Phoenix Sporting News
Phoenix Sporting News

Defending Champion Charleston Southern Tabbed Big South Conference Preseason Favorite

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 26, 2016)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charleston Southern, which claimed the Big South Conference championship in 2015, has been tabbed the preseason favorite to repeat as league champions. It is the first time in program history the Buccaneers enter a season as the favorite.

League coaches and a panel of media experts also selected CSU's Darius Hammond and Anthony Ellis as the preseason players of the year. Hammond, a running back, earned the offensive player of the year award, while Ellis, a lineman, was tabbed as the defensive player of the year. It marks the first time since 2014 that players from the same school were honored and just the fifth time in league history.

The announcements were made on July 26 during the conference's annual media day in Charlotte.

Charleston Southern received 16 of 18 first-place votes and 106 points in the poll. Liberty and Kennesaw State each received one first-place vote.

CSU went undefeated (6-0) in league play last seasonand became just the second team in league history to post a 6-0 record during league play. The Buccaneers, who were ranked as high as No. 6 in the national poll last season. advanced to the quarterfinal round of national playoffs after entering the postseason with the No. 8 seed.

Liberty, coached by former Nebraska standout quarterback Turner Gill, finished 3-3 in conference play a year ago did not finish in the top two in the conference for the first time in a decade. The three losses were the most conference losses since 2005.

Gill, who is entering his fifth seasons with the Flames, returns 18 starters as the 2016 prepares to get under way.

Kennesaw State, a newcomer to college football, posted a 6-5 overall record in its inaugural season. The Owls, which had the sixth-ranked offense in the nation a year ago, return a league-best 22 starters this season.

Charleston Southern's Darius Hammond has been voted the Big South preseason player of the year. (CSU photo)

Hammond lead CSU with 856 rushing yards last season and scored seven touchdowns on the year. He added eight catches for 90 yards and two scores. A multi-dimensional standout, Hammond tallied 1,865 all-purpose yards in 2015. He averaged 25.1 yards on 28 kickoff returns and returned 15 punts for an average of 15.5. He set a Big South single-game record with 295 kickoff returns, including returns of 40, 67 and 84 yards, in the Buccaneers' 58-38 loss to Jacksonville State in the playoffs. JSU went on to lose to North Dakota State in the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas.

Charleston Southern opens the season on Aug. 27 when they travel to Fargo, N.D. to take on the five-time defending national champion Bison in a game that will be televised on ESPN. The Bison are 71-5 over the last five seasons heading into the 2016 opener.

Big South Preseason Poll

(first-place votes in parentheses)

School Pts.

1 – Charleston Southern (16) 106

2 – Liberty (1) 86

3 – Kennesaw State (1) 68

4 – Monmouth 47

5 – Gardner-Webb 40

6 – Presbyterian 31

Arizona Tunes Up for Playoff Run with Impressive Showing Against Cleveland in AFL Action

Arizona's Rod Windsor caught seven passes for 75 yards and five touchdowns to help lead the Rattlers to a 68-20 over visiting Cleveland on Sunday.

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 24, 2016)

PHOENIX – Cleveland Gladiator coach Steve Thonn was left wondering if the goal of his team to gain any sort of momentum in its game against Arizona was akin to trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

Any designs on getting the upper hand against the Rattlers quickly went by the wayside as Arizona scored on the first two plays of the game en route to a convincing 68-20 win over visiting Cleveland on Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win closes the regular season for the Rattlers, who are now 13-3 on the season and gives them plenty of momentum heading into the upcoming playoffs. Arizona is idle in the league's final week on the regular season and will play Portland in the first round of the playoffs, which begins on Aug. 6.

You always want to be peaking at the right time … and you want to be peaking at playoff time,” Arizona coach Kevin Guy said following his team's solid outing against the Gladiators. “We've been playing our best football the last few weeks … and that's how we wanted to send the message.”

That message was delivered in a big way.

Cleveland took the opening kick and began its first drive at its own 5-yard line, but Arizona's Rodney Fritz stepped up and tackled a Gladiator ball carrier in the end zone for a safety on the first play of the game to give the Rattlers the lead for good.

And to add insult to injury, Arizona's Anthony Amos returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards untouched for the first touchdown of the game and the Rattlers found themselves in front 9-0 just 44 seconds in the game following Alex Zendejas' conversion kick.

Following a quick four-and out by the Gladiators, Arizona's offense hit the field for the first time in the game. The result was a near carbon copy of the first two quick strikes. Quarterback Nick Davila found receiver Rod Windsor along the back line in the end zone for the first offensive touchdown of the game and the Rattlers were in total command of the game.

Cleveland scored just once in each of the first two quarters of play. Arvell Nelson, who was under heavy pressure most of the night, managed to avoid a sack and lofted a pass to a wide open Larry Beavers as the Gladiators pulled to within 15-7 with 5:01 left in the opening period. It would be as close as the visitors would get the rest of the night.

Davila and Windsor would hook up from two yards out on the final play of the period to give Arizona a 22-7 advantage at the first break. That tandem would connect for the third time just moments later as the Rattlers moved in front 29-7 at 10:25 of the second quarter.

Arizona's defense, which was solid all night, delivered what just might have been the proverbial knockout punch when Dan Buckner scooped up a Nelson fumble and returned it 22 yards for the score and giving the Rattlers a 35-7 lead at 5:44.

Cleveland's Collin Taylor hauled in a 15-yard pass from Nelson at 2:19 and Windsor scored his fourth touchdown of the half with just six seconds to go in the second quarter as Arizona built a 42-14 lead at halftime.

Windsor, the all-time receptions leader for Arizona, finished the game with seven catches for 75 yards and five touchdowns. He now has 867 catches in his career with the Rattlers and his 75 yards moves him to 10,898 yards in his career and just 274 yards of surpassing James Roe for 10th all-time in franchise history.

When I get text messages from (Windsor) I know he's ready to go,” Guy said. “He's been sending me messages with suggestions. I don't always listen to him, but I know he's in the right mindset.”

Amos was the receiving leader on the night for the Rattlers as he gained 96 yards on six receptions, while Maurice Purify added five catches for 57 yards and a pair of scores and Mykel Benson chipped in with six catches for 19 yards in the win.

Davila finished with 233 yards through the air after completing 20 of 25 passes for the Rattlers before being replaced at the start of the fourth quarter by Shane Boyd. Davila has completed 46 of 53 passes over the last two games. Boyd completed all four of his passes in the final period for 24 yards and two scores.

Arizona held a 253-191 advantage in total offense as Nelson struggled much of the night, thanks in large part to the heavy defensive pressure on the part of the Rattlers. Nelson, who was sacked four times, completed just 13 of 34 passes for 155 yards before giving way to Stephen Panasuk, who completed three of his eight passes for 40 yards and one score.

Sunday's win gave the Rattlers an 8-0 record at home this season and marks the second time in three seasons Arizona has not lost at home.

Arizona still has a chance to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Orlando and Philadelphia, the top two teams in the American Conference, will play on July 30 in the regular season finale in Orlando. Both teams are 12-3 heading into that contest. A win by the Predators will give them the top seed in the playoffs. A Philadelphia win would shift the top seed to Arizona, which lost to the Soul 65-58 on May 14 in Philadelphia before posting an 8-63 win at home just over one month later in Phoenix.

Cleveland dropped to 7-9 on the year with Sunday's loss and will be idle until the playoffs where the Gladiators will play either Orlando or Philadelphia in the opening round.

We didn't want to leave any doubt that we want the Arena Bowl coming through the desert,” Guy said.

Connecticut Outscores Sky 33-25 in Fourth Quarter to Secure Road Victory in Windy City

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 22, 2016)

ROSEMOUNT, Ill. – For the second time in as many games Chicago had an opportunity to deliver a knockout punch in a big way. This time, however, Chicago would not find the magical formula.

Connecticut used a 33-25 spurt in the final quarter to post a 94-89 win over Chicago in WNBA action on Friday at Allstate Arena.

The win was the fifth in eight games for the Sun, which improved to 8-16 on the season with the win. Chicago, meanwhile, which used a buzzer beater to slip past homestanding Phoenix earlier this week, saw its three-game winning streak come to a close. The Sky is now 11-12 on the year and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago held a narrow 64-61 lead heading into the final period of play on Friday and Jessica Breland, the hero of the day against Phoenix, did her part in holding the lead for the Sun. Her two free throws at 8:34 pushed the lead to 68-63 and she added a layup just over one minute later to give the Sky a 70-65 advantage.

The Sun seemed to have had enough of that.

Jonquel Jones capped an 11-4 run by Connecticut over the next 2:46 by nailing a layup and adding a free throw to give the Sun a 76-74 advantage with 4:50 to go in the game. Jones' team would not give up the lead the rest of the way and would lead by as many as nine points before Chicago would scored eight of the final 14 points to close the gap.

Connecticut opened the game by scoring the first four points and extended its advantage to 12-7 with 5:09 left in the opening period. Courtney Vandersloot's traditional 3-point play and a layup by Cappie Pondexter knotted the game at 12-12 with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter and Chicago found itself in front 22-17 at the first intermission.

Breland's jumper early in the second period increased the Chicago advantage to 26-17 and it looked like the Sky was ready to pull away.

But, a 17-6 spurt by the Sun gave the visitors the lead again at 34-32 when Jasmine Thomas connected on a 3-pointer with 3:31 left in the half and the lead would see-saw back and forth the rest of the period as the two teams were tied at 38-38 at halftime.

A 3-pointer by Pondexter at 7:04 of the third period capped a 7-0 run by the Sky as they found themselves in front 47-40. But, they were unable to again capitalize on that momentum as the Sun unleashed a 12-5 spurt capped by Alex Bentley's 3-pointer to forge a 52-52 tie with 3:38 to go in the period.

Bentley finished with a game-high 21 points as Connecticut placed five players in double figures in scoring. Jones finished right behind with 20 points for the victors. Teammates Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas both scored 16 points and Chiney Ogwumike added 10 points, despite playing just over 14 minutes because of foul trouble.

Elena Della Donne paced Chicago with 20 points. She entered the game second in the league in scoring at 21.3 points per game and was 10th in rebounding at 7.4 per game. Pondexter added 16 points and Tamera Young netted 14 points. Breland, who finished with a team-high eight rebounds, and Allie Quigley scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Sky.

Chicago had entered Friday's contest with a chance to move into a tie for second place in the conference. Indiana and Atlanta were both 12-12 on the season heading into Friday's action. Atlanta managed to rally from a narrow halftime deficit to Dallas to defeat the Wings 93-88 to improve to 13-12 on the year and move half a game in front of Indiana, which was idle. New York paced the Eastern Conference with an 18-8 overall record.

The WNBA is now idle for the Olympic break. Los Angeles leads the Western Conference with a 21-3 record and sits ahead of Minnesota in the conference standings. The Lynx, who defeated Seattle 79-72 on Friday, is now 21-4 on the year. Both Los Angeles and Minnesota have secured playoffs spots. Phoenix is third in the conference with a 10-14 record.The season resumes Aug. 26 when Chicago entertains Atlanta and Connecticut plays host to Minnesota that same day.

 

Roy Griak Invitational to Be Well Represented at 2016 Summer Olympics

Shelby Houlihan, a two-time Roy Griak Invitational champion, celebrates as she crosses the finish line at the recent Olympic Trials. She will be one of eight former Griak standouts who will compete in the Olympic Games next month in Rio de Janiero.

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 21, 2016)

Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, running icon Billy Mills read plenty of works from Greek philosophers and imagining of one day soaring like an eagle.

In the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo Mills believes he saw the eagle of his youth on the backs of the runners he lapped on his way to becoming the first – and only – American to ever win the 10,000 meters at the Olympic Games.

