouts that looks a lot like Summitt’s special stool, except that it’s blue. I wonder if she’ll take it on the road with her the way her mentor does.

Below are some photos from an earlier game this season. I thought non-LA residents might appreciate seeing what the team huddle and the Caldwell post-game interview look like from my point of view.

PS – Happy birthday, Briana Bass!

UCLA leads, USC falters, and Vanderbilt!

In each of their first six counting games this year, UCLA has outrebounded their opponents by an average of 49.7 to 29.5. The Bruins have garnered 50 or more rebounds in four games: CSU Bakersfield, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton, all 54, and 50 vs. Pepperdine. Senior Chinyere Ibekwe has led UCLA in rebounding in five games, posting two double-digit totals (14 vs. CSUF and a career-high 15 vs. CSUN). As of Dec. 1, UCLA has the best rebounding margin in the nation at 18.4 and the best in the Pac-10 at 48.8. UCLA is also the conference leader in offensive rebounding at 20.8 per contest. Ibekwe ranks second in the conference in rebounding with an average of 10.8. The Bruins dominated the boards against CSU Bakersfield, outrebounding the Roadrunners 54-25, including 29-3 on the offensive end.

USC, on the other hand, posted a surprising loss last night to Utah Valley State at the Hukilau Invitational in Hawaii. They repeated their misfortunte tonight with a one-point loss to BYU. What the heck is going on? True the team has been plagues with injuries the last few years, but they’ve also been consistent underachievers. Some on the message boards are saying Coach Mark Trakh is not cut out for the job. I guess time will tell, but in the meantime it’s unfortunate that the Trojans again seem headed toward a disappointing season in the senior years of three good players.

Cal beat Princeton handily tonight, and Arizona State did the same with UC Irvine. Washington State beat Long Beach State last night. All of this has resulted in the following current Pac-10 standings:


Team Conf. Pct. Overall Pct.
California 0-0 – 7-0 1.000
Stanford 0-0 – 6-1 .857
UCLA 0-0 – 5-1 .833
Oregon State 0-0 – 4-1 .800
Arizona State 0-0 – 5-2 .714
Washington State 0-0 – 4-2 .667
USC 0-0 – 4-3 .571
Oregon 0-0 – 3-3 .500
Washington 0-0 – 3-3 .500
Arizona 0-0 – 3-4 .429

I anticipated all of those placings at this point in the season except Oregon State. I admit they have surprised me, and pleasantly so.

UCLA plays Nevada tomorrow, and I’m not scurred.

UC Riverside beat Vanderbilt tonight, 50-47. I can’t say I’m surprised. They struggled so hard to beat Fullerton the other night, and I agreed with the first pack of people who said they were overrated. They’re a very good team, but I don’t necessarily see them as SEC champs. That position is currently wide open for hire.

The other upset tonight was Arkansas-Little Rock over #17 Oklahoma State.



I’d like to say happy birthday to two of my favorite basketball players. Both of these young women have given me much basketball joy the last few years. Have a great day, ladies.

SB in the day

Shannon Bobbitt

Vanderbilt 83, Cal State Fullerton 67

When Vanderbilt almost got beat by Love and Basketball in a pre-season exhibition game, there was talk that the Commodores had been overrated in polls that predicted they’d win the SEC Conference. When Michigan beat Vanderbilt almost two weeks ago, that talk surfaced again.

Last night was my first time seeing the Commodores play in person, so I’m not an expert on the team. And having seen Fullerton play already this season (against UCLA), I noticed they put on an unusually good show. So I’m not sure what the truth is.

What I do know is that it took Vandy, currently ranked 16th, until late in the second half to establish a solid run that put Fullerton away. And this was despite stellar performances by three of their starters.

Vanderbilt came out pressing, but Fullerton responded with their own press and a quick three by junior guard Jasmine Scott, who proved to have the hot hand of the night.

Commodore forward Hannah Tuomi scored her team’s first bucket, and proved to be instrumental as she was so effective in the paint. On a team that lists no centers, Tuomi fills that role, and Vanderbilt’s performance began to decline in the first half when Coach Melanie Balcomb took Tuomi out. With 12:55 to go, Fullerton was up 18-12.

Fortunately for Vandy, Christina Wirth jumped in and hit her first of six three-pointers (she was 6-6 for the night) from deep in the left corner. She nailed another one a few minutes later from the top of the key, but Fullerton seemed like they couldn’t miss a shot. At 8:47, the Titans were still up 24-22.

Then Tuomi came back in. She blocked a shot and scored inside. Senior guard Jennifer Risper, whose huge family from nearby Moreno Valley was sitting right behind me (we were all behind the Vandy bench) screaming, stole the ball and went coast to coast for the score. Vanderbilt was up 26-24 at the 7:21 mark. The teams traded baskets before the Commodores went on a small run. Then Fullerton crawled back, scoring 6 in the last few minutes to Vandy’s 2. It was 38-34 Commodores at the half.

My favorite play came early in the second half on a transition. Wirth was already on the right high block and received a quick pass. She held it and held still for about 1.5 seconds – so that a streaking Tuomi could place her body perfectly right in front of the ball. Pass, swish.

