By Ray Maloney
(posted Sept. 16, 2016)
PHOENIX -- Mission one accomplished.
Since opening the season with four straight losses it seemed as if whatever hopes Phoenix had in advancing to the WNBA playoffs were on the line at the opening tip of each game. Those hopes became a reality on Thursday some 30 minutes before the ball was put in the air in the final regular season home game.
Atlanta’s 94-91 win over Washington assured Phoenix of its fourth consecutive appearance in the playoffs and the 11th in franchise history.
Oh, the Mercury went on to dismantle Seattle 86-62 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in front of 10,380 fans on a night that not only made Phoenix playoff bound, but also honored one of the greatest players in league and franchise history as Penny Taylor was playing in her final regular season home game after 10 years in a Phoenix uniform and helping the Mercury to three WBNA championships in her time in the Valley of the Sun.
She currently ranks No. 21 in league history in scoring with 4.597 points and is 19th in league history with 1.051.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s my last home game,” said Taylor following the game. “I feel as if we have many more in us.”
The Australian native just might be correct.
Phoenix put on arguably its best all-around game of the season en route to the win over the visiting Storm.
Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart scored the first two baskets to open the game for Seattle, But, the Mercury were not content on simply securing a playoff berth. Phoenix was on a mission to send a
message to the rest of the playoff teams that just are a force to be reckoned with .
Marta Xargay and Diana Taurasi each scored field goals in a span of 16 seconds as Phoenix tied the game at 4-4 as the Mercury used a 28-8 run to build a 28-12 lead after the first quarter. A 3-pointer from Taurasi from the right corner with 3:06 remaining in the period gave Phoenix its first double-digit lead at 19-9. It would be as close as Seattle would be the rest of the way.
“They outplayed us,” said Seattle coach Jenny Boucek, whose team had already secured a berth in the playoffs. “It’s all about habits, it’s all about mentality, it’s all about momentum … we really let one go tonight.
“It’s not about the win or the loss, it’s about how we need to play to have success in this league,” Boucek added. “We did not play the way the Storm needs to play to have success in this league.”
Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello, meanwhile, was all smiles following her team’s brilliant performance.
“We haven’t played to our potential defensively … I thought we did that (Thursday),” Brondello said. “I thought we had great activity. It’s individuals doing their part to make the team work and that’s what it’s all about.
“If you are all on the same page as a unit, that’s your strength,” the Phoenix coach added.
Phoenix’s strength was displayed on both ends of the floor all night long.
Another 3-pointer from Taurasi with 7.6 seconds left in the first half pushed the Phoenix lead to 50-26 As the Mercury, which opened the game by missing their first four shots from the floor, finished the half by connecting on 20 of 35 shots (,571), while Seattle managed just 10 of 30 (.333) shooting from the floor in the first 20 minutes of play.
Phoenix also forced the Storm into eight turnovers in the first half, while committing just three miscues of its own. Seattle would finish the contest with 18 turnovers that contributed to 30 points by the Mercury. Phoenix, meanwhile, had just nine turnovers in the game and the Storm was able to convert those into nine points.
Brittany Griner paced the Mercury with a game-high 21 points and added five rebounds and two blocked shots.
“I think (Griner) is playing the best of her career,” Brondello said.
Griner has now averaged 17.2 points per game in the nine games since helping the United States to a gold medal in the Olympics in August. She has scored at least 19 points in six of those contests since the break in the WNBA season.
Taurasi and Candice Dupree also finished in double digits for the Mercury in the triumph over the Storm. Taurasi finished with 15 points and Dupree added 14 points in the winning effort. Xargay and Taylor, who tallied a game-high four steals, scored nine and eight points, respectively, for Phoenix as all five starters finished with at least eight points.
Seattle placed four players in double figures led by Stewart’s 14 points. Loyd finished with 11 points, as did reserve Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Crystal Lanhorne added 10 points for the Storm. Seattle standout Sue Bird was limited to just five points on the night.
Phoenix and Seattle will enter the final game of the regular season with identical 15-18 records. The Mercury will play at San Antonio on Sunday, while the Storm will close the season that same day by playing host to Chicago. If both the Mercury and Storm win their final game Seattle will get the
By Ray Maloney
(posted Sept. 4, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. – It wasn't the prettiest of efforts, but Arizona State coach Todd Graham will take the end result just the same.
Graham's Sun Devils scored four touchdowns in the second half and kicker Zane Gonzalez added to his school record for field goals as ASU opened the 2016 season with a 44-13 win over Northern Arizona on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. It was the 10th straight win for the Sun Devils in the series against the in-state foes and came about as ASU scored 31 points over the final 15:05 of the game to secure the win over NAU, which was picked to win the Big Sky Conference championship this season.
It was the 18th consecutive home opening victory. NAU has not defeated Arizona State since a 19-13 win in Flagstaff during the 1938 season. The two teams played to a 13-13 tie in 1946.
Demario Richard, a junior, started the late spurt by the Sun Devils as he rushed in from yards out with just five seconds remaining in the third quarter to give ASU a 19-6 lead heading into the final period of play. Teammate N'Keal Harry added a touchdown of his own when scampered in for a 34-yard score early in the fourth quarter. It was the first career touchdown for Harry, a freshman, and gave his team a 26-6 advantage.
NAU responsed quickly on an 87-yard scoring strike from quarterback Case Cookus to Elijah Marks with 10:39 remaining. That would be as close as the Lumberjacks would get the rest of the way as ASU limited the 'Jacks to just 22 yards after Marks' score.
Manny Wilkins, a redshirt sophomore, drew that starting quarterback assignment for the Sun Devils and turned in a solid performance after some struggles in the early going. He finished with 269 yards of total offense in his first collegiate start and scored the first touchdown of the season for the Sun Devils when he scampered in from 13 yards out in the first period putting ASU in front 7-0 on its first possesion of the season.
Wilkins would go in to complete 20 of 27 passes for 180 yards, 109 of those coming in the second half and adding 89 yards on the ground in the contest.
Richard had 78 yards rushing and added 12 yards through the air. Ballage added 56 yards on the ground and caught passes for 21 yards. The Sun Devils amassed 276 yards rushing in the game.
Tim White had a team-high nine catches for 95 yards on tallied 195 all-purpose yards in the contest. It was the third game with 100 or more all-purpose yards in his last four games dating back to last season.
Harry, meanwhile, added four receptions for 31 yards in his collegiate debut.
Northern Arizona, ranked No. 18 in the FCS preseason poll, hung around a lot longer than Graham wanted. The Lumberjacks trailed just 10-3 after the first two periods of play and cut the deficit to 10-6 on a 23-yard field goal by Griffin Roehler with 10:51 remaining in the third period.
ASU would counter moments later when Gonzalez connected on a 54-yard field goal to move the Sun Devils back in front by seven points. It was the longest field goal of Gonzalez's career and gives him 76 field goals for his collegiate career and moves him into a tie for 17th place in FBS history with former Georgia standout Blair Walsh.
Cookus, a preseason FCS All-American, finished with 23 of 33 passing for 369 yards and one touchdown. Marks, a junior, caught eight passes for 174 yards on the night to go along with his one score.
The ASU defense limited the visitors to just 56 yards rushing in the game.
Arizona State will go after its second straight win on Saturday when the Sun Devils entertain Texas Tech at Sun Devil Stadium. Northern Arizona, meanwhile, travels to Western Illinois in one of the key matchups in the FCS.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 28, 2016)
PHOENIX – In the long 82-game schedule of the National Basketball Association, teams can sometimes weather the storm caused by missed opportunities and rebound from an occassional loss.
Such is not the case in the WNBA as the 34-game regular season slate played by the women makes every win a precious commodity.
Phoenix made the most of its opportunties by winning for the fourth time in five games and knocking off the league's best team in the process with a 70-66 win over Los Angeles on Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win improved the Mercury to 12-14 on the season, while Los Angeles dropped to 21-5 with the loss. It was Sparks' fourth loss in their last five games and coupled with Minnesota's win earlier in the day against Seattle, put's Los Angeles and Minnesota into a tie for the best record in the league.
“They're the best team in the WNBA … and rightfully so. They are very talented,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of the Sparks, which had won 14 games to begin the season.
“We know we haven't been playing as well as we're capable,” the Phoenix coach and praised her team's defensive effort as being one of the key's to Sunday's triumph.
Phoenix entered Sunday's game with one of the worst defenses in the league in terms of points allowed. Only Dallas, which was allowing just over 88 points per game, was worst then the 85.6 points the Mercury were averaging.
But Phoenix proved it can excel on the defensive end.
Los Angeles entered the game with the third best scoring offense in the league this season at 85.4 points per game. Only Phoenix (86.3) and Minnesota (85.6) were scoring at a more prolific pace than the Sparks.
The 66 points allowed by the Mercury were the fewest Los Angeles has scored all season.
Los Angeles began Sunday's game by scoring 12 of the first 18 points. Nneka Ogwumike's layup underneath put the Sparks in front 12-6 with 5:44 to go in the opening quarter.
Phoenix responded by going on a 7-0 run, fueled in large part by Penny Taylor's 3-pointer, over the next three minutes to regain the lead at 13-12 with 2:32 to play. It was the Mercury's first lead since being in front 2-0 to open the game on a short jumper from Brittany Griner.
