Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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UCLA 66, Pepperdine 55…..and signees!

The bad news is that UCLA isn’t yet a 40-minute team. The good news is that they can still lead the game and win, even playing as poorly as they did at times last night.

The Bruins shot almost 38.7 percent in the first half and 47.6 in the second, and a dismal 0 percent for 3-shots in the first and 33.3 in the second. They had 23 turnovers to Pepperdine’s 17, and the Waves almost doubled UCLA’s steals.

But the Bruins beat their opponents on the boards, and at 50 for the game, they are still averaging above their 2007-08 rebounding percentage.

I brought my girls to the game, so arrived a couple minutes late to see UCLA already had the lead. That didn’t last long, however, as the Waves started their full-frontal attack – literally.

They unleashed a full-court press early in the first half, and generally played the Bruins very rough by pushing, elbowing and charging them. This wasn’t helped by the fact that UCLA couldn’t buy a basket, and there were some stanzas where they kept getting beat on defense. At a timeout late in the first half, Coach Nikki Caldwell walked all the way out to center court as her players were walking towards her, and either said something or just stared at them. She was not happy.

Doreena Campbell took the ball from half-court all the way to the rim for the score with 18 seconds left, and Tierra Henderson blocked a Waves shot to keep the score at 30-27 at the break.

The rebounding picked up in the first half and thank goodness, because the Bruins started with two missed free throws (they need to work on FTs) and two missed shots in a row – the first on a wide-open look.

Caldwell took junior center Moniquee Alexander out almost halfway into the second half. As she arrived at the bench, her coach stopped her and got really close to her face, using hand gestures to punctuate what she was saying. Alexander had a horrified look on her face. It’s no doubt because of the respect she has for Caldwell.

“It’s all about winning, and she reeks of excellence,” Alexander told an Orange County reporter last month (1).

Right after she expressed herself to Alexander, Caldwell began saying things to the bench – you know, when the coach sees something on the floor she doesn’t like and turns to the seated players and rails on about the mistake. I always get amused by that.

But shortly after that, the Bruins stepped it up on defense. Two trapped a Pepperdine player right in front of the UCLA bench, forcing her to lose the ball. Nina Earl scooped it up and took it in for the bucket, to our wild cheers. The Bruins also began a wicked full court press.

The offense also picked up a bit. Alexander redeemed herself with a nice spin move under the basket for the score, and Caldwell reacted by pumping her fist. Senior Chinyere Ibekwe had an amazing save, swatting the ball exactly to her teammate at she careened out of bounds on the baseline. The result was another bucket.

My seatmate Daniel asked, “Why weren’t we seeing that earlier – the attacking-style offense?”

Great question. It seems that it takes the Bruins a while to warm up sometimes, but I suspect that will change soon. Recent stories in the school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, paint a team that is happy with the changes their new coach has brought this year.

“It was like a breath of fresh air,” junior Erica Tukianien said. “You knew something was coming and something very good.

“She’s an educator, she’s a coach and she’s a role model. I have so much respect for her and I want to buy into the system. I want to follow her and I want to make sure the team gets together and that we are successful.” (2)

Those who followed former coach Kathy Oliver and have been to at least one Caldwell practice say the new coach uses a “tough love” approach focused on winning via discipline, with the long-term goal of winning a national championship. (1)

Caldwell has assigned players to a coach for monitoring, and she holds regular team meetings to keep communication lines open. If I hadn’t already been a fan, I would be now. I’ve always maintained that poor communication is the root of most of the worlds’ ills.

One thing that hardcore Tennessee fans like myself will appreciate: Caldwell has brought the towel tradition to Westwood. When a player goes into the game, she brings a towel to the player she’s replacing, handing it to her as she leaves the floor. A class and courtesy thing, courtesy of Pat Freaking Summitt.

A personal highlight of the evening was that I finally got to talk to sophomore forward Christina Nzekwe. As I’ve mentioned before, I coached her in track and field when she was a high school freshman, in Seattle. Christina is a sweetheart, and I was so proud when I first heard she’d signed two years ago.

She explained that the reason she wasn’t playing last night was that she’d sustained a concussion in practice Monday. She’ll be out for a week, which sucks, as I’ve so enjoyed her increased playing time. But by the time the Bruins come back Nov. 30, she should be ready to roll.