More than 50 years later, this year’s Olympics will showcase thousands of athletes in a variety of athletic competitions who, like Mills, will be looking to soar. Eight of those athletes will share another common bond as their journey to potential Olympic glory has taken them through the picturesque hills of the Les Bolstad Golf Course in suburban Minneapolis while competing in the Roy Griak Invitatioal cross country meet.

The 31st edition of the meet, named in honor of legendary Minnesota coach Roy Griak, will be held on Sept. 24 and has long been the most prestigious in-season meet each season.

It’s just an awesome meet,” said Shelby Houlihan, a two-time Griak champion during her illustrious career at Arizona State University. “You could never underestimate those hills … or they would get you.”

Houlihan, one of just three women to ever win a pair of individual titles in the Gold Division of the Griak, earned her way to the Olympics by placing second in the 5,000 meters at the recent Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. She will be joined by Courtney Frerichs and Betsy Saina, two current training partners of Houlihan as recent Griak partcipants to earn their way to Rio

Frerichs, who placed seventh at the Griak in 2014 while competing for Missouri-Kansas City, will compete in the steeplechase in Rio, while Saina will represent Kenya in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Saina, one of the most decorated female runners in Big 12 history while at Iowa State, won the Griak in 2012. She finished in the top 20 in each of her four years as a Cyclone by placing third as a freshman in 2009, sixth in 2010 and 15th in 2011 before claiming the top spot in her final season.

Two other women who left their marks at the Griak over the years will compete in the marathon at this year's Olympics as Amy (Hastings) Cragg and Desi Davila, who both competed at Arizona State, will also represent the United States in Rio.

Cragg is one of the most decorated runners in Griak history. She found herself on the awards stand each of her four years while competing for the Sun Devils. She placed 19th as a freshman at the 2002 Griak before finishing third in each of the following two seasons and finished behind Providence's Kim Smith and Wartburg's Missy Buttrey both seasons as that trip finished in the same order two straight seasons.

Cragg capped her brilliant ASU career with a Griak championship of her own in 2005.

Davila managed one top-20 finish at the Griak during her time with the Sun Devils when she placed 12th in 2004 as a senior.

Hassan Mead

Former Minnesota standouts Hassan Mead and Ben Blankenship will represent the United States in Rio. Mead will compete in the 5,000 meters and Blankenship will toe the line for the start of the 1,500 meters and both left indelible marks at the Griak during their time in Gold Country.

Mead, a two-time Big Ten champion, won the Griak in 2009 and placed among the top 20 in each of the four years he competed at the meet. Mead, who placed second at the Olympic Trials, finished sixth at the Griak as a freshman in 2007 and second in 2008. Following his Griak title in 2009 Mead redshirted in 2010 and capped his Gopher career with an 11th-place finish in the 2011 Griak.

Blankenship, meanwhile, finished fourth at the Griak in 2009 and 10th the following year.

Hillary Bor, another in the long line of standout distance runners who have competed at Iowa State, will compete in the steeplechase after posting the second-fastest time in that event at the recent Trials. He placed among the top 20 each of his four years as a Cyclone. Bor finished 12th in 2007, eighth in 2008 and seventh in 2009 before placing 11th in his final Griak appearance in 2011.

One week after becoming an Olympian for the first time, Houlihan is still basking in the glory.

My complete focus was to finish in the top three,” she said of her approach to the Trials. “Maybe I could have started my kick sooner … I don’t know. But the whole experience has been surreal. I still find myself taking a step back and realizing that I am an Olympian.”

Houlihan, who completed her eligibility as a Sun Devil in 2015 before turning pro just weeks later, competed in six races as a professional leading up to the Trials. She heads into the Rio Games with one goal in mind.

I have the same dream as all the others,” said Houlihan, a national champion in the 1,500 as a junior at ASU. “I will be there trying to win … you never know what’s going to happen at the Olympics.”

Breland's Tip-In at Buzzer Enough to Lift Chicago Past Phoenix 79-77 in WNBA Action Tuesday

Elena Della Donne scored a team-high 18 points as Chicago picked up it third straight win with a 79-77 triumph over Phoenix on Tuesday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 20, 2016)

PHOENIX – Phoenix and Chicago both entered the start of the 2016 WNBA season with some lofty expectations. A number of forces have transpired against the Mercury to prevent those aspirations from becoming a reality. Some by their own doing, sometimes by simply competing a better team.

Both were the case on Tuesday as Jessica Breland tipped in a missed shot with just 0.2 seconds remaining in the game to allow Chicago to escape the Valley of the Sun with a 79-77 win over the Mercury at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win was the third in a row for the Sky, which improved to 11-12 on the season. The three wins moves Chicago to within one game of its longest winning streak of the season. Phoenix, meanwhile, saw its modest two-game winning streak come to an end with Tuesday's loss. The Mercury are now 10-14 on the season.

That either team was ever in a position at the end to win the game was a testament to the tenacity on the part of the Mercury and the Sky.

Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner connected on a pair of 3-pointers from well behind the arc to open the fourth quarter as the Mercury managed to extend its lead to 62-53 with nine minutes remaining in the game. It appeared momentum would carry Phoenix the rest of the way.

Chicago had other plans.

A nice spin move in the lane by Breland with 8:11 to go and a 3-pointer from Courtney Vandersloot at the 7:45 mark pulled the Sky to within 64-59. Another 3-pointer, this one from Jamierra Faulkner at 3:07 and two free throws from Elena Della Donne 31 seconds later capped the Chicago comeback as the Sky tied the game at 70-70 with 2:36 remaining. Neither team would lead by more than two the rest of the way before Breland's buzzer-beater gave Chicago the victory.

Credit Chicago, they really fought back,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said, “but, I think it was a game we lost. We had the mometum going in our favor, but the fouling definitely hurt us in the fourth quarter and (Chicago) went to the foul line so many times.”

Chicago, which connected on six of 13 shots from the floor in the final period of play, managed to stay within striking distance by hitting 12 of 15 free throws in the final 10 minutes. Phoenix, meanwhile, the top free throw shooting team in the league, was kept off the foul line in the last quarter against the Sky.

The fouling and (Chicago's) zone took us out of our rhythm … and that's how they won,” Brondello said.

The Phoenix was even able to gain the advantage was a credit to the tenacity of Brondello's squad.

The Mercury committed eight turnovers in the opening quarter of play and those miscues led directly to 12 points for the Sky, which led 22-10 after the first 10 minutes of play. They would extend the lead to 14 points when Della Donne connected on a jumper over the outstretched arms of Bonner top open the second quarter. Bonner would give the Mercury the lead back at 47-46 at 6:07 of the third quarter on her second 3-pointer of the game after raining in his first from the right side 35 seconds earlier. It was Phoenix's first lead since scoring the first four points of the game.

Chicago put four players in double digits in scoring with Della Donne leading the way with 18 points. She finished with seven of 17 shooting from the floor, including a pair of 3-pointers that came within a span of 1:22 late in the second period as Chicago managed to hold on to its double digit advantage over Phoenix. She also grabbed eight rebounds, as did teammate Imani Boyette, to share game-high honors in that department.

Faulkner finished the game with 14 points, while Cappier Pondexter and Vandersloot finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Pondexter scored all of her points in the first half, but was ejected, along with Phoenix's Brittney Griner, just 27 seconds into the second half when both players were given flagrant fouls.

Bonner, who pulled down eight rebounds in the contest, finished with a game-high 20 points, but was held scoreless after hitting the pair of 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter. She was one of three Phoenix players to reach double figures. Candice Dupree scored 18 points and Diana Taurasi added 13 points.

Chicago returns home to face Connecticut on Friday in the team's final contest before the Olympic break and will not play againt until entertaining Atlanta on Aug. 26. The Mercury is now off as Taurasi and Griner prepare to represent the United State next month in Rio de Janeiro. Phoenix will return action on Aug. 26 when the Mercury plays host to Dallas before entertaining the league's top team, Los Angeles, on Aug. 28.

Davila Nearly Perfect as Rattlers Roll Past Orlando 62-45 in Arena Football League Action

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 18, 2016)

PHOENIX – With a conference championship already well in hand, Arizona was looking for an even bigger prize when its game against visiting Orlando got under way.

That prize: the top seed throughout the playoffs, will have to wait for another day.

Mark Lewis booted an 18-yard field goal with less than one second left for Orlando as the Arizona defeated the Predators 62-45 in an Arena Football League game on Monday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win elevated the Rattlers to 12-3 on the season and gives them a perfect 8-0 record in conference play. Orlando, meanwhile, saw its record drop to 12-3 on the year. The Predators, 5-2 in the Eastern Conference, holds a one-game lead over second-place Philadelphia with one game to play in the regular season.

Arizona needed to defeat Orlando by at least 19 points to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs and the 17-point cushion wasn't quite enough. The Predators defeated the Rattlers 77-59 on May 7 in Orlando.

Arizona coach Kevin Guy said he downplayed the importance of the point spread to his team all week in preparation for Monday's marquee matchup.

If the opportunity presented itself we were going to go it,” Guy said.

Arizona scored twice within a span of 1:37 in the fourth quarter and it appeared the Rattlers would surpass the need point threshold.

After fumbling the ball away to the Predator early in the final period, Arizona's defense rose to the occasion and forced the Predators into a four-and-out on the ensuing drive and setting the stage to possibly secure home field throughout the playoffs.

On the first play following the change of possession, Arizona quarterback Nick Davila found Maurice Purify for a 30-yard touchdown as Arizona increased its lead to 48-35 following Alex Zendejas' PAT. Zendejas' kickoff following Purify's score was misplayed by Orlando. The kick bounced off the cross bar and an Orlando player attempted to bat the ball to Brandon Thompkins for a possible return. But, Thompkins was unable to corral the ball and Arizona's Anthony Amos recovered on the Orlando two-yard line. Fullback Mykel Benson powered into the end zone on the next play and the PAT from Zendejas gave the Rattlers a 55-35 lead with 7:58 left in the game.

Orlando quarterback Bernard Morris rushed in from eight yards out with 4:14 remaining to pull his team to within 55-42 before Amos' 19-yard scoring pass from Davila pushed the Arizona lead back to 20 points at 62-42 with 3:30 left in the contest before Lewis' field goal ended the scoring for the night.

I probably would have gone for two,” Guy said in retrospect of Amos' score. “But, I thought we might get the ball back.”

Orlando, which entered the game with the third-best scoring average in the league at 56 points per game, scored twice in the first period and held a slim 14-13 advantage after the first 15 minutes of the game.

Davila's pass across the field to Rod Windsor in the right corner of the end zone with 9:30 left in the second period would give the lead back to Arizona at 20-14. The Rattlers would never trail again. They held the Predators scoreless in the second period and led 27-20 at the intermission.

I am proud of my guys, I thought they played their butts off,” the Arizona coach said. “I think our offense was sharp and our entire coaching staff put a good game plan together.”

Davila was nearly perfect on the night for Arizona. He threw just two incomplete passes in the game and finished 26 of 28 for 289 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added six yards rushing on four carries in the game for the five-time world champion Rattlers.

Windsor ended the game with nine catches for 87 yards and three touchdowns, while Purify (8-99), Chase Dreadder (7-75), Amos (1-19) and Benson (1-9) also caught scoring passes from Davila. Benson and Windsor scored touchdowns on the ground for the Rattlers.

Arizona finished with 45 yards rushing in the game and ended with 304 yards of total offense.

Orlando, meanwhile, finished with 349 yards of offense as Morris completed 25 of 40 passes for 285 yards in the game. The Predators added 65 yards rushing with Morris leading the way in that department with 57 yards on eight carries and a pair of touchdown runs. Thompkins, who caught two scoring strikes from Morris, led the way with 141 yards on 12 catches in the game. LaMark Brown caught seven passes for 92 yards and teammate Larry Brackins had five receptions for 40 yards. Brown and Brackins each found the end zone once for the Predators.

Arizona closes out the regular season on July 24 when the Rattlers entertain Cleveland. Orlando, meanwhile, plays at home against Philadelphia on July 30. 