The six-point cushion would turn out to be the biggest of the night for the Sparks, who would find themselves in front just four more times as they were forced to play catch up for much of the game.
Diana Taurasi connected on a 3-pointer of her own with four minutes left in the third period to put the victors in front 46-43 and Phoenix held that lead the rest of the way. Griner's basket mindway through the final quarter increased her team's advantage to 64-55 and was the largest of the night for either team.
Brondello was on point in crediting her team's defense for Sunday's win. The Mercury limited Los Angeles to just 39 percent shooting (27-70) in the game, including seven of 24 (.292) from behind the arc. Phoenix also forced the visitors into 21 turnovers, which the Mercury were able to convert into 19 points.
Phoenix, meanwhile, shot 49 percent (28-57) from the floor and 31 percent (4-13) from 3-point range. Three of those treys came from Taurasi, who finished with a game-high 26 points. She was the only Mercury player to reach double figures after all five starters scored in double digits in Friday's impreesive rout of Dallas as the WNBA returned to action following a long break for the Olympic Games. Griner and Candace Dupree, who grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, both scored nine points in the winning effort. Nine different players broke into the scoring column for the Mercury.
Los Angeles placed two players in double figures with Candace Parker leading the way with 25 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Ogwumike finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Phoenix now hits the road for its longest stretch of games away from its home arena. The Mercury will play at Indiana on Aug. 30 and will travel to Connecticut (Sept. 2), New York (Sept. 3) and Atlanta (Sept. 6). They will return home to take on Atlanta on Sept. 11.
Los Angeles will play at San Antonio on Sept. 1 and is at Dallas the following night.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 27, 2016)
FARGO, N.D. – Whenever a college football team puts together an historic streak the way North Dakota State University has over the past five years, it's certain plenty of things have been done the right way. Sometimes, a little luck factors into the equation.
Both were on display Saturday as the five-time defending national champions were pushed to the limit before getting past Charleston Southern 24-17 in overtime at the Fargodome. It was the season opener for both schools and was televised by ESPN as part of its FCS Kickoff.
King Frazier scored on the first play of overtime to provide the margin of victory as he took a handoff and broke to the right side and scampered in from 25 yards out.
Then the outcome was put squarely in the hands of the Bison defense. And it delivered as the No. 6-ranked Buccaneers could muster just one yard before throwing a pair of incomplete passes to end the game.
Charleston Southern, the preseason favorite in the Big South Conference, had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, but Jacob Smoak's 51-yard field goal attempt came up short as time expired and sending the game into overtime.
Mike Holloway's six-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left in fourth quarter had brought the visiting Buccaneers into a tie at 17-17 and moments later Troy McGowens intercepted an Easton Stick pass and returned it 30 yards to the NDSU 40 to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
The Bison, who had a 71-5 record over the past five season to go along with their five FCS national crowns heading into Saturday's opener, had taken their first lead of the game early in the final period when Stick connected with a wide-open RJ Urzendowski on the left side for an easy score from 47 yards out. Cam Pedersen's PAT put NDSU in front 17-10 with 10:34 to play in regulation.
It was the second touchdown pass of the night for Stick, who logged an 8-0 record as a starter as a redshirt freshman last season following the injury to standout quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in April's National Football League Draft, returned for the national championship game and guided the Bison to a triumph over Jacksonville State.
Darius Shephard got behind McGowens early in the third period and hauled in a pass over his left shoulder from Stick to give the Bison their first touchdown of the season with 10:02 to play in the quarter. It capped a six-play, 68-yard drive and tied the game at 10-10.
Holloway had given the Buccaneers a 10-3 lead just moments earlier when he broke loose for a 47-yard touchdown with 13:07 to play. It was the second big gain of the night for Holloway, who had run for 40 yards early in the game.
Smoak's field goal from 46 yards out at 9:44 of the second quarter had put Charleston Southern on the board with the first lead of the game. Pedersen's 52-yard kick off the crossbar as time expired sent the two teams to halftime tied at 3-3.
Stick finished the game with 194 yards passing after completing 17 of 27 attempts in the game. Shephard was Stick's favorite target on the night as he hauled in four passes for 64 yards and Urzendowski collected two passes for 59 yards in the win for the Bison.
Frazier, the team's leading rusher in 2015 with 1,158 yards, led a balanced NDSU ground game as seven different players ran the ball for the Bison. Frazier finished with a team-high 79 yards on 11 carriers, including the game-winning score, while Lance Dunn finished with 50 yards on 12 carries and Stick carried 11 times for 45 yards. NDSU rolled up 230 yards on the ground on 44 rushes in the game.
Kyle Copeland, meanwhile, had trouble against the NDSU defense. He was limited to just 94 yards through the air after completing just eight of 20 passes and was intercepted by Jalen Allen just moments after Shephard's TD had pulled NDSU into the 10-10 tie.
Holloway paced the Buccaneers with 126 yards on 10 carries, but that was virtually the extent of Charleston Southern's rushing attack against the Bison. Darius Hammond (11 carries) added 30 yards and Copeland rushed 11 times for 13 yards as CSU managed just 169 total yards on the ground on 34 carries. Aside from Holloway's big night, Hammond and Copeland combined for just 43 yards on 24 combined carries.
NDSU held a 424-263 advantage in total offense.
North Dakota State is idle until Sept. 10 when the Bison play host to Eastern Washington University. The Eagles defeated the Bison in the 2010 playoffs. NDSU is now 71-6, including wins in all 20 of its playoff games since that loss in Cheyney, Wash. The Bison will then travel to Iowa (Sept. 17) to take on the Hawkeyes of the Big Ten Conference. NDSU has won five straight games against FBS foes. The Missouri Valley Conference opener in slated for Oct. 1 in Fargo against Illinois State.
Charleston Southern will entertain Kentucky State on Sept. 10 in its home opener and then travel to Florida State for a Sept. 17 contest against the Seminoles.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 26, 2016)
PHOENIX – Phoenix made its return from the Olympic break an impressive one as all five starters scored in double figures and four other players broke into the scoring column as the Mercury opened the run toward the WNBA playoffs with an impressive 98-72 win over visiting Dallas in front of 11,396 fans on Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win improved Phoenix to 11-14 on the season and keeps the Mercury entrenched as the No. 7 seed if the playoffs were to start today. The top eight teams, regardless of conference, advance to the WNBA playoffs this season. Dallas, which had defeated Phoenix in each of the three previous meetings this season, including a 117-11 triple overtime affair on June 18 on the Mercury's home floor, drop to 9-17 on the season and are battling three other teams for the final playoff spot.
The game also marked the return of Penny Taylor to the Phoenix lineup after missing the last nine games before the Olympic break because of any injury. Taylor led Phoenix with 22 points in the win to begin the stretch run toward the playoffs.
“It probably was our best game,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said after the triumph over the Wings. “We were really sound on defense, which was an area we needed to improve on.
“We have to keep building momentum,” Brondello added. “We took care of this game … now we have to focus on (Los Angeles).”
Things did not begin so nicely for the Mercury as Dallas scored 11 of the first 15 points of the game and led by as many as 11 points twice in the first half of the opening period. A 3-pointer from Skylar Diggins at the 5:21 mark of the opening quarter gave the Wings an 18-7 advantage before Phoenix began to chip away at the Dallas lead.
Candice Dupree began the comeback by hitting a pair of shots from the floor in a span of 29 seconds. A driving basket from DeWanna Bonner later tied the game for the first time at 20-20 with 1:40 to go in the opening period. The two teams would close the opening quarter tied at 24-24.
Diana Taurasi's 3-pointer from the left wing would give Phoenix its first lead of the night at 27-25 with 9:16 to go in the first half before Dallas would regain the lead less than one minute later. A 3-pointer from Karima Christmas at 5:03 would put the visitors in front 37-31 and force the Mercury to rally for the second time in the contest.
Taylor brought the two teams into a tie for the fourth time when she connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing at the 3:22 mark and a basket 37 later tied the game for the final time at 40-40 with 2:45 remaining in the half.
From there it was virtually all Phoenix, which outscored the Wings 12-2 over the final 2:14 of the half to build a 52-42 advantage. The Mercury would score 17 of the first 21 points of the second half to begin to pull away for the win.
But this night would also belong to Taylor in her return to the Phoenix lineup.
“She does make a difference because of her intelligence and basketball IQ,” Brondello said of the veteran, who was one of six Phoenix players to compete in the recent Olympics. “She has an ability to get to the rim and to see the whole floor. She was amazing for us.”
“We made some adjustsments straight away,” said Taylor in explaining the ability of her team to overcome the sluggish start to Friday's game.
Taylor, who scored 31 points in win over France, helped Australia to a 5-0 record in group play at the Olympics earlier this month before Serbia upset Taylor's squad in the quarterfinal round in Brazil to end any hopes of a medal by Australia.
Candrice Dupree scored 16 points for Phoenix in Friday's win and became the 17th player in league history to score 5,000 points. That milestone was reached when she took a pass from Taylor and connected on a 10-foot jumper to give the Mercury a 42-40 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Bonner, who finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, added 14 points in the winning effort, while Brittany Griner and Taurasi, who teamed together to give the United States its sixth straight Olympic gold medal, each finished with 13 points. Taurasi was held to just three points in the first half and spent much of the half on the bench after picking up three fouls, but tallied 10 points in the third period as Phoenix began to pull away for the win. She left the game with an injury with just over three minutes left in the third period and did not return to action.