In other news, Caldwell inked her first two committments today: Markel Walker of Pittsburgh, PA and Mariah Williams of Aurora, CO. Walker, a forward, is ranked fourth by ESPN. Williams will become the team’s first shorter player, at 5’4″. In a news release, Caldwell said she is very quick and takes it to the rack. Full release:


Go, Caldwell. I’ve said it before: this team is going to do great things.

1. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/caldwell-player-team-2211633-olivier-vols
2. http://www.dailybruin.com/news/2008/nov/12/new-coachs-credo-shapes-teams-philosophy/

And Tennessee drops a game

It’s gonna be a bumpy season, but ultimately it’ll be OK.

What the Best Coach of All Time had to say:


No other surprises tonight. But tomorrow, Rutgers gets to kick the crap out of Princeton. Princeton? I didn’t know they had a team.

UCLA 78, Cal State Fullerton, 62

In two out of three games this season, UCLA is looking like a second-half team. Given second choice after “40-minute team,” I’ll take second-half.

Fullerton got off to a quick start and an early lead, nailing several three-pointers to put them ahead 13-6 at 15:35. The Bruins then clawed back to within two, 15-17 at 9:47, but they were struggling; it took two rebounds to get the aforementioned basket.

It just seemed like UCLA was letting themselves get punked and pushed around by the aggressive Titans. It didn’t help that they couldn’t seem to buy a basket (first half shooting percentage was 34.4). And the main Caldwell ingredient was missing: rebounds. The Bruins weren’t getting them.

But they kept battling, and there were flashes of brilliance. One was when Moniquee Alexander and Allison Taka defended a guard so hard she stepped out of bounds; that was tasty. They went on a run and again came within two, 24-26, when a timeout was called. We applauded them.

I also noticed in the first half that when the Bruins got a steal or a turnover, they ended their fast break looking a little out of control. They need to work on that, but it was good enough to put them in the lead by one at halftime.

UCLA began the second half with another run, and by the 18:05 mark they were up 42-34. They never looked back. There were some pretty, pretty plays, and the Bruins began making their layups (second half shooting was 51.9 percent).

Something else that magically reappeared in the second was the rebounding. The Bruins became board monsters again, and at least twice there were plays where they got two or three rebounds in a row (which doesn’t say much for the shooting, but at least they’re hustling to remedy their mistakes).

Afterwards, Coach Nikki Caldwell sounded a lot like her mentor Pat Summitt when she said of the game that there were “some spots where we looked OK.”

“Our kids knew they had to press in the second half,” she said. “I challenged them (at the half) because Fullerton got after us on D and in running the transition game.

“I want to make sure we’re not getting it taken to us – we want to be taking it to them.”
Shadows of Summitt were also evident when Caldwell said that in the second half, her team was playing “Bruin basketball.”

I like it. I also really dig the balanced scoring attack. It’s a good sign.

Things I learned about Caldwell today: she’s not afraid to yank someone for the good of the team. She started Nina Earl at PG, and Erica Tukiainen was the back-up. Caldwell must have got pissed at Earl, because the first half was almost over and suddenly it was Tuki at PG and Taka backing her. Earl, Tierra Henderson, Tuki, Doreena Campbell and Chinyere Ibekwe started the game, but Christina Nzekwe and Alexander replaced Earl and Ibekwe to start the second.

There were a lot more people at today’s game, which was great, except a lot of them were Fullerton fans. I’m hoping that as word gets out about the Bruins’ wins, more people will show up.

The Ambience Award goes to the UCLA band, which each game starts a cheer that involved all four sides of the audience in saying: U! C! L! A! And today they also chanted “Right! Left! Right! Left!” each time three different Fullerton players fouled out. They probably wouldn’t have done it if the entire Titan bench hadn’t had the habit in the first of standing up and cheering wildly after their every basket.

I’ve always thought it cheesy to say “era.” So I’ll say this: the Caldwell gig is good so far.


Stanford lost to Baylor today!

Though I think Baylor is underrated and Stanford overrated, I’m still surprised by this, especially so early in the season. Two major upsets in the first weekend? Wow.

I met Tierra Henderson’s mother at halftime. A really cool woman who revealed that younger daughter Brittany just signed with Kentucky. Momma Henderson said Brittany “always wanted to play in the SEC,” and that she’s looking forward to making frequent trips to “a complete basketball town.”

It reminded me of Camille and Danielle LeNoir – two other D1-playing sisters. I would die of happiness if I had two major ball-playing daughters.

All over the place

I’m not on top of my game this weekend, but not by choice; Verizon has lost Internet connectivity for an entire area code as of 8:30 a.m. today – my area code. So I’m at my UCLA seatmate’s house on his computer. Bless him.