Bonner Scores Game-High 33 Points as Phoenix Rolls Past San Antonio 83-64

DeWanna Bonner pumps in 33 points to pace Phoenix to an 83-64 win over San Antonio on July 16 in Phoenix

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 16, 2016)

PHOENIX – It matters little to DeWanna Bonner whether she draws a starting assignment or comes off the bench. Either way she seems to be in perpetual motion whenever she is on the court for the Phoenix Mercury.

So, when midway through the third period of Saturday's game, Bonner stood almost motionless near midcourt and watched as her teammates worked the offense, it seemed out of character for the six-foot, four-inch star to be noticeably absent from the events taking place in front of her.

Perhaps it was by design. Or maybe it was a mistake on the part of San Antonio to forget about Bonner.

Maybe it was both.

Bonner slipped away almost unnoticed and connected on a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner to start a rally as the Mercury went on a 15-4 run en route to an impressive 83-64 win over the Stars at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win elevated Phoenix to 10-13 on the year and into third place in the WNBA Western Conference standings. San Antonio, meanwhile, lost for the fourth straight outing and is now 5-17 on the season and in the cellar of the Western Conference.

Phoenix, which was unable to pull away from the visiting Stars earlier in the game, found itself clinging to a 44-40 lead before Bonner's momentum booster. Brittney Griner followed with nifty drive through the lane less than one minute later to add fuel to the Mercury fire. Phoenix would continue its push to build a 64-50 lead heading into the final period of play and did allow the Stars to get any closer the rest of the way.

I just wanted to come out aggressive,” said Bonner, who played 37 minutes and scored a game-high 33 points before being replaced with just over two minutes left in the game. “We really needed this game.”

Bonner finished 11 of 16 from the field, including four of eight from 3-point range. She was also perfect on all seven of her free throw attempts and added eight rebounds, just two rebounds shy of her 26th double-double in a Phoenix uniform. She also added two assists and two blocked shots in the winning effort.

(Bonner) is a great player and she can do that any given night,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “She played with a lot of poise.”

While Bonner certainly stole the show on Saturday, Phoenix also played perhaps its most complete game of the season, despite having three players out of action against the Stars.

Diana Taursai, the fifth-leading scorer in the league this season at 19.2 points per game, missed the game because of a suspension after picking up her seventh technical foul of the season in Phoenix's 78-74 win over Washington in the Mercury's previous game that snapped a three-game losing skid. Sonja Petrovic and Penny Taylor also missed Saturday's game. Petrovic has reported to the Serbian National Team in preparation for next month's Olympic Games, while Taylor missed her eighth straight game because of a hip injury. She is expected to see action in the Olympics for her native Australia.

Alex Harden started in place of Taursai and responded with 12 points in her first career start.

She's a great, young talent,” Brondello said of Harden, who logged nearly 30 minutes of playing time. “It was great for her to see the ball go through the hole.”

Lindsey Harding, who was signed by Phoenix on June 24, came off the bench to score 16 points as the Mercury placed three players in double figures.

Griner finished with nine points and game-high six blocked shots and passed Indiana's standout Tamika Catchings for 11th place in league history in that department.

Moriah Jefferson led three Stars in double figures with 14 points in the game, while Dearica Hambly and Monique currie added 13 and 12 points, respectively, for San Antonio which trailed for most of the game.

Currie's short jumper in the lane at 2:48 of the opening period gave the Stars a 12-9 advantage before Harden tied the game on a 3-pointer at the 2:08 mark. Bonner connected on a pair of free throws less than one minute later to give Phoenix a 14-12 advantage the Mercury would not relinquish the rest of the way.

Phoenix returns to action on July 19 when the Mercury plays host to Chicago in the final game before the Olympic break. The two teams have split the two previous meetings this season. Phoenix the first contest 86-80 at home on June 12 before Chicago evened the season series with a 100-95 win on July 10 in the Windy City.

San Antonio, meanwhile, plays at Seattle on July 20 to close out the pre-Olympic portion of its schedule.

Petrovic's Late Field Goal Allows Phoenix to Snap Three-Game Losing Skid

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 13, 2016)

PHOENIX – With Phoenix and Washington both being mired in three-game losing streaks, something had to give when the two teams faced off on Wednesday afternoon in Phoenix.

But, after giving up a 10-point lead heading into the final period of play, Phoenix managed to fend of the visiting Mystics to secure a 78-74 win at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Sonja Petrovic proved to be in the right place at the right time and scored the eventual game-winner for the Mercury with 29.9 seconds remaining in the final period. Brittney Griner maneuvered through the lane but when she was cut off by a Washington defender, Griner spotted Petrovic coming down the right side of the lane and delivered a picture-perfect pass. Petrovic responed with a layup that broke a 74-74 tie in the game.

Phoenix added a pair of free throws from Griner down the stretch to secure the win. The Mercury improved to 9-13 on the season, while Washington continued its losing skid and is not 9-12 on the year.

We were a little inconsistent down the stretch,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “We missed a lot of shot … a lot of high-percentage shots. But, our defense held steady when we needed it and got some crucial stops when we needed.”

Phoenix held a 65-55 lead after the first three periods of play and it appeared the Mercury was primed to put the clamps on whatever comeback hopes the Mystics might have had.

That's when things began to get a bit uncertain for the homestanding Mercury.

Kahleah Copper and Ivory Latta combined for six points in just one minutes as the Mystics pulled to within 67-61. Copper started the sput with a driving layup at 9:37. Latta connected a free throw after the Mercury were whistled for a defensive three-second violation and then canned a 3-pointer from the top of the circle at 8:30.

The vistors were not done.

Emma Meesseman and Bria Hartley each hit 3-pointers of their own as the Mystics managed to close the gap to 69-67 with 5:53 left in the game. Meesseman added her second three-pointer of the period with 4:09 left and Tayler Hill's field goal with 3:14 left gave the Mystics their first lead being in front 30-28 with just over five minutes left in the first half.

Diane Taurasi gave the advantage back to the Mercury when she hit a 3-pointer from the left side with 2:35 remaing. Meessaman tied the game one last time with a field goal at 1:48 setting the stage for Phoenix's dramatic finish.

It was good for us,” Brondello said. “We just need to keep taking steps forward.”

Griner was one of four Phoenix to reach double figures. She scored a team-high 22 points to go along with a game-high eight rebounds and five blocked shots in one of her top performances of the season. Griner was seven of 12 shooting from the floor and connected on all eight of her free throws to account for her scoring output.

Taurasi, who was held scoreless in the opening period of play, finished with 18 points, while DeWanna Bonner added 16 points. Mistie Bass started in place of Candice Dupree, who decided to sit out the game because of spasms that she could not shake during pregame warmups. Bass responded with 12 points in the game.

Meesseman scored 22 points to lead the way for Washington and Hill added 15.

Phoenix returns to action on July 16 by entertaining San Antonio. The Mercury defeated the Stars 90-75 in the only previous meeting this season between the two teams. Phoenix will also play host to Chicago on July19 before the Olympic break.

Washingon continues its current road trip when the Mystics play in Seattle on July 15. They return home to play New York (July 20) and Los Angeles (July 22).

Blistering Third Quarter Ignites Indiana to 78-60 Win Over Phoenix in WNBA Action

By Ray Maloney

www.phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 9, 2016)

PHOENIX – Stephanie White insisted there were no fiery speeches given to her team at halftime. But, whatever words were spoken in the Indiana lockerroom proved to be magical as the Fever came out blazing in the second half and rolled to a 78-60 win over Phoenix in a WNBA contest on Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak by Indiana, which is now 8-11 on the season. Phoenix, meanwhile, lost for the second straight and is now 8-12 on the season.

I really didn't give them a halftime speech,” White said following the game. “We did a really good job on the defensive end in the first half and in the second half we turned that defense into offense.”

Did they ever.

Briann January's 3-pointer from the right wing just 17 seconds into the second half put Indiana in front 31-29. It was the Fever's first lead since a 10-9 advantage with just over two minutes remaining in the opening quarter.

Phoenix managed to tie the game when Diana Taurasi drove the lane to score and forge a 31-31 tie.

It turned out to be the last tie of the game as Indiana's Erlana Larkins got loose underneath and scored on an uncontested shot to put the Fever in front 33-31 with 8:07 to play. January's trey and Larkins' basket was part of a spurt that saw Indiana connect on 13 of 19 shots from the floor in the period as the Fever turned that 29-28 halftime deficit into a 58-39 advantage heading into the final period of play.

While things were going well for Indiana during that pivotal third quarter, in which the Fever outscored the Mercury 30-10, things went in the opposite direction for Phoenix, which hit on just four of 14 shots from the floor and coach Sandy Brondello was at a loss when searching for the answer.

I am embarrassed at how we lost,” the Phoenix coach said. “We couldn't score in the first half, but at least we held them there defensively. In the third quarter we just came out soft.

We have to decide what kind of team we want to be,” Brondello added. “We've got a team capable of going a long way, but we have to make sure we change it now. You can have a bad game here and there, you can miss shots … but your effort shouldn't be what it was (Friday).”

Phoenix was its own worst enemy throughout the game. In addition to the cold shooting from the floor in the third quarter, the Mercury was also guilty of a season-high 27 turnovers in the game. Those miscues led directly to 36 points for the visiting Fever.

Larkins and January both scored 13 points to lead the way for the Fever, who placed two other players in double figures. Tiffany Mitchell came off the bench to score 12 points, while Lynette Kizer added 10 points in the winning effort. January scored seven of her points in the pivotal third quarter, while Kizer and teammate Erica Wheeler both netted six points to aid in the third quarter spurt. Wheeler finished with nine points in the game for Indiana, which got nine points from Tamkia Catchings, the second-leading scorer in WNBA history and in her final season in the league.

Indiana, which was held to 31 percent (11-35) shooting from the floor in the first half, finished the game at 47 percent (32-68) and added 12 of 13 (.923) shooting from the foul line in the game.

Phoenix was paced by Taurasi and Kelsey Bone, who both scored 13 points and were the only Mercury players to reach double figures.

The Mercury, which shot 11 of 25 (.440) in the opening half, made just 12 shots from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Phoenix, which led the league in made free throws per game (21.7) entering Friday's contest, got to the foul line just 11 times against the Fever and was successful on nine of those attempts.

Phoenix returns to action on Sunday when the Mercury travels to Chicago to take on the Sky. Phoenix defeated Chicago 86-80 on June 12 in Phoenix. The Mercury will then return home for three games beginning July 13 against Washington before entertaining San Antonio (July 16) and Chicago (July 19) before the Olympic break.

Indiana continues its current road trip by playing at Seattle on Sunday before beginning a three-game homestand on July13 against Connecticut.

Phoenix's Bonner Evolving into One of Brightest Stars in WNBA

DeWanna Bonner continues to emerge as one to the top players in the WNBA. (Phoenix Mercury photo)

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 2, 2016)

PHOENIX – If ever comes the day that DeWanna Bonner begins to listen to the buzz from the coaches and teammates who surround her, the WNBA could be witness to something more special than what Bonner has already provided in her brief professional career.

She can be as great as she wants to be,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of Bonner, who has been a key member of a pair of Mercury teams that have won the WNBA title since being drafted by Phoenix in 2009.

You have to keep reminding her that she can be as good as she wants to be,” the Phoenix coach added. “She plays at both ends of the floor and she’s very versatile. “She can guard the 1-man and sometimes she has the 4-man.

She’s great,” Brondello added. “I’ve liked her evolution. When I came here she was a defensive specialist … but she’s understanding that she’s a very good offensive player, as well.”

Bonner’s greatness was put on display in a big way on June 16 when she came off the bench to score 38 points in a game at home against Dallas. The 38 points were the most by a bench player in the history of the WNBA, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2016.