Plenette Pierson and Skylar Diggins were the only two Dallas players to finish in double figures. Pierson finished with a game-high 23 points after scoring 18 points in the opening half, while Diggins finished with 17 points after scoring nine in the first half.
Dallas, which connect on nine of 20 shots from the floor in the first quarter finished just 24 of 68 for the game for 35 percent as the Phoenix defense stymied the Wings over the final three periods of play.
Phoenix will entertain Los Angeles on Sunday and will try to avenge a 77-71 setback at the hands of the Sparks on June 17 at the Staples Center. Dallas, meanwhile, which lost for the seventh straight time since slipping past Phoenix 77-74 at home, entertains Chicago on Sunday.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 23, 2016)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bridget Skinner and Lindsay Agnew both netted goals in a span of just four minutes to give Ohio State the early advantage and two other Buckeyes found the net in the second half as OSU won for the second time in as many outings with a 4-2 triumph over Wright State on Tuesday at Wolstein Field.
Wright State is winless on the season at 0-2-0 following Tuesday's loss in Columbus.
Skinner, a senior defender, gave the homestanding Buckeyes the early lead five minutes into the match when she put back a rebound of her own shot from eight yards out on the left side past Wright State keeper Katie Ruff. Agnew, a co-captain of this year's OSU squad, extended the cushion to 2-0 when she took a pass from teammate Morgan Wolcott and slipped a shot past Ruff.
Wright State managed to avoid any further damage in the opening half when a pair of prime scoring opportunities by the Buckeyes were thwarted and OSU was forced to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission, despite holding a 12-2 advantage in shots through the first 45 minutes of the match, including a 7-1 bulge in shots on goal.
“I thought we hit a big wall after scored out two goals early in the first half,” Ohio State coach Lori Walker said. “It's important to keep your foot on the gas and put a team away.”
The visiting Raiders battled back with a pair of goals in the early portion of the second half to tie the contest and set the stage for a late rally by the Buckeyes to secure the win.
Nicole Miyashiro gained control of an errant clearance attempt by WSU and moved the ball to teammate Nikki Walts, who rifled a shot from 30 yards out past the arm of Ruff to find the inside part of the post 60 minutes into the match to give the lead back to the Buckeyes at 3-2.
Agnew teamed with Nya Cason in the 74th minute by moving the ball down the left side and leaving it for Cason, who launched tough-angle shot into the net for the final goal for the Buckeyes.
Wright State had gotten itself on the scoreboard just two minutes into the second half of the match when the Raiders were awarded a penalty shot when Aaliyah Patton was taken down in the box in front of the goal and teammate Niki Romero's penalty kick got past OSU keeper Jillian McVicker. WSU tied the contest eight minutes later when Mattie Cutts headed a ball inside the left post from six yards out.
Ohio State outshot the Raiders 20-6 in the match, including 11-3 in shots on goal.
“Credit Wright State for coming back and finding some spaces that we need to close up,” Walker said. “I am proud that we found a way to win and continued to push through.”
Ohio State, which blanked Kent State 3-0 in the season opener Aug. 18, is scheduled to play at Miami on Friday in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are also 2-0 on the young season after crushing North Florida 7-0 in the season opner and blanking Stetson 3-0 on Sunday.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 21, 2016)
NEWTON, Mass. – Arizona State nearly pulled off the upset, but in the end, had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Boston College on Sunday to close the opening weekend of the 2016 women's soccer season.
Jazmarie Mader's first goal of the season in the 37th minute of the match gave the Sun Devils the early advantage. Her goal, the fifth of her career, came off a free kick from freshman defender Devyn Kelsey that Mader managed to control and send past the BC keeper. It was the first career assist for Kelsey.
ASU, which led 1-0 at the intermission, held on to its advantage until the 61st minute when Lauren Berman took a cross from teammate Gaby Carreiro and slid the ball past Megan Delaney for the only goal of the match for the Eagles and tie the match.
Delaney, who started her first game for ASU in Friday's season-opening win over Boston University, finished with 10 saves Sunday against the Eagles.
Mader and Lucy Lara both tallied four shots to pace the Sun Devils in that department against the Eagles. Both of Lara's shots were on goal for ASU, which was outshot 26-15 in the match.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 21, 2016)
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The winning continued for Minnesota as the opening weekend of the 2016 women's soccer season drew to a close. The Gophers blanked Utah 3-0 on Sunday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium to improve to 2-0-0 on the year.
Senior midfielder Josee Stiever led the way for Minnesota as she scored a pair of goals and added an assist on another.
Simone Kolander, who scored a goal in the 2-1 season-opening win on Friday in Lawrence, Kan., found Stiever for the first tally of the match, that coming in the 26th minute of the contest.
“When Stiever and Kolander team up together it's hard to stop those two,” Minnesota coach Stefanie Golan said.
Stiever's first-half tally allowed Minnesota to take a 1-0 lead at the intermission after posting six shots in the first 45 minutes of play.
The talented tandem of Stiever and Kolander rose to the occasion in the second half when Kolander took a pass from Steiver and found the back of the net for a 2-0 advantage less than two minutes into the second half of play. Steiver netted her second goal of the match in the 82nd minute when April Bockin fed her the ball which she deposited past the Ute keeper.
“This team wants to make things happen and us seniors want to leave our mark on the program,” said Stiever, the team's most valuable player last season. “That's how we are approaching each day.”
Minnesota will play a pair of matches at home this week. The Gophers will entertain North Dakota on Friday and will face Eastern Michigan on Aug. 28.
Utah, meanwhile, which defeated Weber State 4-0 in its season opener on Friday, dropped to 1-1-0 on the year. The Utes will play host to San Diego on Friday in Salt Lake City and will travel to Logan, Utah on Aug. 28 to face rival Utah State.
Utah will open Pac 12 play on Sept. 23 at Washington and will play Oregon State in the conference home opener on Oct. 6.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 21, 2016)
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Things continued to go in favor of Illinois as the 2016 soccer season continued on its opening weekend.
The Illini got a goal from Allison Stucky in the first half and saw a defense that rose to the challenge as Illinois won for the second straight outing with a 1-0 shutout of Illinois State on Sunday afternoon. The Illini defeated Morehead State on Friday in the season opener by a score of 2-0 and have not allowed a goal through the first two games of the season.
“I thought (Sunday) was great because our defense got tested, and that's going to happen a lot,” Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. “There were certainly some things we could do better, but we had two freshmen back there that were dealing with some pressure and they did a pretty good job of dealing with that.
“(Sunday) is going to make us better,” Rayfield added, “ … we saw a good Illinois State team.”
Illinois came out strong against the Redbirds and logged a pair of shots on goal from Kara Marbury within the first 10 minutes of Sunday's match. Marbury, a junior, finished with three shots in the contest. The Illinois defense, meanwhile, held the visiting Redbirds to no shots on goal in the first 18 minutes of the match.
Stucky ended the scoring drought when she took a long cross from Hope D'Addario and slid the ball just past the ISU keeper to put the Illini in front in the 31st minute. It was the second assist of the season for D'Addario.
The Redbirds managed to outshoot the Illini in the second half as they had nine shots compared to seven for the eventual victors. But, Illinois keeper Michelle Denley came up big each time for Illinois. None more so than midway through the half when she turned away a Redbird penalty shot to help preserve the shutout.
“(Sunday's) game was different than Friday's,” said Denley, who was credited with a career-high 10 saves in Sunday's triumph. “Friday, I was focused more on organization and communication … (Sunday) I had more action and I had to remain focused through the whole game and make sure I was on my toes.”
Illinois hits the road for the first time this season for a pair of games in Missouri next week. The Illini will face Missouri on Friday in Columbia and will tangle with Saint Louis on Aug. 28.
Cheslik's Goal Lifts Spartans Past Baylor 1-0
EAST LANSING, Mich. – It took awhile, but Michigan State finally found the net – and the win column.
Jamie Cheslik headed a pass from teammate Marisa Oleksiak and past Baylor keeper Sara Martinson for the lone goal of the game as the Spartans slipped past the Bears 1-0 on Sunday at DeMartin Stadium.
The win is the first of the season for MSU, which battled to a 0-0 tie against visiting Niagara in two overtimes on Friday in the season opener.
“It was a really well executed corner,” said MSU coach Tom Saxton said of Cheslik's goal that came in the game's 81st minute.
Cheslik, a forward, was voted to the Big Ten's all-freshman team in 2014 and led the Spartans with four assists a year ago.
Michigan State keeper Kaitlyn Collin recored four saves in the first half as Baylor mustered six shots in the opening 45 minutes of play. Her biggest save of the match came in the 73rd minute when she got a hand on a ball off the foot of Raegen Padgett and deflected it off the crossbar to keep the match scoreless and setting the stage for the dramatic closing moments.
Michigan State travels to No. 4-ranked Virginia for a match on Thursday. The Spartans open conference play on Sept. 16 at Nebraska.