Kim just sent me a picture of the 2008 banner being raised before today’s Tennessee game, and it’s a beautiful site. If I were home on my own computer, I could post it for you now, but trust me, it’s gorgeous.

Reiko Thomas missed the first last-second-of-the-game shot of her life last night as her Arizona Wildcats lost by one at the Hawaii Tournament. But they came back today to seal the win in game two. Seatmate and I were talking earlier, and I told him I think the Pac-10 is on the rise. I really do. Between Boyle, Caldwell, Butts and maybe either Jackson or Daugherty, things are looking up.

Today I went up to Glendale Community College to catch some games a tournament they were having there. Some girls very special to me were playing on the one team, but I knew coaches of one team in the other three games being played today, so I supported them too. At some point this season, I’m going to write a column here on the junior colleges of Southern California. A bit serious, and a bit fun is what it’ll look like.

Finally, I have a confession to make: I’m now writing for fullcourt.com. If you have a subscription you can check out my first story, on foreign players at US colleges, on the front page.

I bought a hat a few weeks ago that I’m going to start wearing to work. It’s a Santa hat, complete with white fringe and a puff on the end, only it’s orange with black lines like a basketball. Because after all, this is my holiday season.

Let the games begin and let the recruits be signed

The second week of November is always a good one in college hoops, because it marks both the beginning of the regular season and the signing of the next recruiting class.

Most of today’s scores for ranked teams aren’t too surprising. The first games are just to get rolling, anyway.

Stanford 68, Minnesota 55
Rutgers 89, St. Joseph’s 59
North Carolina 90, Western Carolina 56
Duke 77, Oklahoma State 68
California 63, Albany 39
Texas A&M 73, Mercer 45
Vanderbilt, 85, Texas A&M CC, 51
Virginia 78, High Point 48
Baylor 90, Florida Atlantic 45
Arizona State 76, Cleveland State 59
Ohio State 75, Butler 56
Auburn 81, Alabama A&M 53

There was one surprise today, however – unranked TCU beat #5 Maryland 80-68. What happened there? Hmmm.

As for recruits, fans seem to agree that Illinois, Cal and Baylor made out like bandits with their ridiculous recruiting classes.

Tomorrow there are four games for the ranked teams: My beloved Tennessee (ranked sixth) takes on San Francisco at home, Oklahoma (seventh) has a homer against UC Riverside, Georgia (25th) is at home vs. Alabama state, and Louisville (11th) takes on Tennessee Tech at their place.

Eight ranked team games are scheduled Sunday, and at that point, most every team in the country will have officially begun their season.

WOOT! I’ve been waiting for this.

Update on the globe-trotting Candace Parker

I missed this one last week, but the homey Hirsh did a nice interview with Candace Parker:


The biggest news out of this is her confirmation that she’s not going to have shoulder surgery. That’s incredible to me.

The funniest thing about this piece was how many times she used the word “excited” when talking about Obama.

The young woman leads an enviable life, bouncing from city to city to catch some games. It’s beyond cool to think that female basketball royalty gets to do these things nowadays.

SEC preview: The South Carolina Gamecocks

Prior to the commencement of the 2008-2009 college basketball season, I will profile teams in two conferences, as well as various other teams around the country. Southeastern Conference coverage continues today, with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Basketball teams are all about the players, and always have been. But every once in a while the coach is the story more so than the athletes. For the South Carolina Gamecocks this year that is the case – times four.

It was a coup for University officials to land Staley last spring. I’m still wondering how they convinced the four-time Olympian to leave her hometown and head coaching job at Temple University to take over a program that has languished for years.

Staley earned her “legend of the game” status through her gritty play, her relentlessness in pursuing a career overseas before there was a WNBA, and for her competitive drive. Her player resume is dotted with copious “best player” awards. And Staley has also succeeded as a coach.

In eight years at Temple, her teams made six NCAA tournament appearances and won four Atlantic 10 Tournament titles. Since her retirement from basketball in 2006, Staley has coached two FIBA world games and one Olympics, winning two gold medals and one bronze.

As if all that weren’t enough, Staley brought some help with her.

Lisa Boyer, who has been Staley’s right-hand assistant since the 2002-03 season at Temple, joins her at SC as the recruiting coordinator and guard coach. Boyer has had numerous prominent assistant coaching positions, as well as a couple head coach jobs, in her 27-year career.