She also ended that game with three steals and a pair of assists as the Mercury came up short in a thrilling 117-111 triple-overtime loss to the Wings.

Bonner's statistics through the first 17 games of the 2016 season back up Brondello’s assessment of her.

She is averaging 15.2 points per game so far this season following a 99-88 loss at home to New York on July 1 and trails only Diana Taurasi (19.1 ppg). Bonner is also averaging 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Mercury. She is 82-187 (.438) from the floor, including 25-72 (.347) from 3-point range, many of which have come from well behind the arc. She has added 69-86 (.802) free throw attempts. All of those numbers rank Bonner among the league leaders in each of those departments.

Bonner was a high school all-American while competing at Fairfield (Ala.) High School, where she also excelled as a member of the school’s volleyball team. She was at McDonald's all-American and earned similar honors from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association following her senior season at Fairfield and was selected as the Gatorade player of the year in Alabama. She later became the first athlete in school history to have her jersey retired.

The six-foot, four-inch superstar in the making knew early on that she wanted to earn a college scholarship. Having had success in both basketball and volleyball while being among the best players in Alabama in both sports during her prep career and being recruited to play both sports, it was basketball that won out.

DeWanna Bonner, the leading scorer in the history of Auburn women's basketball was the 2008-09 player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. (photo courtesy Auburn University)

Bonner was recruited heavily by schools from all across the nation, including several in the powerful Southeastern Conference. Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky, were all among those showing the most interest in obtaining Bonner’s services. In the end, the choice for Bonner was rather simple as she elected to stay close to home and compete at Auburn.

Best conference in the world,” said Bonner of the SEC as she flashed her trademark dazzling smile. “I wanted to stay close to home so my family could watch me play.”

She said playing in the storied league helped prepare her for the rigors of playing against some of the best players in the world during her career in the professional game.

The SEC is really a great conference,” Bonner said. “A lot of the people I played against (in college) are here in the WNBA. But, it’s still a lot faster in the WNBA, especially when it comes to coaching. The way they teach things, you really have to be able to pick things up in a hurry.

But, I was definitely prepared coming from playing against great talent every night,” Bonner added.

Bonner’s decision to remain close to home and play at Auburn paid huge dividends for the school. The Tigers were 85-44 in Bonner’s four seasons at the school and she earned first-team all-conference honors each of her final three seasons in a Tiger uniform. A member of the SEC’s all-freshman team in 2006, Bonner also was selected to the conference’s all-tournament team as a sophomore and a junior.

That all set the stage for a remarkable senior season that was capped by her becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer in a 71-65 win over Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC tournament and being chosen as the league’s player of the year.

Bonner and the Tigers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008-09. An 80-52 loss to Rutgers in Piscataway, N. J. ended Auburn's season at 30-4 after the Tigers had dispatched Lehigh 85-49 in the opening game of the tournament. It was the second straight tournament appearance for Bonner and the Tigers. Auburn had been upended by George Washington 56-55 in the first round the previous year in a game in Stanford, Calif.

She later earned first-team all-America honors by the USBWA and ESPN.com for a second straight season and was a second-team All-American by the Associated Press in each of those seasons.

Bonner, the first player in school history to lead the SEC in scoring, averaged 21.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game as a senior. Her scoring average ranked her ninth in the nation.

The things we did my senior year were great,” she said. “It was good to put Auburn (women’s basketball) back on the map. Knowing I am one of the all-time greats is something very humbling.”

Bonner, who started all 126 games she appeared in during her time with the Tigers, finished her collegiate career with 2,162 points (17.2 ppg)) and 1,047 (8.3 rpg) during her career. Her rebound total stands No. 2 on the school’s all-time list in that department, just 71 behind all-time leader Becky Johnson's 1,118 boards.

Bonner holds several other records at Auburn and holds the distinction of being the second player in school history to lead the Tigers in scoring and rebounding each of her four seasons. Johnson (1981-84) was the first Tiger to accomplish that feat. Bonner’s 716 points in her final collegiate season surpassed the old school mark held by Carolyn Jones since 1989-90 when she scored 703 points. She also holds the school record with 600 free throws in a career, a mark that is more than 150 better than the previous school record.

During that senior season Bonner began to hear the buzz from her coaches that she could possibly find herself in the WNBA the following season. It wasn’t something she took too seriously.

I never once thought about the WNBA or anything else … I didn’t really know anything about it.” Bonner said. “My coaches would say stuff here and there, but I as just so happy, it was my senior year and I was focused on college and enjoying my senior year.

But when my name was called to come to draft day, I thought “wow, this is pretty neat,’”

She didn’t have to wait too long on draft day to hear her name called. The Mercury selected the Auburn standout with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft.

I didn’t know anything about Phoenix,” she said. “Of course you hear about Diana Taurasi, but I had never been to Phoenix, never been out of the state of Alabama until I went to college. But, I thought, ‘man, this is really happening.’”

Bonner’s career with the Mercury, like her stay at Auburn, has been marked by a treasure trove of successes, including playing a key role as the Mercury won the WNBA title in her first season in the league. A 2015 league all-star, she was also named to the all-WNBA first team. She, and Minnesota’s Maya Moore, were the only players in the league to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and three assists a year ago. Bonner and teammate Brittney Griner made Phoenix just one of two teams to have players rank in the top 10 in scoring.

Bonner paced Phoenix in scoring last season with 521 (15.8 ppg) points per game. It was the second time in her career she led the way in scoring after tallying a career-high 660 (20.6) in 2012. She is the only player in franchise history not named Diana Taurasi to lead the Mercury in scoring in a season.

She also led the Mercury in assists (110) and steals (44) in 2015

A veteran of international competition, Bonner is one of just four players to average at least 13 points and seven rebounds over the past three seasons in the EuroLeague. She scored 26 points in a losing effort that league’s championship game earlier this season before returning to the U.S. to begin preparations for her eight WNBA season.

The smile that seems to always permeate from Bonner’s face sometimes takes a hiatus, according to Brondello.

She hates losing so sometimes the smile has not always been there,” Brondello said. “But, she has great energy about her and is very coachable … that’s what I love about her. She is very unselfish and wants to do whatever it takes to make the team great. That’s what makes her so special”

Blistering Start Too Much to Overcome as New York Snaps Phoenixs Three-Game Winning Streak

DeWanna Bonner led Phoenix with 22 point, but it wasn't enough as New York used a quick start to defeat the Mercury 99-88 Friday in Phoenix.

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted July 1, 2016)

PHOENIX – Famed country singer John Denver delivered one of life's big lessons in his 1981 hit song that told the story about some days being like a precious stone and others days, well, not so much.

Phoenix learned the wisdom behind Denver's words on Friday as New York opened the game on a blistering pace from the floor and the Mercury would have to play most of the second half without their top two players. The result was a 99-88 victory for the Liberty at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win, the eighth in the last nine starts for New York, improved the Liberty to 12-5 on the season. Phoenix, meanwhile, saw its season-high three-game winning streak snapped and is now 7-10 on the season. Phoenix edged the Liberty 104-97 in overtime on June 26 in New York City when the two teams last met.

The hole that Phoenix found itself in in the third quarter became cavernous during a bizzare sequence that helped New York build its biggest lead of the night.

New York star Tina Charles drove through the lane and put up a shot and Phoenix's Brittney Griner was called for a foul on the play. Griner disputed the call and was whistled for a pair of technical fouls and was ejected from the game. Seconds later Diana Taurasi, who had been assessed a technical foul just 31 seconds earlier, was given another drawing an ejection for Phoenix's leading scorer. Things got even worse as Mercury coach Sandy Brondello was issued a technical foul of her own.

The end result was Sugar Rodgers connecting on all four free throws because of the technicals and Charles adding a pair on the foul that started the melee. The six free throws gave New York a 65-44 advantage with 7:09 to go in the period.

Tina Charles is a great player, but she's getting calls I don't she should,” said Brondello when asked to give her take on the unusual sequence of events, “and (Griner) never gets those calls and she gets frustrated … and I get frustrated too.”

Despite the huge deficit and loss of Griner and Taurasi, the Phoenix coach found a silver lining in the outcome. As best as she could.

I don't think we came with the appropriate energy at the start of the game.,” Brondello said. “We responded in the right way. We played hard and played with a little more passion. We got close, but obviously not enough time.”

Phoenix managed to cut the deficit to seven points in the fourth quarter. Sonja Petrovic connected on one of two free throws to make it 85-78 with 3:27 left in the game. It was as close as Phoenix would get the rest of the way

Phoenix, which never led in Friday's game, found itself in the hole early on as the Liberty connected on 10 of their first 11 shots from the floor as they cruised to a 23-10 lead at 3:45 when Tanisha Wright scored on a driving layup. New York led by 15 at the end of the opening quarter when Charles connected on a pair of free throws to give the Liberty a 29-14 lead at the first break.

When we shoot well, we're really good,” New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. “That's what did in the first half. We shot the ball well, we executed our offense very well and we got some easy buckets. When get easy buckets our defense is solid.”

Charles, who missed the last game for the Liberty, scored 31 points in her return to the Liberty lineup to lead all scorers.

She not injured, she's got a broken nose,” Laimbeer said.

Charles was 11 of 22 from the floor and added nine of 10 free throws to account for her scoring output and was one of three New York starters to reach double figures. Rodgers finished with 22 points and Wright added 16 points in the winning effort. Shavonte Zellous also reached double figures for the Liberty with 16 points off the bench for the Liberty.

Phoenix placed five players in double digits and was led by DeWanna Bonner's 22 points, 13 of those coming after Griner and Taurasi were forced from the game.

After (New York) shot six free throws we were in a really deep hole,” said Bonner, who, like her coach, tried to find the positive in Friday's outcome. “This is a loss I'm actually proud of because we could have easily folded and gotten down by 40. We showed some spark and got back to less than 10 points … but, New York is a very good team.”

Griner scored 12 points before being ejected and Candrice Dupree also scored 12 points for Mercury. Lindsey Hardin, who was playing in her third game since being acquired by the Mercury on June, 23, and Isabelle Harrison both chipped in with 11 points.Taurasi, the third leading scorer in the league entering Friday's game at 19.9 points per game, netted just six points on Friday.

Phoenix travels to Atlanta for a game on July 3 and plays at Dallas on July 5. It will be first meeting of the season against the Dream, while the Mercury and Wings will be playing for the third time in 2016. Dallas won both of the previous meetings by knocking off Phoenix 117-111 in three overtimes on June 18 in Phoenix and then posting a 100-90 win three days later in Dallas.

New York plays at Western Conference leader Los Angeles on July 3 to end its three game road trip before returning home to entertain Seattle on July 6.

 

Women's Basketball Trailblazer Summitt Dies at 64

Longtime Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt died June 28 at the age of 64. She is the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with 1.098 wins to her credit. (UT Photo)

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 30, 2016)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The world of college athletics is filled with names that are synonymous with greatness. In that even more rarified air of collegiate coaches, few names, if any, match the reverance as that of Pat Summitt.

A true pioneer in women's basketball, Summit, who won more games as a coach than any other man or woman in the history of college basketball, died on June 28 at Sherrill Hill Senior Living Knoxville. She was 64.

She'll be remembered as the all-time winningest coach in D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history,” said Summitt's son, Tyler, in a statement announcing the news of his mother's death. “But, she was more than a coach to so many. She was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure.”

Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero announced via Twitter shortly after Summitt's death that the Henley Bridge lights would be changed to orange, white and blue on Tuesday night “in remembrance of Summitt's devotion to Knoxville.”

The legendary Tennessee coach stepped down in 2012, one year after announcing she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. But, she remained involved with the program she built from scratch, holding the position of head coach emeritus.

Summitt will be remembered for her 1,098 career wins during her time at Tennessee. A seven-time NCAA coach of the year, Summitt captained the United States to a silver medal at the 1976 Olympic Games, the first year women's basketball was a part of the Olympics. She later coached the U.S. to the gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

She was a very, very special person,” said Ann Meyers, a teammate of Summitt's on that 1976 Olympic team.