Freshman Blackman's OT Goal
Lifts Iowa to First Win of 2016
COLUMBIA, Mo. – After coming up short in the season opener on Friday at Creighton, a young Iowa team rebounded in nice fashion on Sunday as the Hawkeyes picked up their first win of the new season.
Iowa hung tough after spotting Missouri a 1-0 lead in the first half and scored the equalizer in the second half before freshman Isabella Blackman's first collegiate goal gave the Hawkeyes a 2-1 win in overtime over the Tigers on Sunday at Audrey J. Walton Stadium in Columbia.
“(Sunday) was a good day for a lot of reasons.” Iowa coach Dave Dilanni said. “It gave our young team an opportunity to see some things for the first time. We need to play against teams like Missouri, who have a tradition of success, athleticism and a unique style.”
Missouri's Melanie Donaldson scored the lone goal of the first half as the Tigers took a 1-0 lead into the intermission as the Tigers outplayed the visiting Hawkeyes.
“We didn't handle the pressing and the athletic wide play the first 25 minutes,” Dillani said. “To be honest, we were lucky to have only been down 1-0. However, we made some substitutions and calmed our nerves, which allowed us to build a little confidence going into halftime and regroup.”
It wasn't until the 83rd minute of the game that the nerves were calmed to the point the Hawkeyes were finally able to get on the board. Devin Burns, another Iowa freshman, took a pass from teammate Amanda Lulek slipped the ball past the Tiger keeper to knot the match and neither team could find the net throughout the final seven minutes of regulation play.
Just five minutes into the extra session the match came to a quick end when Kaleigh Haus assisted on Blackman's goal to secure the win for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa keeper Claire Graves was credited with seven saves on the day and picked up her first career win for the Hawkeyes.
“I am really proud in our ability to defend them out wide, especially with how poor we were in that area of the field against Creighton,” Dilanni said. “This was a big win to come home with, but it won't mean as much if we don't build off the momentum this next week in training.”
Iowa is scheduled to face Eastern Michigan on Friday in Minneapolis and will return home to tangle with Wyoming on Aug. 28.
LaPlant Scores Lone Goal for Rutgers in 1-1 Draw
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers coach Mike O'Neill was unhappy with the way his team closed out the first weekend of the 2016 season and made no attempts to sugar coat the issue after his team had to settle for a 1-1 draw against visiting Providence at Yurcak Field.
“I don't think we came to play (Sunday) plain and simple,” said O'Neill, whose team entered the season with a No. 10 national ranking. “Out habits were not good. Our awareness of space and how to play with each other wasn't good. There was a lot of frustration on the field.”
Rutgers had several scoring chances in the first half, but it was not until the 34th minute when Jennifer Andresen's corner kick into the goal area was eventually corraled by Brittany LaPlant, who used her right foot to find the back of the net. It was the first goal of the freshman's career.
The visiting Friars notched the equalizer after Rutgers was whistled for clipping an advancing Providence player resulting in a penalty shot that Katie Day managed to put into the net in the 82nd minute of the match.
Rutgers managed to outshoot the Friars 24-4, including a 9-0 advantage in corner kicks.
Rutgers, which downed Rider 4-1 in Friday's season opener is now 1-0-1 on the season and will entertain Saint Joseph's on Friday. The match will be part of a doubleheader as the Scarlet Knights will face Creighton in a men's match that same night.
Irish Blank Badgers 1-0 in South Bend
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Wisconsin was tested in a big way and came up just short as Notre Dame handed the Badgers their first loss of the season with a 1-0 victory over UW on Sunday.
“I knew that we were going to have some inexperience heading in,” Wisconsin coach Paula Wilkin said. “We didn't get the result we wanted (Sunday) and walking away from the field, I felt we could've gotten that result even with some of our inexperience.
“We just have to get back,” she added. “We can't dwell on this game and we have to get better.”
The Irish took the lead in the first half off of an own goal by the Badgers in the 24th minute of the contest that proved to be the difference.
Wisconsin showed some spunk throughout the second half of the match and managed seven shots in the final 45 minnutes of play to outshoot the Irish 12-7 in the match.
UW keeper Caitlyn Clem tallied three saves in the match, including two in the second half. Her counterpart, Kaela Little, recorded seven saves for the Irish.
Wisconsin returns to action on Thursday when the Badgers play host to Milwaukee at the McClimon Complex.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 20, 2016)
BOSTON – Youth stole the show as Arizona State opened the 2016 women's soccer seson with a 2-1 victory over Boston University on Friday in Boston.
Christina Edwards, one of several ASU players making their collegiate debuts, scored one goal and assisted on another for the Sun Devils, who made their 2-0 lead at intermission hold up on their way to the triumph.
Arizona State controlled the match for much of the opening half but were unable to find the goal in each of the first four shots of the game. That changed in the 40th minute when Edwards took a pass from teammate Olivia Hernandez, another freshman, and zipped a shot last the left post to put the Sun Devils in front 1-0.
The Sun Devils extended their lead to 2-0 less than three minutes later when sophomore Adriana Orozco's shot was blocked by the BU defense and careened to Edwards, who returned the ball to Orozco for an uncontested shot that caught the Terrier keeper by surprise.
The homestanding Terriers would keep things interesting in the second half as their offense took on a noticeable improvement. After managing just one shot in the first 45 minutes of the game, BU tallied nine in the second half, including three shots on goal.
One of those came in the 56th minute when McKenna Doyle's shot from in front of the goal found the net to pull the Terriers to within 2-1 and set the stage for a dramatic finish.
But, with the help of junior keeper Megan Delaney, along with defenders Devyn Kelsey and Hailey Zerbel, the Terriers were kept at bay the rest of the way as ASU secured the victory. Delaney, a junior, along with Kelsey and Zerbel, both freshmen, were all starting their first games as Sun Devils.
Jazmarie Mader, a junior, led ASU with three shots in the opener, while Madison Stark, along with Edwards and Orozco, all had two shots each in the win. McKenzie Grossman had ASU's only other shot on goal that did not result in a tally for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State outshot the Terriers 13-10 in the contest and held a huge 8-1 advantage in corner kicks in the match.
Also making her collegiate debut for Arizona State was midfielder Kylie Miniefield, who played all 90 minutes in the win over the Terriers.
The win improved ASU to 15-2-2 all time in season openers and 8-1-1 during Kevin Boyd's tenure as coach of the Sun Devils. Arizona State, which finished the season 9-8-1 a year ago, returns to action on Sunday when the Sun Devils go up aganst No. 25-ranked Boston College.
The home opener is scheduled for Aug. 26 when the Sun Devils entertain Loyola of Chicago in a 7 p.m. match. ASU begins Pac 12 play on Sept. 22 when the Sun Devils travel to Los Angeles to take on UCLA and the conference home opener is slated for Sept. 29 against Utah. Arizona State finished with a 5-5-1 conference record in 2015.
By Ray Maloney
(posted on Aug. 20, 2016)
SAN DIEGO – Darian Jenkins did all her damage in a span of eight short minutes and the end result was more than UCLA needed as the Bruins opened the 2016 women's soccer season with an impressive 5-0 shutout on the road at San Diego State.
Jenkins, a senior forward, tallied three goals in the first half to spark the Bruins. She found the net for the first time on the season at the 30:48 mark on a tough angle after taking a pass from teammate Anika Rodriquez. Her second score came just three minutes later after taking a cross from Zoey Goralski and finished her onslaught of the Aztecs with a goal from 18 yards out into the right corner of the net for a 3-0 advantage.
Two other prime scoring chances earlier in the half came up short for theBruins. Julia Hernandez's shot hit the left post in the 14th minute of the game and Rodriquez watched as her shot clanked off the right post in the game's 29th minute as the two teams continued their battle.
With the commanding 3-0 lead, UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell was able get several other player valuable playing time in the opener. Hernandez took a cross from Gabrielle Matuich and headed the ball into the net for a 4-0 advantage in the 51st minute. Senior Amber Munerlyn capped the scoring with a brilliant play of her own at the 75:20 mark of the game.
Munerlyn took a pass from Kaiya McCullough and backheeled it to herself befor lifting a shot into the upper left corner of the net for a 5-0 advantage.
“(Friday) was a great way to start the season,” Cromwell said. “(Jenkins) coming out and getting a hat trick was huge. It was a fun game to watch and to see our players perform.
“We scored a bunch of different way, with three different player,” the UCLA coach added. “It's a game that's fun to play because the movement is so good and the communication was great in the back.”
UCLA managed 21 shots in the contest, including 12 on goal, while the Aztecs had just eight shots in the match. Freshman keeper Teagan Micah earned the shutout, stopping both shots on goal she faced.
“We limited their chances … with Teagan getting the shutout and the one big save that she needed to make,” Cromwell added. “The rest of the backline really worked hard to prevent shots.”
The Bruins return to action on Monday with a scrimmage against Beijing Normal University that begins at 7 p.m. at Drake Stadium. UCLA will travel to College Station, Texas for a match against Texas A&M on Aug. 26 before returing home to face Florida on Aug. 28.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 20, 2016)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Minnesota made the most of its opportunities as Simone Kolander and April Bockin both netted goals for the Golden Gophers in their 2-1 win over Kansas in the season opener for both teams on Friday at Rock Chalk Park.