Staley noted that she has milked Boyer for all her coaching knowledge over the last few years, and said she “trusts (Boyer) with her life.” In turn, Boyer said she is “thrilled to have the opportunity to get South Carolina women’s basketball where it needs to be, which is among the top teams in the SEC.”

When Staley’s other two assistant coaches are put into the mix, it becomes apparent how deep the Gamecock coaching staff runs.

Carla McGhee was a two-time NCAA champion while at Tennessee, and is an ABL, WNBA and USA Basketball veteran. In 2006 and 2007, she served as the WNBA’s director of player personnel, and this year was a consultant/ambassador for the Atlanta Dream.

McGhee’s association with Staley goes back to the early 1990’s, when Staley joined USA Basketball. The two were part of a squad that won the World Championship in 1994 and the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic games. The close-knit Olympic team has been credited for revitalizing women’s basketball and serving as an impetus for today’s professional leagues. (The year of preparation for the games is chronicled in the book, “Venus to the Hoop”).

“(Carla) is in it to ensure that young people experience the success she has had in her career,” Staley said. “After everything we went through together getting to the 1996 Olympics, for us to be standing on our own two legs says a lot. We grew up together, and we matured together as young women. She knows deep down that our hearts are always in the same place when it comes to young people and being competitive. When you have those things in mind, you are going to be successful.”

Deep enough? Add Nikki McCray.

Another former Lady Vol, McCray was on the 1996 team with Staley and McGhee, and won a second gold medal in 2000. She has played in both the ABL and the WNBA, and for the last two years has been assistant coach at Western Kentucky.

“Nikki is hungry for success, and that comes from playing at Tennessee, where the coach never settles for anything less than being number one,” Staley said. “That mentality is instilled in Nikki, and I want people around me like that.

“We spent two Olympic games together and have shared being successful in the very best arena there is to test yourself.”

For Staley, to have people around her who she’s known for almost half of her years, whom she’s shared some of the most meaningful moments of her life with – that doesn’t happen often. And it bodes very well for the South Carolina program. If nothing else, the chance that coaches will be yelling different things at players during games, as reportedly happened last year at Duke, will be next to nothing. Staley and her staff will not only be on the same page, they have written that page together.

At least for now, the amazing story of the Gamecock coaches eclipses the players. There are but three seniors on the team: Demetress Adams, Brionna Dickerson and C.J. Pace. Only Adams and Dickerson had a double-figure scoring average last year (10.9 and 10.4, respectively), their first time doing so in college.

Valerie Nainima, the lone junior, is a transfer from Long Island University. She shows promise not only because of her age, but her offensive game; she was the fastest player at LI to reach 1,000 career points.

Freshmen Charenee Stephens was named the fifth-best forward in the country by scout.com and ranked 33 by hoopgurlz.com last year.

The remaining three sophomores and five freshmen have the requisite “best in state” and/or state titles that come with D1 recruiting, but Staley and company have their work cut out for them. This is a young, inexperienced team with emphasis on the inexperience.

Staley and her people can handle it, though. Further, I expect South Carolina to rise to the top of the conference within the next few years and begin having annual battles with Tennessee for the SEC crown. With about 130 years of basketball experience between them, coupled with cell fusion-like ties, you’d have to be crazy to bet against Staley and her staff.

Staley carried the flag in

UCLA 107, SRP 63

After watching UCLA play its second game under Coach Nikki Caldwell, I’m not sure what to think.

Last week the Bruins began strong and faded. Today they started well, lost momentum and let SRP catch up, and then in the second half, they exploded offensively. UCLA had 38 points in the first half, and scored almost double that in the second. They had far fewer rebounds than in their previous game, and today they shot 44 percent in the first half and 71 in the second.

A little schizo? Naw – it was just the Caldwell Effect.

“I don’t think they’re going to want to practice with me tomorrow,” Caldwell said in the post-game interview, glancing over her shoulder at the closed locker room door.

She added that the team “did a good job of taking the challenge” that she presented to them at half time.

“We played good man-to-man defense in the second half, and that’s something we’re going to be known for,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to play all 94 feet of the court.”

It seems to me that the new coach is trying to wake up a team lulled into inertia by years of bad coaching. She’s doing a good job of it, too. In the first half there were two instances in a row where the Bruins suddenly found themselves with the ball after a turnover, and the entire team hesitated. Both times, Caldwell shouted “GO!GO!GO!” at them. As if a fire alarm had gone off, they shifted into another gear and started fast breaking, like they should have been in the first place. In the second half, they kept up the defensive press almost the entire time.