Meyers, who is now a vice-president for the Phoenix Mercury, wore an orange blouse and matching Tennessee blue earrings and necklace at the Phoenix game on Wednesday, just more than 24 hours after Summitt's death was announced. She said she was in Los Angeles on Tuesday when she got the news of her friend.

I had been in contact with people in Knoxville over the past few days and we all knew that it was just a matter of time,” Meyers said. “The loss of Pat Summitt is a tremendous loss for women's basketball, but her impact on the game and on those around her will be felt for years to come. She meant the world to so many people.”

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards that same year.

President Barack Obama issued a statement when learning of the death of the iconic coach. He called Summitt a “patriot” and “a hero to millions of American, including my two daughters.”

Pat Summitt guided Tennessee to 18 Final Four appearances and eight national championships in her 38-year career at coach of the Lady Vols. Her 1997-98 team became the first Division 1 team to finish a season undefeated. (UT Photo)

A 1974 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Summitt became the head coach at Tennessee at the age of 22. The school originally offered her an assistant coaching position, but when then-head coach Margaret Hutson, who had led Tennessee to a 60-18 record in four years at the school (1970-74), announced she was taking a sabbatical, Summitt, not much older than some of her players, assumed the top job andbegan her climb to immortality.

Summitt lost the first game she ever coached at Tennessee when Mercer defeated the Lady Vols 84-83 on Dec. 7, 1974 in front of 54 spectators in the Tennessee gymnasium. Less than one month later, in just the second game of her tenure at the school, Summitt led Tennessee to a 69-32 over Middle Tennessee on Jan. 10, 1975. More than 1,000 additional wins would follow.

I was absolutely overwhelmed and scared to death,” Summit said of her first coaching position.

The passage of Title IX, just two years earlier, led to increased visibility of women's sports across the nation and more opportunities for other women's programs at colleges all across the nation. Women's basketball games weren't a fixture on televesion as they are today as virtually all women's programs were strapped for cash.

Summitt actually washed her players' uniforms at her home and drove the team to games.

I remember nights when I was driving the van and I'm about to go to sleep,” Summit told former ESPN personality Robin Roberts in an interview. “I'd just roll down the window and stick my head out.”

Summitt would surpass Hutson as the school's winningest coach on Nov. 23, 1977 when Tennessee would defeat Miami (Ohio) 100-33 at home in the opener to the season. It was just the 85th game of her career and gave her a 61-24 record. That team would go on to finish 27-4 on the year.

Many more milestone wins would collect over the course of Summitt's hall of fame career.

She would lead Tennessee to a record of 1,098-208 during her time at coach of the Lady Vols. She reached 1,000 wins on Feb. 5, 2009 when Tennessee defeated Georgia 73-43 in Knoxville. Her final victory came on March 24, 2012 when Tennessee knocked off Kansas 84-73 in an NCAA regional tournament semifinal in Des Moines, Iowa. Two days later Baylor, which would go on to win the NCAA championship, ended Tennessee's season with a 77-58 win in the regional final.

It would also be the final game in Summitt's legendary career.

We talked about that at halftime,” said Brittney Griner, a star on the Baylor team. “No one wanted to see her go out with a loss. But we also knew that Pat would never want someone to take it easy, she would want you to go and play your hardest and give it to them … and that's what we did.

"It's such a tremendous loss. She meant so much for women's basketball, even if you didn't play for her,” Griner added.

Summitt's .840 winning percentage, along with her wins total, are likely to go unmatched. Never having a losing season during her illustrious tenure along the Tennessee River, she coached 47 percent of her games against ranked opponents and logged a 503-48 (.913) record in home games.

She led Tennessee to 18 Final Fours and eight national championships during her time at the school. Her 1997-98 squad became the first undefeated team in Division 1 history as Tennessee finished the year 39-0 en route to the national championship. It was the third straight national championship for the Lady Vols, who compiled a 100-14 record during that span.

Each of her players who completed their eligibility at Tennessee would earn the degrees from the school, further solidfying Summitt's greatness as a teacher and role model.

Summitt was born in Clarksville, Tenn., the fourth of five children and grew up on a farm chopping tobacco, plowing fields and bailing hay. She never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school.

I look back now and I think that made me who I am, in terms of my drive and work ethic,” Summitt told famed ABC News reporter Peter Jennings in a 2005 interview.

When you grow up on a dairy farm, cows don't take a day off. So you work every day and my dad always said, “No one can outwork you,” she added in a 2011 interviw with Roberts, who moved to ABC following her time at ESPN.

Summitt honed her skills as a basketball player in the hayloft of the family's farm, along with her brothers.

People would refer to me as her boss and I always remarked, 'Pat Summitt has no boss,' said former Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan in a prepared statement on Tuesday. “She was the ultimate leader who led by example with strength, character and integrity, but also with care. She loved her family and players with a fierceness equaled only by that renowned stare of hers.”

Summitt's stare, an icy look she would would flash to players after a bad play, has become one of the most iconic images in all of sport.

A statue of Pat Summitt adorns the Pat Summitt Plaza near Thompson-Boling Arena where a public service to celebrate her life is scheduled for July 14. (UT Photo)

Summitt is a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (1999), the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2000) and the FIBA Hall of Fame (2013). The Pat Summitt Plaza, which features a statue of her, was built across from Thompson-Boling Arena, the home of Tennessee basketball, and dedicated in November of 2013.

She truly is a global icon who transcended sports and spent her entire life make a difference in other peoples' lives, Tennesee athletics director Dave Hart said.

Many people from many walks of life spoke out Tuesday about the profound impact Summitt had on them and their careers.

I've coached several Tennessee players, and they keep (Summitt) in such high regard after they've left, said Los Angeles Sparks coach Brian Agler. “ … and I know it's not like she was there just patting them on the back the whole way. She challenged them to be great people and great players, and they have so much respect for her.”

I have a heavy heart this morning, hearing about the loss of one of the greatest women's basketball legends ever,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “When I began coaching in the 1980s, I listened to (Summitt) at my first clinic and I knew that I wanted to be a coach. She inspired me, and gave us all an example of what it takes to chase excellence.

Thanks Pat for showing us the way,” Bluder added.

Many of Summitt's former players and coaches began to make their way to her bedside late last week and continued into the day before her death.

I was always impressed with how all of her former players spoke about her,” said former UT quarterback Peyton Manning. “You speak to people like Tamika Catchings or Chamique Holdsclaw and they talk about the role (Summitt) played in all their lives. You can just tell the impact she had on those players.”

A private service and burial for family and friends will be held for Summitt in Middle Tennessee. A public service to celebrate her life is schedule to take place on July 14 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Petrovic Scores Season-High 22 as Phoenix Wins Third Straight

Sonja Petrovic scores season-high 22 as Phoenix wins third staight game.

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 30, 2016)

PHOENIX – The addition of three new faces has given the Phoenix roster a new look and continued to pay dividends as the WNBA season nears its halfway point. But, the Mercury relied on a familiar band of characters as they extended their winning streak to a season-high three games.

Sonja Petrovic scored a game-high 22 points and three other players also reached double figures as Phoenix led from start to finish in an 86-75 win over Connecticut on Wednesday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The win improved Phoenix to 7-9 on the season, while Connecticut dropped to 3-12 on the year. The Sun has now lost three straight games and is just 1-7 in the last eight games.

This was the Sonja Petrovic I see all the time playing in Europe,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “She took advantage of the opportunities in front of her. With (Penny) Taylor being out, I told her she didn't need to be Penny Taylor, she just had to be Sonja Petrovic, because that's a very good player in its own right.”

Taylor, a 12-year WNBA veteran started each of the previous 15 games this season for Phoenix and is averaging 13.3 points per game. She missed Wednesday's game with a hip contusion.

That left the night open for Petrovic to shine. And shine she did.

All the six-foot, two-inch native of Serbia did was connect on seven of nine shots from the floor and was perfect on all seven free throws to finish with a season-high in points. Her previous season-high of 12 points was record twice earlier this season.

Brittney Griner also had a huge game for the Mercury, especially in the second half. She scored her team's first six points in the half as Phoenix extended its 41-37 halftime advantage and regain command of the game. And when Petrovic, streaking down the left side, took a laser pass through a pair of defenders from Diane Taurasi for a layup, Phoenix found itself in front 49-39 with 7:23 left in the third quarter.

Griner, who averaged 19 points per game in the Mercury's modest winning streak heading into Wednesday's tilt, turned in a nifty spin in the lane for a basket and added the ensuing free throw to give Phoenix its largest lead of the game at 64-45 with 1:32 left in the period. It was part of a 25-14 spurt in the period that gave the Mercury a 66-51 advantage heading into the final period of play. Griner scored nine of those points for Phoenix.

She's really playing her best basketball of the season right now,” Brondello said of Griner. “She's getting healthy … and sometimes in basketball it's all about confidence.”

Connecticut was never able to get closer than eight points the rest of the way.

A 3-pointer by Jonquel Jones from the left side pulled the Sun to within 72-64 with 5:51 remaining in the game. From there it was the Pretrovic-Griner show as the duo combined for the next eight points of the game and Phoenix went on to the win.

Despite the slow start to the game by Connecticut, the Sun managed to make things interesting as they used an 18-8 spurt to start the second quarter. Camille Little banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to pull the visitors to within 32-28 with 3:35 left in the half. Alex Bentley's shot high over the outstretched arms of Griner with less than two seconds in the half bright the Sun back to with four points at the intermission. Bentley scored 10 points in the period, including a pair of 3-pointers to fuel the Sun's comeback bid.

We just broke down on how we wanted to play (Bentley),” the Phoenix coach said. “She was coming off no pressure at all.”

We know we're getting better,” Brondello said of her team. “We're finding ways to win now.”

Phoenix added the services of Lindsey Harding and Kelsey Bone in a pair of recent transactions.

We filled some needs,” Brondello said of the recent changes to thee Phoenix roster.

Harding, the No. 1 overall draft pick by Phoenix in 2007, was signed on June 23. She played five games earlier this season with New York. Her first action with the Mercury came the following night as she scored two points in a 91-79 Phoenix victory. She was held scoreless as the Mercury knocked off Harding's former New York team 104-97 in overtime, but scored four points in her home debut for the Mercury.

(Harding) gives us a back-up point guard, a pure point guard,” Brondello said. “She brings speed and can handle the ball.”

Bone, meanwhile, saw her first action for Mercury since being acquired from Connecticut earlier this week in a trade that saw rookie guard Courtney Williams go to the Sun. Bone, the 2015 league's most improved player award winner, scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in her first game in a Phoenix uniform.

Petrovic was joined in double figures by Griner, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Griner also recorded a season-high five blocks in the game. DeWanna Bonner and Taurasi added 18 and 11 points, respectively, for the Mercury.

Connecticut also placed four players in double figures. Bentley led the way with 20 points, while Alyssa Thomas chipped in with 18 and 16 points, respectively. Williams scored 11 points against her former team.

Phoenix returns to action on Friday when the Mercury entertains New York. Connecticut remains on the road as the Sun play on Saturday in Dallas.

Legendary Track Coach Sam Bell Dies at 88

Sam Bell (March 7, 1928 -- June 27, 2016)

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 28, 2016)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Sam Bell was a sort of enigma to many of the athletes and coaches who came in contact with him during his storied coaching career. But, it didn't take long for those same people to grasp the magnitude of the man who shaped countless lives and helped transform track and field into what it is today.

Bell, who spent nearly three decades as coach at Indiana, died on June, 27, in Bloomington. He was 88.

I have been thinking about (Bell) a lot since hearing the news,” current IU coach Ron Helmer said less than 24 hours after the death of his predecssor. “(Bell) was a very complicated individual, but he was also very transparent.