The win by Minnesota handed the Jayhawks their first season-opening loss at home since 2011.
Kolander, a senior, who was the Big Ten forward of the year in 2015, scored the first goal of the season for Minnesota when she took a cross pass from teammate Josee Stiever and placed the ball past KU goalkeeper Maddie Dobyns in the game's 20th minute.
“There was good momentum after that first goal, said Minnesota coach Stefanie Golan, who is in her fifth season at the helm of the Gopher program. “We were finding way to keep the ball.”
And Kansas suffered.
The Jayhawks managed just four shots in the opening half of play, but were able to remain within striking distance as they trailed just 1-0 at the intermission.
“We were so flat to start the game … and (Minnesota) really took advantage of that,” KU coach Mark Francis said.
Bockin, a sophomore, who scored two goals in her first collegiate season a year ago, extended the Minnesota lead to 2-0 with a penalty kick in the 68th minute after KU was whistled for a foul inside the 18-foot box. Her shot managed to slip past the outstretched arms of Dobbins. It marked just the sixth time Dobbins' career that she has allowed more than one goal in a game for the Jayhawks.
Kansas, which opened the second half on a strong note by getting five shots on goal in the first five minutes of the half, finally got on the board in the 75th minute when Jackie Georgoulis was fouled and teammate Grace Hagen was called upon to attempt the penalty kick for the Jayhawks. Her shot slid past Minnesota keeper Tarah Hobbs to pull KU to within 2-1 with 15 minutes to play. It was Hagan's fifth career goal.
Kansas kept up the attack and had a number of scoring chances in the second half, including 10 corner kicks in the final 45 minutes of the game and two in the final 90 seconds of play.
“(Kansas) put us under a lot of pressure, but we didn't break,” Golan said. “It was great to see that at the start of the season. The shows the strength of our chemistry.”
Kansas held a 22-11 advantage in shots on the night, but only three of their kicks were on goal. Meanwhile, the Gophers tallied four shots on goal in the victory.
“This game is a tough one to swallow because we had so many great chances in the second half and couldn't convert,” Francis said. “We need to learn from this one and hopefully the better result will come on Sunday.”
Kansas is scheduled to entertain Marquette on Sunday at Rock Chalk Park. Minnesota, which finished 12-7-3 a year ago, will take on Utah on Sunday in the home opener at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium The match is scheduled to get under way at 1 p.m. and will mark the first of three straight home games for the Gophers. Minnesota will also play North Dakota at home on Aug. 26 before entertaining Eastern Michigan on Aug. 28. The Big Ten opener is slated for Sept. 16 at home against Penn State.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 20, 2016)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State opened the 2016 women's soccer season in impressive fashion as the No. 23-ranked Buckeyes got three goals in the first half and went on to blank visiting Kent State 3-0 on Friday at Wolstein Field.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere (Friday),” OSU coach Lori Walker said. “I think the team was really anxious to play and the new players were jumping around pregame and you could tell were really excited to be Buckeyes.
“We moved the ball well, set the tempo and got on the board early to put the game away in the first half,” Walker added.
Lindsay Agnew put the victors in front in the eighth minute when she took a long ball from Kyle Knight and beat a Kent State defender before knocking the ball past KSU keeper Ashleah McDonald for the 1-0 lead.
One of OSU's highly-touted freshmen made her presence felt in the season opener when Meghan Kammerdeiner controlled a failed clearance in the center of the box in front of McDonald and finishing from about 10 yards out to put Ohio State in front 2-0 in the game's 19th minute.
Just over 12 minutes later Nya Carson dodged a KSU defender after gaining control of the ball at the top of the box and putting a shot inside the left post to increase the lead to 3-0. It was the first career goal for Carson.
The Buckeyes had just three shots on goal in the first half, but were successful in converting each attempt. KSU, meanwhile, managed four shots on goal against Ohio State keeper Jillian McVicker.
Kent State had several scoring chances in the second half to cut into the OSU lead, but McVicker turned away all five shots on goal in the contest.
Ohio State returnes to action on Tuesday when the Buckeyes entertain Wright State in a match that is scheduled to get under way at 7 p.m.
ILLINOIS BLANKS MOREHEAD STATE IN OPENER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Seniors Summer Schafer and Alia Abu-Douleh each scored their first career goals as Illinois opened the season with a 2-0 win over visiting Morehead State on Friday.
Illinois controlled the tempo of the game from the opening kick and played much of the first half in MSU territory. Schafer found the net for Illinois with just over 16 minutes remaining in the opening half and gave the Illini a 1-0 lead they would take into the intermission.
Freshman Alicia Barker, who debuted her flip throw-in for Illinois, tallied her first career shot on goal while drawing the starting assignment in her first collegiate match.
Illinois, which finished with 13 shots in the first half, stymied the Morehead State offense, which did not record a shot in the opening 45 minutes of play.
Abu-Douleh extended the Illinois lead in the 86th minute when she took a pass from teammate Hope D'Addario and put the ball over the MSU keeper to give the Illini the 2-0 advantage. It was the ninth assist for D'Addario's career.
Illinois keeper Michelle Denley earned the third victory of her careet after playing all 90 minutes.
“It's a win … and I think it was good to get the nerves out and get the first win under our belt,” Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. “That will be helful moving forward, however, there are certainly things we need to do better than we did them (Friday.) The quality of possession and of our ball movement is going to be really important for us moving forward.”
Rayfield's squad returns to action on Sunday when the Illini play host to Illinois State in a match that is slated to kickoff at 1 p.m. The Illini blanked ISU last season 1-0 and hold an 8-2-2 advantage in the all-time series between the two schools.
FRESHMAN RHODES SCORES EARLY AS WISCONSIN BLANKS ILLINOIS STATE
NORMAL, Ill. – The 2016 season got off with a bang for Wisconsin as freshman Dani Rhodes scored in just the third minute of the game as the Badgers blanked Illinois State 1-0 in the season opener on Friday.
Rhodes, a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Wisconsin, took a corner kick off the foot of teammate Sydney McGinnis and scored by kicking the ball into the bottom right corner of the net for the lone tally of the game. She finished a match-high four shots, along with teammate Rose Lavelle. Rhodes had two shots on goal, while Lavelle and McGinnis each finished with one.
“I think it's great to get the first win, but the bigger part of (Friday) was getting some experience from some new players in different roles,” UW coach Paula Wilkins said. “The result was good. We have been talking about the process and getting all the details right. I think we did some of it right, but this is also giving us an opportunity to keep getting better as we go forward.”
Junior keeper Caitlyn Clem picked up the win in goal for the Badgers as she posted the shutout by turning away all four shots on goal from the Redbirds.
“I think (Clem) did a great job managing the game,” Wilkins said. “I think she would also say herself that the people in front of her battled. That's a new (defensive) line in front of her … and they did a good job. I think she was able to give them the information they needed and that helped.”
The Badgers held a commanding 20-9 advantage in shots over Illinois State and topped the Redbirds in corner kicks 9-5.
Wisconsin continues its season-opening road trip on Sunday when the Badgers travel to South Bend, Ind. to take on No. 13-ranked Notre Dame. The match is scheduled to get under way at 2 p.m.
CREIGHTON DEFEATS IOWA 3-0 IN OMAHA
OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton scored two goals in the first half of play and then pulled away from a 2-2 tie early in the second half to go on to defeat Iowa 5-3 in the season opener for both schools on Friday at Morrison Stadium.
“(Friday) was a tough lesson to learn for our young team,” Iowa coach Dave Dillani said. “Playing in a tough environment on the road against a much improve Creighton team, we allowed momentum to swing too quickly in both halves and it resulted in four goals in short duration.”
Darby Hugunin scored the first goal of the game for the Blue Jays in the game's 26th minute and teammate Callie Hawkins found the net four minutes later to put Creighton in front 2-0 at the intermission.
Iowa rebounded in the second half as Rachelle Armand scored the first goal of the season for the Hawkeyes in the 49th minute and teammate Karly Stuenkel tied the game just over one minute later when she scored on a give-and-go from about 25 yards out.
The momentum did not last long as Hawkins scored her second goal of the contest in the 57th minute and Jaylin Bosak's goal in the 64th minute out the home team in front 4-2.
Kaleigh Haus pulled Iowa to with 4-3 on an unassisted goal at 71:43 from 30 yards out before Creighton's Hannah Miller closed the scoring in the 80th minute with a goal of her own.
“I am proud of our effort in the first 20 minutes of each half, especially the second half when we were able to tie the game up in the first ten minutes,” the Iowa coach said. “We need to learn to grasp momentum back by communicating and organizing as a team, rather than individuals.
“This team will get better from this experience and watching it on film,” Dillani added. “We have another chance to grow on Sunday.”
Iowa plays Missouri on Sunday in Columbia, Mo.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 14, 2016)
PHOENIX – A quick start has become a sort of trademark for the Arizona Rattlers and Saturday stayed true to the norm as Arizona scored on each of its first six possessions and rolled to an 82-41 win over Cleveland to claim the Arena Football League's National Conference championship in front of 15,103 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win propels Arizona into the ArenaBowl for the fifth time in six years. The Rattlers will be looking to win the league championship for a record sixth time and first since winning three straight titles (2012-14). Arizona will face either Philadelphia or Jacksonville in the ArenaBowl. The Soul and Sharks were scheduled to play Sunday for the American Conference championship in Allentown, Penn.