Though my seatmate isn’t as sure as I am, I think the team seems faster this year. I have no doubt that Caldwell is emphasizing strength and conditioning the way Tennessee does, and thank god for that. But I also think part of the reason the team seems faster is because they’re more aggressive. Good signs, one and all.

In the first half, the rebounds weren’t clicking well and neither was the offense. UCLA looked a bit out of sorts, and shots weren’t falling. Caldwell talked to players individually during pauses in the game: “Chris! Hands!” and “Rebecca, you have nobody – back up.” Assistant coach Tasha Butts yelled at the entire team at one point to stop fouling, which is a situation Caldwell brought up after the game, saying she “wasn’t pleased” with the fouls by her team.

Somewhere in the 13 minute mark of the second half, Doreena Campbell sparked the amazing Bruin offensive run with two consecutive steals for a score. From then on it was a scoring blizzard from herself, Tierra Henderson, Nina Earl and Erica Tukiainen.

Some of the offensive sets were ridiculous. My favorite was the bowling-type assist from Campbell to Allison Taka for the score. There were quite a few other three-pass plays, as well. Tasty!

Caldwell started Christina Nzekwe, Henderson, Campbell, Tukiainen (replacing Chinyere Ibekwe from last week) and Moniquee Alexander. The resulting scoring was very balanced, which is another good sign:


Ugly spots for the Bruins, besides the fouling, were the free throws. Sixty-two percent (including 50 percent in the first half) is not where you want to be. They also need to work on shooting consistency.

My seatmate and I ended up sitting near one of the UCLA recruiting staffers, who was really cool. He said the reason he decided to check out the game today was because he always sees Nzekwe coming in to shoot early, and leave late. Now that’s my girl! Reppin Seattle to the fullest.

Across the country, my other favorite team went similarly nuts on offense as they beat Love and Basketball 85-50. And like UCLA, Tennessee had very balanced scoring today. So many Vol weapons! *drool*


Pac-10 news

Arizona won their exhibition Tuesday night against Panhandle State, of Oklahoma, 85-33. Unsurprisingly, at least for me, was that Reiko Thomas lead her team with 20 points, made 16 of 18 free throws, and played 39 minutes. The girl is going to be a star, mark my words. Here’s the box score:


Washington State also won their exhibition game last week, and have another one coming up this Sunday. One of the media relations people has started a blog for the Cougs, and it’s pretty cool:


Cal has perhaps the coolest page right now, because of the video and accompanying song. Free game on Sunday, too:


I’m going to do some more SEC previews. I meant to do them this week, but it’s hard with work to carve out that much time. I’ll do what I can and at least get the majors covered.

Tennessee 135, Carson Newman 55

Granted, Carson Newman isn’t Vanderbilt or Rutgers, but I couldn’t be happier right now about Tennessee’s debut. Not because of the score, which was completely outrageous; but because of all that talent I saw out there tonight, and the balanced scoring. Six freshmen in double figures! Dig:


Kelley Cain has such a nice soft touch with the ball. Such hands that she makes it look so natural. She is going to be one of Tennessee’s best bigs ever pretty soon. And Glory Johnson! That young lady is going to be a star. Lyssi Brewer won my heart with her double-double, and I like Shekinna Stricklen’s game.

Honestly, though, I like them all. I really like what each brings to the team and I like the way they work together. The defense needs some work, but if there’s one thing Pat Summitt’s about, it’s that. So in the long run, I’m not worried.

Briana Bass played more minutes than Cait McMahan, who was supposed to start and have Bass as her backup. So I wonder if Pat’s just experimenting, or if she’s flipped them and will have McCahan back up Bass. And though Bass is the same height as Shannon Bobbitt, she seems taller than Lil Bit. Bobbitt also seems faster than Bass, despite Summitt saying last month that Bass was the fastest guard she’s coached. Who knows, but it’s interesting to note that Bobbitt’s birthday is Dec. 6, and she wore the number 00, while Bass’ birthday is Dec. 7 and she wears number 1. Weird, huh?

I was surprised to learn that the reason Angie Bjorklund and Vicki Baugh sat out tonight was because both cut a class over the summer. Now why would you want to test Pat Summitt? Crazy kids. But realizing we beat another team by 70 points without those two is frightening.

Tennessee fans, what do you have to say about this win and this new team? Are you excited? Please, discuss.