I think he had this conflict within himself,” Helmer added. “He was this sort of high-energy, passionate, win-at-all-costs kind of coach, but when it was all said and done, he truly had the best interests of those around him at heart.”

One of the lasting memories of Bell's tenure came each Monday when he delivered a written evaluation to each of his athletes recapping their performance of the previous week.

Many times those evaluations were very critical and sometimes feelings were hurt,” Helmer said. “Sometimes, in his mind, someone's best was simply not good enough.

Many of the athletes did not realize it at the time, but each and every one of them will tell you that years later they realized those evaluations helped make them successful down the road. The evaluations were sometimes harsh, but they showed how much he cared.”

Bell's straight forward honest approach to his athletes was a key to the success Bell had while at Indiana.

The truth was always important,” Helmer said. “I respect the heck out of that. He was a tireless worker and he was a master at getting through the fluff in dealing with some athletes … and the athletes who truly wanted to succeed appreciated that.”

He was a great teacher,” said Bob Kennedy, one of 10 Olympians to be mentored by Bell while at Indiana. “He used track and field basically as a took to shape young men and women into good adults.

I loved his no-nonsense approach about things and his directness,” added Kennedy, arguably the greatest in a long line of greats to compete for Bell.

Bell arrived in the Hoosier state in 1970 and remained there until his retirement following the 1997-98 season. He led Indiana to 22 Big Ten team championships during his career at the school, including three conference titles in cross country. His 1972 squad won the league title after scoring 39 points in Iowa City and finishing ahead of Michigan, which tallied 76 on the day. Wisconsin (87), Minnesota (97) and Iowa (136) rounded out the top five teams. It was the first conference championship for Indiana since 1967 and just the second since winning in 1946.

Indiana would repeat as conference champions in 1973 by edging Wisconsin (49-52) to win back-to-back titles for the first time since Billy Hays guided the Hoosiers to five straight league championships (1928-32). IU's final cross country championship under Bell would come in 1980 as Indiana and Michigan State both scored 44 points to share the title. Bell also guided Indiana to a pair of runner-up finishes during his time at the school.

Jim Spivey and Scott Williams would run their way to Big Ten individual championships with Bell at the helm of the program. Spivey would win a pair of titles (1980, 1982), while Williams was the champion in 1987.

But, it is Kennedy whose name will always be linked to Bell as Kennedy became one of the greatest runners in Big Ten history.

He burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old fresh-faced freshman in 1988 and won the conference championship for the first time. He capped off his remarkable freshman season by winning the NCAA championship and becoming the first Hoosier to win a national championship since Fred Wilt in 1941.

Kennedy would run his streak to three straight conference champions by winning in 1989 and 1990 before redshirting in 1991. He returned in 1992 to win his fourth league title and joining former Illinois standout Craig Virgin (1973-76) to win as many. Kennedy capped his cross country career at IU with his second national crown just weeks later.

Bell would lead Indiana to the Big Ten indoor track championship in 1973 as the Hoosiers earned their first indoor title since 1941 and just the fourth title in school history. Bell's teams would win 10 more indoor titles and added seven titles at the conference outdoor meet.

Bell, a coach on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team coached Olympians Mark Deady, Sunder Nix, Rotimi Peters, Robert Cannon and Dave Volz, in addition to Ablert Robinson, DeDee Nathan and Terry Brahm, in addition to Kennedy and Spivey.

Brahm, who made the Olympics in 1988 in the 5,000 meters, realzied Bell's impact once he began to compete around the world.

I never went to a meet where they didn't know Sam Bell,” said Brahm, who won an NCAA title and made an Olympic team in Indianapolis, thanks in large part to Bell's work to establish the Indiana capital as a sports capital. “Really, my two most important moments happened on my home track because of coach Bell.”

Brahm said Bell was a rare combination of a demanding coach who could also empathize with athletes over failure.

As demanding as he was, his compassion was equal to it,” Brahm said.

Bell, who was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1992, had already made a name for himself prior to his arrival in Bloomington. He led Oregon State to the 1961 NCAA championship behind the performance of bare-foot runner Dale Storey, while teammates Jerry Brady and Bill Boyd, place 12th and 16th, respectively, at the national meet as the Beavers tallied 68 points to claim the title. San Jose State finished second with 82 points on the day.

He began his collegiate coaching career at OSU in 1958 and the 1961 NCAA title remained the only national championship in school history until 2006 when the Beavers won the College World Series. Bell later coached at California (1965-69) before taking over at Indiana.

Bell was born in Columbus, Mo. and grew up on the plains of Nebraska, where he played six-man football during high school and earned all-conference honors in basketball. He also excelled in track as a miler, while also competing in all of the field events. Following his graduation from high school in 1945, Bell was scheduled to become a part of the Naval Air Cadets. The end of World War II ended his military service befor having to go oversees.

He later graduated from Doane College and took his first coaching job at Wymore, Neb. He later coached track at Cottage Grove (Ore.), where his star pupil Dyrol Burleson, twice lowed the national high school record in the mile run and Bell's brightness as a coach began to be recognized.

Bradley, Lamb Spark Diamondbacks to 5-1 Win Over Struggling Phillies

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 19, 2016)

PHILADELPHIA – After peppering Philadelphia pitching for nine home runs in the first two games of the series, Arizona kept the ball in the yard, but the result was the same as the Diamondbacks won their third straight game with a 5-1 win over the struggling Phillies on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.

Jake Lamb had two extra-base hits, including an RBI double in the sixth inning that drove in Paul Goldschmidt as the Diamondbacks increased their lead to 2-0.

Arizona tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning. Phil Gosselin got things going with a triple to lead off the inning and came in to score on a wild pitch to increase the Diamondback's advantage to 4-1. Lamb drove in Goldschmidt with a triple of his own for the final run of the game. Goldschmidt had walked to bring Lamb to the plate. It was the 57th walk on the season for Goldschmidt, who now leads the majors in that department. Lamb, meanwhile notched his 17th double in the game and his two RBIs give him 43 on the year.

Relief pitcher Brad Ziegler came on to work the ninth inning for Arizona. He struck out the first two batters he faced and got Maikel Franco to ground to short to end the game.

Bradley, who cruised through the first four innings and retiring 10 straight batters after a two-out single by Odubel Herrera in the first, gave up his second hit in the fifth inning. One batter later, Cameron Rupp drew a walk to put a pair of runners on base for the Phillies. That rally would come to a close as Bradley got Freddy Galves to pop out to the catcher and starting pitcher Zach Eflin grounded out to third to end the threat with the 2-0 lead intact.

Philadelphia would get its only run of the game in the sixth inning when Andres Blanco walked and Jimmy Paredes singled to put the first two runners on base for Philadelphia. Herrera would reach on an error by shortstop Nick Ahmed to load the bases and Bradley found himself in a deep hole.

He would work out of it. He got Tommy Joseph to ground into a double play to score Blanco, but Cody Asche lined to right to end the inning and any further damage. Bradley would be lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning and ended his day by going six innings and allowing just three hits, while striking out five to earn his third win of the season.

The Diamondbacks would get that run back in the seventh inning. Brandon Drury led off with a double to center field and came into score on a two-out single by Michael Bourne, who took second on the relay throw to the plate that was not in time to catch the speedy Bourne and Arizona increased its lead to 3-1.

Arizona got on the scoreboard in the third inning when Bradley lofted a sacrifice fly to center to drive in Brandon Drury, who had doubled to start the inning.

Elfin, who was knocked around in his major league debut last week against Toronto, improved dramatically in his second career start. He went 5.2 innings and gave up four hits. He was lifted with two outs in the sixth inning after giving a walk to Chris Hermann.

Arizona would finish with 10 hits on the day against Philadelphia pitching. The Phillies, meanwhile, managed just three hits in the game and lost for the sixth straight outing.

The Diamondback, which won a series in Philadelphia for the first time since 2007 with Sunday's win, will go for a sweep of the series on Monday when the two teams meet for the fourth straight day.

Dallas Rallies to Defeat Phoenix 117-111 in 3 Overtimes

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 19, 2016)

PHOENIX – One of the keys to being successful in any endeavor, including an athletic competition, is to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. Dallas did all that as the Wings rallied from a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter en route to a 117-111 triple overtime win over Phoenix on Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win, the second straight win for the Wings, improved their record to 5-7 on the year and into third place in the Western Conference. Phoenix, meanwhile, dropped its second straight game and is now 4-8 on the year and fell into a tie with Seattle for fourth place in the conference.

The Wings, the former Tulsa Shock, before moving to the Lone Star state prior to the start of this season, scored the final seven points in the third overtime to overtake the Mercury and earn the win. All those points came in the final 1:47 of the game and was started by Odyssey Sims, who scored six of the final seven points.

Sims, a 5-8 guard, who is in her second season in the league, got things going for the Wings when she drove into the lane and got a Phoenix defender to go airborne before dipping under and banking a shot off the glass to put Dallas in front 112-111. It was the 29th lead change in the game. Glory Johnson, who drew the wrath of the partisan Phoenix crowd each time she touched the ball, added one of two free throws with just under one minute left in the contest and Sims converted on four foul shots in a span of 2.5 seconds to seal the win.

Phoenix held the lead for just 29 seconds in the third extra session. Penny Taylor drained a pair of free throws with 3:24 left and then added a shot from the right side to pull her team to within 110-109 with 2:37 to play. DeWanna Bonner dished the ball of to Alex Harden, who delivered the ball right back to Bonner for a basket with 2:16 remaining to put the Mercury in front 111-110. It was the last lead of the game for Phoenix as Sims took control to determine the outcome of Saturday's contest.

Taylor had given the Mercury a seemingly commanding 75-58 lead with 1:04 remaining in the third period. Dallas, which got a free throw from Johnson to close the quarter, trailed 75-59 heading into the fourth period. Erin Phillips and Karima Christmas each connected on 3-pointers to spark the visiting Wings to the first seven points of the fourth period as Dallas began its comeback. Skylar Diggins added back-to-back 3-pointers of her won in a span of 46 seconds to aid in the fourth-quarter alled. Johnson grabbed a miss by Diggins and scored to tie the game 87-87 with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

Plennette Pierson continued the barrage of long-range baskets for the Wings. Her trey at 3:49 of the first overtime session gave Dallas a 90-89 lead. It was its first lead since holding a 39-38 lead at the 2:07 mark of the second quarter when Sims connected on a 3-pointer.

Diana Taurasi fouled out with 3:19 left in the first overtime. She finished the game with nine points after entering the contest averaging 20.8 points per game. She was not the only Phoenix player to foul out. Brittney Griner, Noelle Quinn and Candice Dupree all picked up their sixth foul in the third overtime.

In all, Phoenix was whistled for a WNBA record 42 fouls in the game. Dallas made the most of those opportunties as the Wings convered on 41 of 51 free throws in the game. Phoenix, meanwhile, the top free throw shooting team in the league, was good on 28 of 35 attempts in the game.

Neither team shot very well from the floor. Dallas was 33 of 86 for 38 percent in the game, including 10 of 32 (.313) from behind the arc, while the Mercury finished with 43 percent shooting after making 38 of 88 shots. Phoenix was good on seven of 21 3-pointers in the game.

I kept telling them to keep pushing hard,” Dallas coach Fred Williams said of his message to his team.

Diggins paced the victorious Wings with 27 points, 19 of those coming after halftime. She was joined in double figures by Pierson, Christmas and Sims, who all finished with 18 points in the game. Johnson chipped in with 15 points in the winning effort. It was a season high in points for Diggins, whose previous mark this season was 13 in a loss to Los Angeles, while Pierson also topped her previous season-best of 17 at Indiana.

Bonner led Phoenix with a game-high 38 points to match her career high. She scored 24 points in the first half after coming off the bench for the fourth straight game after opting to give up her role as a starter. Taylor added 21 points for the Mercury, while Dupree and Griner finished with 19 and 11 points, respectively.