The Rattlers will play in the ArenaBowl on Aug. 26 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, the home of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League, as the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA already had a game schedule for that night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“We try to dominate our opponent to 60 minutes of relentless effort,” said Arizona coach Kevin Guy while celebrating on the arena floor following the game. “ … our guys executed our gameplan perfectly.”
And the Rattlers did so in all phases of the game.
Arizona scored on 11 of its 13 offensive possessions as quarterback Nick Davila threw for seven touchdowns. Backup signal caller Shane Boyd passed for two more scores and fullback Mykel Benson ran in for two touchdowns of his own in the game.
Arizona opened the game by putting together a 36-yard drive in eight plays that was capped by Benson, who bulled in from one-yard out for the first score of the game with 9:17 to go in the opening period. The Rattlers increased that lead to 14-0 moments later when Davila found Anthony Amos in the right corner of the end zone for his first scoring strike of the game. The play covered just five yards and come on the very next play after the Arizona defense shut down Cleveland on a fourth-and 19 attempt.
“It's huge to start fast,” said Davila, who earlier this week was voted first-team all-AFL. “We like to see if we can't get the (the opponent) into a track meet and catch up.”
The standout quarterback was quick to praise the Arizona defense for its effort Saturday.
“That was championship football by the defense,” Davila said. “I go against them every day in practice … so I know the kind of effort they can bring on every play.”
Jeremy Kellem led an Arizona defense that virtually owned the Gladiators on the night. Kellem intercepted an Arvell Nelson pass at midfield early in the second quarter and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown that gave Arizona a 28-7 advantage. It was one of two interceptions on the night for the fifth-year pro from Middle Tennessee.
Kellem also forced two of Cleveland's three fumbles on the night. KJ Morton was also credited with a forced fumble, while teammate Dan Buckner also picked off a pass in the game as the Rattlers forced six turnovers and stopped the visitors on all three of their fourth-down conversion attempts in the contest.
Davila finished with 222 yards after completing 20 of 27 passes, including seven of seven passing in the third quarter before being replaced by Boyd. The backup completed four of seven passes for 85 yards, including a 40-yard strike to Anthony Amos midway through the finla period to give Arizona a 75-41 lead. He later tossed 21 yards to Amos for the final score of the game with 1:15 to go. Davila and Boyd were each intercepted once in the game. Arizona finished with 307 yards through the air.
Benson finished with 14 yards on seven carries to lead Arizona in rushing.
Amos led the Arizona receivers with 126 yards on nine catches and teammate Maurice Purify added 123 yards of his own after hauling in eight passes. Rod Windsor also had an efficient night catching the ball as he went for 56 yards on six catches. All three receivers finished with three touchdowns in the game.
Nelson, who was under heavy pressure from the Arizona defense much of the night, ended the game with 248 yards after completing 21 of 43 passes. His backup, Stephen Panasuk completed just one pass in the game. His other passing attempt was picked off by Buckner in the final minute of play.
Quentin Sims was the top receiver for the Gladiators after catching 14 passes for 172 yards and three scores.
“We wanted to make sure we kept the ArenaBowl here in Arizona and reward our fans,” Guy said. “We didn't want to leave it in the hands of the referees or instant replay like we did last year. We wanted to do it right here and take care of business.
“I am proud of our defense,” Guy added. “They are just as potent as our offense … and we can score a bunch of different ways.”
Arizona, which won the National Conference regular season with a 13-3 record will take a 15-3 record into the ArenaBowl after crushing Portland 84-40 in the first round of the playoffs. Cleveland, meanwhile, finished regular season play at 7-9 before rallying to defeat Los Angeles 56-52 to advance to the conference championship. The Gladiators end the season at 8-10.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 8, 2016)
CHICAGO – It may be a bit premature to label Pokey Chatman as a pioneer in women's basketball. But, when the time comes that she puts away her whistle for the final time, Chatman's impact on the game will certainly be forged for all time.
The circuitious path of the Mississippi River, as it winds its way through Louisiana, can sometimes be a nightmare for navigators. Communities that surround the Crescent City of New Orleans and its famed Bourbon Street that are thought to be on the West Bank are, in fact, on the east side of the river that begins in upstate Minnesota as it makes it slow run towards the Gulf of Mexico. There are no uncertainties for Chatman as her roots are clearly on the right side of the river.
Born Dana Chatman, in Ama, La., she was quickly given the nickname Pokey.
“It was because of my chubby cheeks … which I still have to this day,” said Chatman, who would later legally take on the name that has become synonymous with coaching success.
Born just three years before the passage of Title IX that expanded athletic opportunities for women, a young Chatman honed her skills in the sport by playing any time she had the opportunities in gyms or on courts in and around the famed bayous that dot the Louisiana landscape. She would later go on to star at Hahnville High School in Boutte, La., another tiny community not far from her hometown. Winning was something that did not happen often, according to Chatman, during her time with the Tigers. But, she certainly didn't go unnoticed, despite her short stature. A five-foot, five-inch guard, Chatman would earn AAU all-America honors five times during her prep career before graduating in 1987.
Just a short drive along the Mississippi River, Sue Gunter was working on establishing a powerhouse women's basketball program at Louisiana State University and it was only natural that one of the state's premier prep players would matriculate to Baton Rouge. It was the start of a career as a player that was finally marked with winning and laying the foundation for Chatman's future.
“I learned everything from (Gunter),” said Chatman, her voice cracking as she fought back an unmistakable tear in memory of her former mentor. “The learning obviously starts with basketball, but through basketball she made me and every one else better people. She was so good with all the intangibles and fostering positive relationships.
“She empowered all of us at an early age,” Chatman added. “We probably didn't always understand it at the time … but it is appreciated now that we are able to look back at her impact.”
Chatman was a key player on the United States team that won a gold medal at the 1988 Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Chatman and her teammates defeated the host Brazil team 70-68 to win the tournament just weeks before returning home and beginning her sophomore season with the Tigers.
Chatman started all but one game during her four seasons at LSU. She was a three-time all-SEC selection and was instrumental in helping LSU to its first-ever SEC tournament championship in 1991 and was the most valuable player of the tournament that season.
The scene following the tournament win over Tennessee still resonates in Chatman's mind.
“Sue and Pat shook hands at midcourt, but the handshake was not the story,” Chatman said. “It was more than that, you could see the respect they had for each other watching their heartfelt embrace. It was two great, great coaches showing respect for one another.”
The Tigers played in the NCAA tournament each of the four years Chatman donned the colors of the Tigers, who posted an 82-38 record during that span. A Kodak all-America selection as a senior, Chatman finished her collegiate career as the school's all-time leader in assists (510) and steals (346) and remained at the school as a student assistant for one season following her playing career.
“The (coaching) seed had been planted,” she said.
Chatman was elevated to assistant coach the following year and remained on Gunter's staff for more than a decade as the Tigers remained one of the top programs in the storied Southeastern Conference. She was named interim coach in 2003-04 when Gunter took a leave of absence because of medical concerns. Chatman led the Tigers to a 15-5 record and the school's first-ever Final Four appearance, during Gunter's absence, but LSU credits those wins and losses to Gunter.
“We seemed to be fueled by (Gunter) and the fight she was fighting,” said Chatman of the team's improbable run. She added that she did not have much time to reflect on coaching the school she once starred for.
“I never truly got to look at it that way or process those kinds of thoughts,” she said. “I all I was worried about was that my friend was ill and I was now coaching and I had to make that adjustment as quickly and as efficiently as I could.”
Gunter would officially resigned following the season after leading LSU to a 442-221 (.667) record in her 22 seasons as coach at the school. Gunter also coached at Middle Tennessee (1962-64) and Stephen F. Austin (1968-80) before taking over at LSU. She was No. 3 on the all-time list of coaching victories at the time of her resignation. Only Jody Conradt and Pat Summitt had more wins than the 708 victories to Gunter's credit when she finished her career. Her overall coaching record was 708-308 (.697).
Gunter died on Aug. 4, 2005 at the age of 65.
With the interim tag removed from Chatman, she became the fourth head coach in LSU history.
The winning tradition at the school would continue with Chatman at the helm. LSU would go undefeated in league play in her first season as head coach and advance to the Final Four for the second straight season. A loss to eventual national champion Baylor in the national semifinals ended LSU's season at 33-3. The following year the Tigers would win their first 14 games of the season as Chatman won her 50th game in just 53 outings. Only Leon Barmore claimed as many wins in fewer games as he guided Louisiana Tech to a 48-2 record in his first two seasons as coach of the Lady Techsters.
Chatman's team finished 31-4 in 2005-06 and won the SEC regular season title along the way and advanced to the Final Four for a third straight season. She would resign following the conference tournament the next season. She was 91-14 (.867) during her time as head coach at LSU. Including her record as interim coach, she logged a 106-19 (.848) mark.
A text message received five months later from former LSU standout Simeone Augustus sent Chatman on her next chapter of success. Augustus told Chatman Tina Thompson was inquring whether the former LSU mentor would be interested in becoming an assistant coach for Spartak, a Russian team which was dominating the Euroleague at the time and had just captured the Euroleague championship.