But again, the Titans wouldn’t go away. Besides Scott, sophomore guard Lauren Chow was going off. She hit a few baskets, and the score was knotted at 49 with 15:04 to go. Then Vanderbilt went on a run to put them up 56-49 at 12:32. A Risper steal and layup made her family go nuts, but the Titans’ Scott hit another three. It was 62-56 Vandy with about 10 to go. That’s when the Commodores finally started their run. They got it up to 67-58 with 7:25 to go, and despite some mistakes, they were able to hold the lead and build it. At 3:59, it was Vandy 73, Fullerton 62. They never looked back from there.

For whatever reason, Fullerton felt the need to do a weird back court press on their opponents in the last 10 seconds. Maybe it was just to prove a point, but they didn’t need to do that. They played Vanderbilt tough, and I was impressed.

Tuomi scored 17 points in 20 minutes of play. Wirth had a career high 27 points that included her six three-pointers. And Risper scored a season-high 14 points. For the Titans, Chow ended with 20 and Scott had 19. I was very impressed with all of their performances, but especially Tuomi’s; she’s only a sophomore.

Side notes:

– Vanderbilt travels with a huge entourage. When I first walked in, I saw all these people sitting on their bench and wondered why they let fans sit there before the game. It turns out that besides Balcomb and three assistant coaches, there were five other people. That’s a lot.

– One of those people was a 40-ish water girl. She insisted on having the water cart directly in back of the bench, which would block the view for me, so I moved to the right. It’s a good thing they didn’t care where you sat at Fullerton.

– It was kind of annoying not to be able to keep track of player points, but Fullerton has a pretty small gym and facility, so I guess that precludes a good scoreboard.

– Vanderbilt players and coaches are real big on leaning on one another and putting a hand on a teammate’s shoulder or waist.

Final thought: both teams are better than they played. If Fullerton had played like that against UCLA, they would have given the Bruins a better run. Vanderbilt has a ton of skill, and it shouldn’t have taken them that long to dominate the Titans.

Win, Lose, Repeat

All my adult life I’ve felt that life here on Earth is really just a movie. That fiction is pretty much unnecessary for all the crazy, insane crap that goes down. And that also includes so-called “coincidences” and “deja vus,” which I believe are only metaphors for the Universal law that cycles repeat themselves. Fewer places is that more apparent than in basketball.

Yesterday I visited Washington Prep High School to talk with the women’s basketball coach and check out what they’re up to, for a story I’m writing. While Coach Ricky Blackmon and I were talking, the infamous semi-final game of Feb. 23, 2007 against Dorsey came up. Dig this: Blackmon used to play for Dorsey High School. When he was a junior (like Mykiea) in 1993, Dorsey beat Washington in the semi-final for the city championship by three points, due to a last-second shot.

Too freaky for words. But there are other instances like that.

On April 6, 2008, Tennessee and LSU were battling in the NCAA semi-finals, with the winner to go to the championship. Alexis Hornbuckle made an incredible put-back shot at the buzzer for the one-point win.

Fast forward to Sept. 27, 2008 and the LA Sparks and the San Antonio Silver Stars are battling in the semi-finals of the Western Conference championships. The Sparks, which include two Tennessee players who played in the LSU semis last year, lose because of a crazy last-second shot at the buzzer. I’m sure most basketball fans can think of a similar “deja vu” or two.

A wise woman told me once, “remember, we’re all just down here wearing a clown suit.”


UCLA 104, Cal State Bakersfield, 57

And I thought the Northridge game was a blowout.

The Bruins put such a whoop on CSB last night that it was hard to believe. Before the Roadrunners (great name, huh?) made their last basket, UCLA was up by 50 points.

The Bruins are starting to look consistent, which is what every coach strives for.

Like Sunday, the Bruins shot about 46 percent for the game last night, including 45 percent for both halves instead of just one. And once again, strangely, they grabbed 54 boards and saw four players in double figures. All 12 players scored for the second game in a row, and the scoring was so balanced that no player scored more than 13 points last night. (Christina Nzekwe was one of those players, bettering the career-high she pulled down last weekend). Not coincidentally, no player was in the game for more than 22 minutes.

UCLA set or tied season-highs in points scored (104), rebounds (54), three-pointers made (seven), blocks (five) and assists (23). This is the Bruins’ best start since the 2004-05 season. Color me very impressed.

Coach Nikki Caldwell looked like a model last night in her scoop-neck sweater and large gold necklace. Bakersfield is to be commended for bringing a large contingent of fans and cheerleaders.

Sitting in front of us were three little girls. During a timeout, Chinyere Ibekwe was making faces at one of them. The kid said her auntie, Noelle Quinn, used to play for the Bruins. That said a lot about the closeness of the team that players would still know the relatives of former players.

There aren’t as many details to report of late because blowouts tend to go smoothly. But Sunday’s game against Nevada might pose a challenge for UCLA, as that team beat Louisville recently. I actually would like some kind of a game, because while I’m very happy the Bruins are gelling, blowouts are kind of boring.

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