The two teams turn around and play each other again on Tuesday in Dallas to start a three-game homestand for the Wings. They will also play host to San Antonio (June 23) and Indiana (June 25) before heading to Los Angeles to take on the Sparks.

Tuesday's game also marks the beginning of a three-game road swing for the Mercury, who will also travel to Washington (June 24) and New York (June 26) before returning home to play Connecticut on June 29. The Mercury defeated the Sun 99-90 in their previous meeting on May 31 in Phoenix.

Bonner A Beacon as Mercury Rallies Past Sky 86-80

DeWanna Bonner

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 12, 2016)

PHOENIX – Mariners of years gone by relied on beacons to assure themselves safe entry into ports. DeWanna Bonner's beacon shined the brightest as Phoenix managed to weather the storm and rally in the closing minutes to defeat Chicago 86-80 on Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The win was the second straight for Phoenix, which has now won four of its last six games after opening the season with a four-game losing streak. The Mercury are now 4-6 on the season. Chicago, meanwhile, saw its four-game winning streak come to an end as the Sky fell to 5-5 on the year.

Bonner, a three-time recipient of the sixth woman of the year award in the WNBA, came off the bench to score 20 points. She finished four of 12 from the floor and connected on 12 of 14 foul shots to account for her scoring output. She also added four rebounds and two steals in the game.

She excelled at both ends of the floor (Sunday),” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.

Bonner, who started seven of the first nine games this season, asked for the move to a reserve role, according to Brondello.

I fought it initially,” the Phoenix coach of her star's request to come off the bench, “but give credit to her. She that was the best way for her to get back into the flow of the game.”

Bonner got Phoenix's impressive rally going on the defensive end of the floor. With just over six minutes left in the game and her team trailing 72-66, the six-foot, four-inch veteran, poked away a pass in the lane and sprinted to the other end to take a long pass. She was fouled on the play by Jessica Breland, but converted both free throws to pull her team to within 72-68 with 6:28 to play in the game. She added two more foul shots at the 4:48 mark and the Mercury found themselves down just 75-73 and the stage was set for the dramatic finish.

Phoenix took the lead 78-77 on two more free throws from Bonner with 2:31 to play. It was the first lead since being in front 9-8 early in the opening period. Brittney Griner's offensive rebound and basket less than one minute later increased the Phoenix advantage to 80-77.

But, the visiting Sky knotted the game when former Phoenix player Cappie Pondexter (2006-09) converted a three-point play with 1:29 left in the game.

Bonner added two more free throws to give the lead back to Phoenix with 1:17 remaining. Candice Dupree and Diana Taurasi each added a pair of free throws to close the scoring and the door on Chicago.

Phoenix outscored Chicago 50-33 in the second half to overcome a 47-36 halftime deficit.

We needed that win,” said Bonner, a former collegiate star at Auburn. “I just wanted to bring a little more energy than I did against San Antonio.”

Bonner was held scoreless against the Stars on June 9, but finished that game with a team-high four assists and added two rebounds.

The fact Phoenix found itself in a position to rally did not seem to be in the making in the first half. Taurasi started things off well enough for the Mercury when she slipped off a defender and connected on a jumper from just inside the free throw line for the first basket of the game just 15 seconds into the contest. That was the highlight of the period as Phoenix managed to connect on just four of 18 shots from the floor as Chicago pulled out to a 25-18 advantage, thanks in large part to six field goals from inside the lane in the quarter.

We allowed too many points in the paint,” Brondello said of her team's first-quarter woes. “We weren't helping each other on the penetration with our activity.”

Phoenix ended the first half with just nine of 32 (.222) shooting from the floor. Chicago countered with 53 percent shooting by connecting on 18 of 34 shots from the floor.

Phoenix improved to 11 of 21 shooting from the floor in the third period, including three 3-pointers early in the quarter. But, Phoenix still found itself in trouble.

Courtney Vandersloot's 3-pointer to open the second half put Chicago in front 50-36, its' biggest lead of the game. It was not until a Taurasi 3-pointer with 3:13 left in the third quarter to pull Phoenix to within 64-56 that things began to go the way of the Mercury.

Bonner grabbed a loose ball on the defensive end and raced the length of the floor to score with 2:47 left. A field goal from Brittney Griner and another 3-pointer from Taurasi just ahead of the buzzer to end the quarter pulled Phoenix to withing 67-63.

Taurasi led all scorers with 31 points. She also scored 31 in the Mercury's 90-75 win over San Antonio in their previous game. Sonja Petrovic joined Taurasi and Bonner in double figures with 10 points of her own, including a pair of three pointers. Griner and Dupree both chipped in with nine points in the winning effort.

Chicago also placed three players in double figures. The Sky was led by Elena Delle Donne's 18 points, while Pondexter and Vandersloot added 15 and 11 points, respectively.

Phoenix returns to action June 17 at Los Angeles. The Sparks 10-0 on the season. Chicago, meanwhile, plays at Los Angeles on June 14.

 

Corbin Stymies Cubs as Arrieta Loses for First Time This Season

Patrick Corbin

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted June 5, 2016)

CHICAGO – Good things usually happen for the Chicago Cubs whenever Jake Arrieta takes the mound. Such was not the case on Sunday as Arizona strung together three straight hits in the second inning and pushed across a pair of runs en route to a 3-2 win over Chicago at Wrigley Field.

Arizona, which is now 25-34 on the season, dropped the first two games of the series by a combined 11-3 score. Chicago, meanwhile, saw its major league-best mark slip to 39-16 on the year.

Chris Hermann got things going for Arizona when he led off the second with a single to center. He moved to second on a hit to right off the bat of Chris Owings. A blistering blast off the bat of Yasmany Tomas drove in Hermann and Owings with the first two runs of the game for the Diamondbacks.

The Cubs cut the Arizona lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the inning when Arrietta doubled in former Diamondback Miguel Montero, who had reached on a fielder's choice.

Arizona regained its two-run margin in the fifth when Michael Bourne singled with one out and later came in to score on a single by Paul Goldschmidt to left field. It was the 34th RBI of the season for Goldschmidt.

Arieta managed to get out of the inning with no further damage, thanks in part of some poor baserunning on the part of the Diamondbacks, but was lifted in the top of the sixth inning as Trevor Cahill came on in relief. Arrieta allowed nine hits to Arizona, but struck out 12 in his five innnings of work. It was the first loss of the season for Arrieta, the reigning National League Cy Young winner. It was also the first loss by the righthander since July 25, 2015, who was 20-0 since then heading into Sunday's game.

The Cubs got to within 3-2 in the sixth inning when Javier Baez homered to right-center. It was the fourth home run of the season for Baez and the Cubs never seriously challenged after that.

Hermann finished with three hits and Owings added two hits of his own for Arizona, which finished with 10 hits on the day off five Chicago pitchers. In all, Arizona struck out 18 times in the game. Trevor Cahill fanned four batters in 1.2 innings of work and Travis Wood struck out two in 1.1 innings on the mound.

Arizona starter Patrick Corbin improved his record to 3-5 on the year with a solid outing. He allowed all five Chicago hits on the day and went seven full innings, while striking out five Chicago batters. Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth and Brad Ziegler came on in the ninth to pick up his 11th save the year.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon was ejected in the seventh inning after voicing his displeasure on a check swing by Goldschmidt on a pitch that Goldschmidt appeared swing at, but first-base umpire Tripp Gibson ruled otherwise and Goldschmidt walked to load the bases.

Arizona returns home for a nine-game homestand beginning Monday in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks will play Tampa Bay in a three-game series. Miami will travel in for three games beginning Friday and the homestand will conclude with three games against the Dodgers June 13-15.

The Cubs embark on a nine-game stretch away from Wrigley Field as they play three games at Philadelphia beginning Monday and travel to Atlanta (June 10-12) and Washington (June 13-15). Chicago returns home to play Pittsburgh on June 17.

 

Defense, Free Throws Spark Phoenix in Comeback Win over Connecticut

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted May 31, 2016)

PHOENIX – The importance of executing the little things was brought to the forefront in a big way as Phoenix won for the second time in as many outings with a 99-90 win over Connecticut in WNBA action on Monday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The Mercury, which lost the first four games of the season, improved to 2-4 on the season after defeating visiting Washington two nights earlier at home. Connecticut, which split its first two games of the season, lost for the fourth straight time and is now 1-5 on the season.

Phoenix, which struggled from the floor for much of the game, trailed by 14 points on three occasions in Monday's contest. The last of those large deficits came when Morgan Tuck backed into the lane and nailed a nifty turnaround jumper to give the Sun a 63-49 advantage with 5:51 to go in the third quarter.

That was when Diana Taurasi came to life. And at the right time for the Mercury.

After missing on her first seven shots of the game, including all five in the first half, Taurasi scored five points in a span of 20 seconds as Phoenix began to find success from the floor. Taurasi connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key to start the rally for the Mercury. They would outscore the Sun 20-8 over the final 4:47 of the period.

The spurt was highlighted by Alex Harden's running jumper from 29 feet out to beat the buzzer as the end of the third period and pulled the Mercury to within 73-72 heading into the final 10 minutes of play.

Brittney Griner put Phoenix in front early in the final period when she scored from inside the lane to give the Mercury a 74-73 advantage. It was their first lead since a 4-3 advantage in the first minute of the game.

Connecticut continued to have trouble from the floor as the Sun when nearly six minutes without scoring while Phoenix extended its lead to 88-73. A pullup jumper from Alex Bentley with 4:42 remaining in the game was the first points for Connecticut since Chiney Ogwumike scored with 50.3 second left in the third period.

Phoenix's defense proved to be one of the key factors in Monday's outcome. The Mercury, which had just four turnovers in the game, forced the Sun into 21 turnovers and managed to convert those miscues into 28 points.

It all comes down to defense,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “We have to become a great defensive team … while (Connecticut) scored 90 points, which is a little too much, we keep getting better.“We keep getting better … and we're going to keep getting better and better every game.”

That Phoenix was still in a position to mount its comeback came as a surprise considering the way things started for the Mercury.

Phoenix was held to just five of 20 (.250) shooting from the floor in the opening period and watched as the Sun managed to connect on nine of 15 (.600) from the floor, including four three-pointers in the first period. Connecticut used an 15-6 run over the final 4:12 of the period to lead 26-17 at the first break. The spurt continued in the second quarter as Connecticut outscored Phoenix 11-6 to start the period. A basket down low from Jonquel Jones put the Sun in front by 14 with 6:02 remaining in the quarter.

Phoenix ended the first half with just 13 of 38 (.342) from the floor, but hung around thanks to stellar free throw shooting. The Mercury hit 13 of 16 foul shots in the half, while Connecticut went to the line eight times over that same span. For the game, Phoenix connected on 27 of 31 free throws compared to 12 of 15 foul shooting for the Sun.

(Connecticut) is team that has been fouling a lot,” Brondello explained. “It was our mindset to be aggressive, but keep moving the ball.

We are at our best when we are being aggressive,” Brondello added.

Phoenix, one of the most experienced teams in the league, placed all five starters in double figures. The Mercury's starting five averages 8.8 years in the league, while Connecticut, one of the youngest teams in the league at 4.6 years by each of its five starters, also placed five players in double figures.

Brittney Griner led the way for the Mercury with 21 points, while Taurasi finished with 19 points after being held to just five free throws in the first half. Penny Taylor added 16 points while DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree both chipped in with 15 points.

For Dupree it was the scond time this season she has scored in double figures and Phoenix is 2-0 in those contests. Taurasi notched a season-high with nine assists to lead Phoenix in that department as the Mercury talled 22 assists in the game.

Camille Little scored a season-high 16 points to lead the way for the Sun, while Tuck also had a season-best with 12 points after coming off the bench for Connecticut. They were joined in double figures by Bentley (14), Jasmine Thomas (11) and Alyssa Thomas (10).