With Chatman on the bench as an assistant, Spartak won the league titles in 2008 and 2009. She helped Spartak make it four straight titles the following year as the head coach of the squad, which posted a 16-0 record on its way to the Euroleague championship.
Chatman was planning on taking some time off from coaching after winning the 2010 Euroleague title.
My, how quickly plans can change.
One of Chatman's players while in Russia was Sylvia Fowles, one of top players in the world at the time and a former player of Chatman's while both were at LSU. The two shared the same agent and the two longtime friends discussed a move by Chatman to the WNBA and coaching the Chicago franchise, where Fowles was playing.
Fowles must have delivered a pretty impressive sales pitch.
“Within 36 hours of coaching my last (Euroleague) game, I had a contract … and here I am six years later,” Chatman said.
She was named the coach and general manager of the Sky on Oct, 29, 2010 and finished with a 14-20 record in each of her first two seasons with Chicago. With the addition of former Delaware standout Elena Della Donne in 2013, Chicago won the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Under the leadership of Chatman, Chicago advanced to the WNBA Finals in 2014, despite finishing fourth in the conference. After knocking off Atlanta and Indiana, the Sky was swept by Phoenix in three games for the WNBA championship. Chatman and the Sky finished 21-13 a year ago and was eliminated by Indiana in the playoffs.
Chatman has guided the Sky to an 11-13 record in 2016 before the league went into a hiatus for the Olympic Games. Chicago is scheduled to return to action when the league resumes play on Aug. 26 when the Sky entertains Atlanta at Allstate Arena in Rosemount, Ill. A win in that game will give Chatman her 100th career victory in the WNBA. She currently has a record of 99-95 since taking over as coach of the Sky.
“When I came (to Chicago) I had a three-year plan,” she said, “then a five-year plan … now, I've extended it to a six-year plan.
“I have enjoyed watching our league grow and the Chicago franchise grow,” Chatman said. “We're relative now.
“I've been fortunate as the coach and general manager to have seen it all,” she added. “It has been a great experience and I like what I see in our team and in our league and the future of the WNBA.”
The WNBA is celebrating its 20th year this season.
Chatman has witnessed the growth of women's basketball since her time in Ama and the start of her playing career at Hahnville High School, where she played six-on-six basketball, and her collegiate career at LSU, where the Tigers were simply trying to make a name for themselves.
“The players used to go to grocery stores to give away free tickets to the games,” said Chatman, who also said the school even gave away a chance for a free car in an effort to attract fans.
Such is not the case anymore at the school, which, as a member of the SEC, enjoys the benefits of playing in what is arguably the best women's basketball conference in the nation. She has also seen the improvement of players over the years.
“I think as a whole, USA basketball has become a better shooting team over the years,” she said.
By Ray Maloney
(posted on Aug. 8, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State football coach Todd Graham is an eternal optimist as he approaches each new season. With a sub-par 2015 season relegated to the rear-view mirror, Graham is once again looking forward to the start of a new season.
“We got knocked on our cans,” said Graham, whose team finished 6-7 a year ago. “We've got to get up and get after it.”
The Sun Devils began practice on Aug. 1 as they prepared for their season opener Sept. 3 against in-state foe Northern Arizona in revamped Sun Devil Stadium, which has undergone a massive makeover during the offseason.
ASU players and coaches gathered near Payson, Ariz., a short drive into the White Mountains northeast of Phoenix and out of the sweltering desert heat and the start of Camp Tontozona.
“It's one of the greatest traditions in college football,” Graham said of the site of ASU's start of fall practice since legendary ASU coach Frank Kush began the tradition in 1960. “There are no TVs, no phones and at the end of the day we just sit around the campfire and bond.”
Camp T was cut short as monsoon conditions persisted in the area and caused the the cancellation of some of the scheduled practices and the annual scrimmage, which normally attracts thousands of fans. Graham and school officials decided to return to Tempe and resume preparations for 2016.
Things began well enough for Graham and the Sun Devils in 2015. Despite dropping the season opener to Texas A&M, ASU reeled off wins in four of the next five games to move to 4-2 on the season and it appeared a lofty finish in the Pac 12 South standings was in the making. But, three straight losses, including a 61-55 loss to Oregon in three overtimes sent the season into a tailspin that the Sun Devils were never able to fully recover from. A narrow 43-42 loss to West Virginia in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl ended ASU's season an offseason full of changes and re-evaluations.
“We're proud of what we've accomplished in the last four years,” Graham said. “It was one of the best four-year periods ever at Arizona State.”
Graham has logged a 34-19 record in his first four seasons in the desert and enter the 2016 season with a career record of 83-48 after spending time at Rice (2006), Tulsa (2007-10) and Pittsburgh (2011) before replacing Dennis Erickson at Arizona State prior to the start of the 2012 season.
Year No. 5 begins with plenty of new faces all over the place in Tempe. Graham had to replace several coaches from his staff.
“I'm excited about where we're at,” the ASU coach said. “The staff has been fun and its going to be exciting to see us get out there and go.”
While Graham's optimism abounds when he extols the fact the Sun Devils return a veteran receiving corps and are expected to be deeper on every position, the ASU mentor still has to face the fact that there will be plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball when Graham's team takes the field against the Lumberjacks in the season opener. ASU will have a new signal caller under center and is expected to have four newcomers along the offensive line.
“It's critical getting guys in the right positions … and we feel good that we've got our guys in the right spots,” said Graham, who has led ASU to in his first four seasons at the school.
Tim White leads the receiving unit that has Graham optimistic as the season prepares to open. White, a five-foot, 11-inch redshirt senior, hauled in 57 passes for 633 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago and has the potential to be one of the top pass catches in the conference this season.
Graham will have to find an additional weapon or two for his new quarterback to throw to in order to keep opposing defenses honest.
The bulk of the ground game should be in the hands of five-foot, 10-inch junior Richard DeMario. The 220 pounder combines speed and the power to run over defenders. He appeared in 12 games a year ago and finished his sophomore campaign with 1,104 yards on 210 carries (5.3 ypc) and seven touchdowns for the Sun Devils. DeMario also proved to be a weapon out of the backfield as he caught 31 passes for 303 yards and three scores.
Kalen Ballage (6-3, 230) rushed for 653 yards on 125 carries (5.2 ypc) in 2015 and scored four touchdowns. A junior this season, Ballage's continued development, along with the return of DeMario, provides the Sun Devils with the potential for a solid running game in the new season.
What kind of start ASU has to the new season will be determined largely on the development a quarterback. Gone is standout Mike Bercovici, who accounted for nearly all of ASU's aerial attack last season. He completed 318 of 531 yards for 3,854 yards and 30 touchdowns. The Sun Devils, as a team, completed 319 of 533 passes last season.
There are five quarterbacks currently listed on the ASU roster as fall camp continues. Manny Williams (6-3, 190) is a redshirt sophomore, while Bryce Perkins (6-3, 215) and Brady White (6-2, 200) both redshirted last season in their first collegiate season. Shawn Akins (5-11, 170) and Dillon Sterling-Cole (6-3, 200) are both true freshmen this season.
“At the end of the day, we will go with the guy who elevates the other 10 guys on the field,” said Graham of the quarterback battle that will persist, at least early on in fall camp.
Tashon Smallwood, a 6-1, 280 pound junior, is expected to lead ASU on defense this season. One of the top defensive linemen in the nation coming out of high school, is one of just eight players in the storied history of Arizona State football to start the season opener as a true freshman that season. He totaled 43 tackles (25 solo) last season to lead all defensive linemen in that department and finish seventh on the squad in tackles. He tallied 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, along with one pass breakup for the Sun Devils in 2015.
Smallwood will not be alone as a standout on the defensive side of the ball. Salamo Fiso and Christian Sam, a pair of linebackers, also return after finishing first and second, respectively, in tackles last season and gives the Sun Devils a solid nucleus for potentially one of the strongest linebacking units in the conference.
Fiso (6-0, 230) tallied 99 (78 solo) tackles last season, including 20 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a redshirt junior. Sam, meanwhile, a 6-1, 248 pound junior, finished the year with 96 (68 solo) tackles. He also registered 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Both Fiso and Sam had one interception last season.
Graham is also beaming because of the return of standout defensive back Kareem Orr, a 5-11, 195 pound sophomore, who tallied 38 (31 solo) tackles last season and accounted for nearly half of ASU's 15 interceptions on the year as he picked off six passes in her first collegiate season,
Kareem did a solid job as a freshman,” Graham said.
Arizona State Sun Devils 2016 Schedule
Sept. 3 NORTHERN ARIZONA
Sept. 10 TEXAS TECH
Sept. 16 at Texas-San Antonio
Sept. 24 CALIFORNIA
Oct. 1 at Southern Cal
Oct. 8 UCLA
Oct. 15 at Colorado
Oct. 22 WASHINGTON STATE
Oct. 29 at Oregon
Nov. 10 UTAH
Nov. 19 at Washington
Nov. 25 at Arizona
L-vs. Texas A&M 38-17
(played at Houston, Texas)
W-CAL POLY 35-21
W-NEW MEXICO 34-10
L-SOUTHERN CAL 42-14
W-at UCLA 38-24
L-at Utah 34-18
L-OREGON 61-55 (3-OT)
L-at Washington State 38-24
L-at California 48-46
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl
at Phoenix, Ariz.
L-vs. West Virginia 43-42
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 7, 2016)
PHOENIX – All season long Arizona coach Kevin Guy simply wanted his team to have a chance to compete for a championship on its home field. Even while losing three of four games in May, the goal remained the same.
The Rattlers were handed that opportunity when Philadelphia defeated Orlando in the regular season finale to win the Eastern Conference and giving Arizona the No. 1 seed throughout the Arena Football League playoffs. On Saturday the Rattlers delivered a statement to any team thinking of derailing Arizona from a sixth ArenaBowl championship.
Portland was the first to be handed that statement as Arizona rolled to an impressive 84-40 win over the Steel at Talking Stick Resort Arena in the first round of the playoffs in front of 13,192 fans. The 84 points were a franchise record for most points ever scored in a home game and propelled the Rattlers into the second round of the playoffs where they will face either Cleveland or Los Angeles. Those two teams were scheduled to play today in the City of Angels.
“I thought our defense played lights out,” said Guy, whose team won for the eight straight time this season after being 6-3 following a 63-56 loss at Tampa Bay on May 29.
The defensive brilliance of Guy's squad actually began on special teams on the first play of Saturday's game. Portland was unable to handle the kickoff from newly acquired kicker Nich Pertuit and Dan Bucker recovered and returned the ball nine yards to the Portland 2-yard line. Bruising fullback Mykel Benson bulled in from there on the very first offensive play of the game to put the Rattlers in front early. Pertuit's PAT put Arizona in front 7-0 with 14:06 to play in the first quarter.
Arizona extended the lead to 14-0 midway through the opening period when quarterback Nick Davila connected with Rod Windsor from three yards out for the first passing touchdown of the night for Davila, one of the leading candidates for the league's most valuable players this season. Pertuit's second conversion increased the advantage to 14-0 at 6:17 and set the tone for the remainder of the night.
Arizona scored five touchdowns in the second quarter, including scoring strikes on three straight passes from Davila, the final one coming from 18 yards on when he connected with Maurice Purify to make it 35-14 with 3:38 remaining in the half. Davila had connected with Anthony Amos for 47 yards and 28 yards on his first two scoring passes of the period that each ended in one-play scoring drives for the Rattlers.
Arizona, which had outscored Portland 74.7-32.7 in the three regular season meetings this season, was not done in adding to Saturday's statement to the Steel and the rest of the playoff field.
Davila and Windor hooked up again, this time from two yards on, to increase the Arizona lead to 42-14 and KJ Morton's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired in the half gave the Rattlers a 49-14 advantage at the intermission.
“I thought out offense was really efficient,” Guy said.
Arizona scored again on its first possession of the second half as Davila connected with Purify for 36 yards and the score before Davila was lifted from the game.
Davila, a collegiate star at the University of Cincinnati, finished the game with 209 yards after completing 12 of 17 passes in just over two periods of play. Half of is completions went for scores for the Rattlers.
Shane Boyd replaced Davila and completed five of 10 passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns. Boyd's first pass attempt was picked off by Bryce Piela and returned 41 yards for a touchdown as Portland pulled to within 56-21 at 9:42 of the third period.
Windsor led Arizona with seven catches for 79 yards and four touchdowns on the night, while Purify added a team-high 129 yards on five receptions and three scores. Amos chipped in with three catches in the game for 90 yards and a pair of scores.
Benson led the Arizona ground attack with 41 yards on four carries (10.2 ypc).
Arkeith Brown picked off a pair of passes to lead the Rattlers on defense. Morton and Jeremy Kellem also grabbed interceptions for Arizona.
Shane Austin completed 21 of 33 passes for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Steel and Darron Thomas came on in the fourth quarter to replace Austin and finished with four completions on six attempts for 56 yards and one touchdown.
The second round playoff game will be played Aug. 13 in Phoenix. A win in that game will mean the Rattlers will host the ArenaBowl on Aug. 26. The championship game will be played at Gila River in nearby Glendale as the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA is scheduled to play Dallas that night as the WNBA returns following its Olympic break.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 4, 2016)
DURHAM, N.C. – From his office window inside the Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center, nestled amongst the tall trees that make the campus landscape in Durham, N.C. among the most picturesque in the nation, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski can pause for a moment. He can reflect, close his eyes and know that he has solidified his program as it has emerged to become one of the most recognizable in the nation.
Rhonda Riley is looking to one day being able to join Krzyzewski with similar contentment. Only time will tell.
A lot of time.
Krzyzewski, who has more than 1,000 wins in his coaching career, is preparing to tip off his 36th year at Duke. Riley is more than 400 months short of matching that length of service.
Riley was named the head women's cross country coach at Duke on July 1 and began her duties July 16 after nine years as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt and helping that program become a perennial power in the Southeastern Conference.
“I loved Vanderbilt,” the personable Riley said of her time at the Nashville school. “But, Duke gave me the opportunity to become a head coach … and everyone involved in the process made sure the check marks were in place and the athletics director showed a level of commitment to the program and to bringing Duke back to prominence on the conference and national level.”
Riley, who spent one season at Oregon State and two seasons at Arizona State before moving to Vanderbilt, was a key component in the school's rise to prominence at the conference and national level during her time with the Commodores. The Vanderbilt women claimed their first-ever SEC championship in 2011 as five runners placed in the top nine at the conference meet. Alexa Rogers, who placed second (20:22.72) at the SEC meet that season, went on to place 39th at the NCAA championship meet to become the first VU woman to attain all-America status in cross country.
Liz Anderson finished fourth in 2011 at the conference meet, while Jordan White, Louise Hannallah and Kristen Smith finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively, as the Commodores tallied 30 points to easily defeat defending conference champion Florida, which totaled 61 points, and perennial power Arkansas, which scored 62 points on the day.
That season also marked the first of five straight trips to the national meet for Vanderbilt, which claimed South Region titles in each of Riley's last two years at the school.
Duke officials and Riley believe the new Blue Devil coach is ready for what lies ahead.
“I am up for the challenge,” Riley added.
She better be.
The start of the Riley Era at the school along fabled Tobacco Road will be a monumental test for the new head coach, who is expecting six freshman and five sophomores to report for the start of fall camp as the Blue Devils prepare to open the season on Sept. 2 with their annual Alumni Meet. Duke's first action against other collegiate teams will be Sept. 10 when they compete in the Sycamore Invitational at Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind., the site of this year's NCAA championship meet.
Riley's first big test will come two weeks later when the Blue Devils take part in the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota. The Griak, which will celebrate its 31st year of competition this season, annually attracts many of the top teams in the nation.
Riley said all of her athletes this year will be middle distance oriented and the adjustment to the rigors of cross country will be something for her to keep an eye on.
“I'd say that's a challenge,” Riley said.
The only upperclassman returning for Duke this season is fifth-year senior Madison Granger, who will run for her third coach during her time as a Blue Devil.
“I'm really excited,” Granger said. “It has been a crazy time for our program and I think (Riley) is a great fit for our program.”
Being the leader of the Duke program is not something new to Granger, who began making the transition into the role of captain at the start of last season as the Blue Devils had just one junior on the roster a year ago.
She was the top Duke runner at the ACC championship meet where she placed 44th in a time of 21:30.5. Liz Lansing and Gabrielle Richichi, both sophomores this season, also return after placing 76th and 80th at the conference meet a year ago.
“I believe in leading by example. We are a young team and everyone on the team seems to have a close relationship,” Granger said. “As a 22-year-old, I am the grandmother of sorts, but it is what it is. At the end of the day we are all training we are doing is being done to get better.”
By Ray Maloney
(posted Aug. 2, 2016)
ST. LOUIS – North Dakota State, the five-time defending FCS national champion, is the overwhelming favorite to win the 2016 Missouri Valley Conference football championship.
The Bison, winners five straight league crowns (2 outright, 3 shared) received 37 of a possible 39 first-place votes and 388 total points in the annual poll of league coaches, media and sports information directors.
Northern Iowa received the other two first-place votes and finished with 343 points in the voting, while South Dakota State (284 points), Illinois State (274 points) and Youngstown State (254 points), rounded out the top five schools. Illinois State has shared the conference crown with NDSU each of the past two seasons and was defeated by the Bison in the 2014 national championship game in Frisco, Texas.
The preseason favorite has claimed the league title 18 times in the 30 previous polls. The Missouri Valley Football Conference, which is now in its 32nd year, has seen one of its members claim the national crown on seven previous occasions.
North Dakota State, which is 71-5 over the past five seasons, opens defense of its national championship on Aug. 27 when the Bison play host to Charleston Southern at the Fargodome. The game will be televised on ESPN.
2016 Valley Football Preseason Poll
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1 – North Dakota State (37) 388
2 – Northern Iowa (2) 343
3 – South Dakota State 284
4 – Illinois State 274
5 – Youngstown State 254
6 – Western Illinois 176
7 – South Dakota 146
8 – Southern Illinois 124
9 – Indiana State 115
10 – Missouri State 41
(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.
Hammond led 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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
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.”
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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).
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
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”
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.”
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.
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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By Ray Maloney
(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.
By RAY MALONEY
(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.