Phoenix takes to road for a pair of games. The Mercury plays Seattle on Thursday and will play at Minnesota on Monday. The Storm defeated Phoenix 81-80 on May 20 in Phoenix, while Minnesota downed the Mercury 85-78 on May 25. Phoenix will return home for a game against San Antonio on June 9.

Connecticut takes on Atlanta on Thursday to start a three-game home stretch and will play Indiana Saturday. The Sun will end that homestand on June 10 against Seattle. 

Second Half Surge Propels Mercury to First Win  

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted May 29, 2016)

PHOENIX – After losing its first four games of the season Phoenix was out in search of its identity.

The Mercury found it and in a big way as a huge second half performance on both ends of the floor allowed Phoenix to overtake visiting Washington on the way to a 93-77 win over the Mystics on Sunday afternoon at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Phoenix is now 1-4 on the season and managed to avoid the first five-game losing to start a season in franchise history. Washington, which lost its first two games of the season, saw its three-game winning streak come to an end and is now 3-3 on the year.

Basically, (Diana) Taurasi said 'enough is enough,'” Washington coach Mike Thibault said, following the game. “She put her head down and went to the basket and did some major damage. We did a good job on the other players, but … ”

Washington, which led 45-42 at the start of the second half, managed to extend its lead thanks to an 11-4 run in the first three minutes of the second half.. A field goal from Emma Messeman put the Mystics in front 56-46 with 7:20 left in the third quarter and provided Washington with its largest lead of the contest.

From there it was all Phoenix.

Taurasi ended a Phoenix scoring drought of over three minutes when she drove the lane with 5:48 to go in the period and made it 56-48. It also sparked an 11-0 run by Phoenix that allowed the Mercury to regain the lead at 57-56 when Taurasi drove the lane with 3:49 remaining in the quarter.

Messeman put the Mystics back in front a short time later when she scored from underneath for a 58-57 advantage with 3:21 to play. It would be the last lead of the game for the visitors.

The next two plays would signal the beginning of the end for Washington. The Mystics would be outscored 36-19 the rest of way.

Taursai put the Mercury back in front when she drove the lane and scored with 2:50 remaining to give Phoenix a 59-58 lead that the Mercury would not relinquish. Less 20 seconds later, Brittney Griner blocked Messeman on the defensive end and rifled a pass downcout that teammate DeWanna Bonner corralled and laid in to extend Phoenix's advantage to 61-58.

That was kind of the spark on the gas,” Griner said of her block, “ … I know it ignited me.”

Washington seemed out of sync after losing its lead and twice in the final period was whistled for shot clock violations.

We had some good open shots,” Thibault said, “we just seemed to be waiting too long to attack the basket.”

The built up angst is off our shoulders,” Taurasi said of the skid to open the season. “We need to take this (win) and keep getting better.”

Taurasi, who was held to eight points in the first half, finished with a game-high 28 points.

She's the best player in the world and she showed why,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of her star.

Taurasi finished 10 of 17 from the floor, including five of nine from behind the arc, three of those coming in the pivotal second half as she tallied 20 of her team's 51 second-half points. She was one of four Phoenix players to reach double figures. Candic Dupree (16), Bonner (13) and Griner (13) also finished in double figures for the victors.Bonner led the way for the Mercury with 12 rebounds.

Washington also placed four players in double figures. The Mystics were paced by Stefanie Dolson and Messeman, who scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, while Tayler Hill scored 11 and Bria Hartley added 10 points of her own.

Phoenix returns to action on Tuesday when the Mercury plays host to Connecticut. Washington, meanwhile, is idle until Wednesday when the Mystics return home to play Chicago.

Solarte Homers Twice to Power Padres Past Diamondbacks

Yangervis Solarte

By Ray Maloney

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted May 27, 2016)

PHOENIX – Yangervis Solarte homered twice, while Matt Kemp and Derek Norris also homered as visiting San Diego crushed Arizona 10-3 on Friday at Chase Field.

The pair of homers from Solarte gives him three on the season, while Kemp now has 11 and Norris five.

Arizona got home runs from Brandon Drury, his eighth of the season, in the eighth inning and a solo homer to the pool in right-center from Jake Lamb in the bottom of the ninth. It was Lamb's seventh round-tripper of the season, but it was not enough as the Diamondbacks fell to 21-29 on the season and 7-18 at home this season. San Diego, meanwhile, improved to 20-29 on the year.

Neither team lost any ground in the standings as division-leading San Francisco was defeated by Colorado 5-2 in Denver earlier in the night, while second-place Los Angeles was edged by the New York Mets 6-5 in New York.

Kemp got the onslaught started in a big way. He drilled a 1-1 pitch from Robbie Ray over the fence in center field to give San Diego a 3-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning. Solarte followed with a homer run of his own to increase the lead to 4-0 with just one out in the innng and the Padres never looked back. They added two more runs later in the inning when Norris belted a 2-run homer to drive in Brett Wallace as San Diego extended its lead to 6-0.

Solarte notched his second home run of the game in the sixth inning as San Diego moved in front 9-0. Norris later doubled in Melvin Upton Jr. for its final run of the game and a 10-0 lead in the sixth.

San Diego got on the board in the opening inning when Jon Jay doubled to lead off the game and Wil Myers drew a walk off Ray.

The Padres pounded out 18 hits in the win, one hit shy of their season-high, and left 11 runners on base. Arizona managed just sux hits on the night.

San Diego starter Christian Friedrich (1-1) picked up his first win of the season. He went seven innings and allowed just three hits and one walk. Ray, meanwhile, fell to 2-4 on the year with the loss after going 4 2/3 and allowing five runs on nine hits.

Former Illini Swimming Great Ray Essick Dies at 82

Ray Essick, a former standout swimmer at Illinois and former executive director of USA Swimming, died May 25 at the age of 82

Staff Report

phoenixsportingnews.com

(posted May 25, 2016)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.. – University of Illinois 1955 varsity swimming letterwinner Ray Essick III died May 25 surrounded by family. He was 82.

Essick, who competed for legendary coach Allen B. Klingel while attending Illinois, was named to the “30 Most Influential People in Swimming over the Past 30 Years” list in 2015, and was also a 2015 inductee into the American Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was awarded the 1998 USA Swimming Award and the American Red Cross presented him in 1997 with the Good Neighbor Award, one of the highest national awards given to an outstanding volunteer.

In 1960, Essick started Lake Forest Swim Club as head coach before leaving in 1966 to become head swim coach at Southern Illinois University. After a successful seven-year stint there, he was hired as head swim coach at Harvard University, where he guided the Crimson from 1973-76.

Following his time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Essick led the swimming committee for the AAU until 1980. Beginning in 1980, Essick joined USA Swimming in Colorado Springs upon its formation as its first executive director. Essick guided the organization from its formation in 1980 until his retirement in 1997, when current executive director Chuck Wielgus took over.

“Ray Essick led our sport through a period of enormous growth and prosperity,” Wielgus said. “He brought his passion as a coach and his drive for success to his role as USA Swimming’s first executive director. He was a mentor and a dear friend.”

 

Track and Field Legend Mamie Rallins Killed in Ohio Traffic Accident

Mamie Rallins, a two-time Olympic hurdler and former coach at The Ohio State University, was killed May 16 in a multivehicle crash near Port Clinton, Ohio. She was 74. (Photo courtesy OSU Athletic Media Communications)

By RAY MALONEY

PhoenixSportingNews.com

(posted May 17, 2016)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Track and field lost a legend on May 16 when Mami Rallins was killed in a multivehicle accident near Port Clinton, Ohio. She was 74.

The Ohio State track and field family is deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our dear friend,” current OSU coach and director of track and field and cross country Karen Dennis said. “As a former Olympian and the first African-American woman to coach at The Ohio State University, (Rallins) was a trailblazer and a champion for all things Ohio State.

She was our biggest supporter, a cheerleader, coach, statistician and team grandma,” Dennis added. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her friends, family and former student-athletes. She will be greatly missed.”

A two-time Olympic hurdler, Rallins helped start the women's track and field and cross country programs at Ohio State when she was appointed head coach in 1976. Rallins coached 60 athletes to Big Ten indoor/outdoor titles, 24 all-Americans, as well as nine Olympic trial qualifiers and one Olympian during her 18-year coaching career. She also served as an assistant athletics director at the school for three years.

Rallins also coached elite athletes during her storied career, serving as the head coach of the U.S. indoor world championship team in 1987 and assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic team in 1996 and was the head manager for the U.S. women's track and field team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

A native of Chicago, Rallins starred at Tennessee State during her collegiate career and participated as a hurdler in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators said Rallins' car crossed the center line and struck two tractor-trailers before colliding with another car. No else involved the accident was seriously injured.

Coaching Legend Siddens Credits Lads for Making Him Look Good While Developing Champions On and Off The Mat

By Ray Maloney

PhoenixSportingNews.com

MASON CITY, Iowa – The job coaches have performed throughout the history of high school sports in the United States can probably never be fully measured in the impact they have made on the lives of individuals both as athletes and as productive members of American society.

Whatever formula used to gauge that impact is certain to begin with the influence Bob Siddens had in his 40 years at Waterloo (Iowa) West High School and the lessons he imparted continues even since retiring from the school nearly three decades ago.

The soft-spoken Siddens will always deflect that impact and credits the countless number of lads that he was in charge of during his brilliant and illustrious coaching career. But, the fact remains that Siddens is not in a position to make the decision concerning any recognition that deservedly finds its way to him.

 

TO READ MORE SEE: SPORTS LEGENDS/BOB SIDDENS

Culp Stands Alone as Wrestling, Football Great

By RAY MALONEY

PhoenixSportingNews.com

HOUSTON, Texas – Growing up in the searing heat of the desert surrounding Yuma, Ariz., a young asthmatic boy spent plenty of time helping out around the family home before finding an escape into a world that eventually led him to immortality.

That “escape” proved to be athletics and when all was said and done Curly Culp stands alone. An NCAA wrestling champion while at Arizona State, Culp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 following a standout career with the Kansas City Chiefs, who he helped lead to a win in Super Bowl IV, and two other teams before his retirement after the 1977 season.

Culp is believed to be the only person ever to attain those three lofty triumphs.

Life is a journey … and I've had a great journey,” said Culp, who recently turned 70.

 

TO READ MORE SEE: SPORTS LEGENDS/CURLY CULP

Peninger Established Michigan State Wrestling as Dynasty During Hall of Fame Career

By RAY MALONEY

PhoenixSportingNews.com

OKEMOS, Mich. – While most opposing coaches make friendly small talk prior to their wrestling teams battling on the mat, it was quite likely that Grady Peninger was making a sales pitch.

It's unknown just how many foes came away with a bill for some cowboy boots after visiting with the former Michigan State coach. A bill awaiting them when they got home was the least of their worries. More often than not those same coaches had to look back and wonder what they could have done differently in their attempts to defeat Peninger and the Spartans.

Loses were few and far between for Peninger, who dominated the sport as an athlete and as a coach for more than four decades. So dominating was Peninger that his exploits have earned him enshrinement into no fewer than six halls of fame, including the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an honor he achieved in 1987.

 

TO READ MORE SEE: SPORTS LEGENDS/GRADY PENINGER

 

Mills' Olympic Moment Truly Golden

By RAY MALONEY
(Posted Oct. 3, 2011)

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. — Standing atop the podium at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo Billy Mills’ mind was filled with emotions as he listened to the playing of the national anthem.He had just conquered the competition and became the first American to win the 10,000 meters at the Olympics — something that no American has been able to duplicate since that memorable day in the Land of the Rising Sun more than 40 years ago.He overcame a stumble and a box created late in the race by some of the others dreaming of Olympic gold and glory and with long strides charged through the final 100 meters to win in a blaze of glory.

 

TO READ MORE SEE SPORTS LEGENDS/BILLY MILLS

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