By Ray Maloney
(posted Dec. 8, 2016)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- For nearly as long as gymnastics have been a part of collegiate athletics the University of Utah has been among the elite programs in the nation.
Don’t expect that to change any time soon.
The Red Rocks, a nickname that has been adopted by the Utah women’s gymnastics program that pays tribute to the picturesque landscape of southern Utah, also characterizes the strength and toughness of the athletes that have long been a part of the team.
“We like to think that the athletes that come through our program are rock solid,” said Meg Marsden, who is entering her second season as co-coach of the storied program. “We chose the nickname in an effort to create a little buzz about our program.”
The buzz the new moniker created more than a quarter of a century ago has turned into a roar, of sorts, as Utah has remained among the nation’s elite. Utah has consistently challenged for high honors at the conference and national level and Marsden, who is in her 33rd year at the school and shares coaching duties with Tom Farden, is hoping her squad can finish on a strong note when the 2017 season draws to a close.
“We felt good about last season,” said Marsden, a former NCAA all-around champion at the school during her own collegiate career. “We were disappointed though in the
postseason as we seemed to have had some little troubles on the biggest stages.”
The Utes finished ninth overall at the NCAA championship meet in Fort Worth, Texas after scoring a season-low 195.7625 just two weeks after winning the regional title in their home gym. Utah also saw its two-year reign as Pac 12 champions come to an end in 2016. After overcoming a horrendous start to the conference meet, the Utes regrouped enough to finish tied for second at the meet. UCLA won the title with a 197.250, while Utah and Oregon State both scored 196.925. California (196.725) and Stanford (196.125) rounded out the top five teams.
“We have some revenge on our minds,” said Marsden, whose team opens the season on Jan. 7 at home against Michigan.
And Marsden has ever reason to be optimistic as the new season approaches.
Utah returns a solid nucleus of standouts in the form of Tiffani Lewis, Baeley Rowe and Sabrina Schwab. They also welcome the addition of three freshmen, who Marsden
considers five-star recruits. The combination of veterans seeking redemption and the new faces has already shown as the Utes prepare for the start of the new season.
“We think we have some tremendous talent in our room,” Marsden said. “That makes for people pushing each other to not only get better, but to push to see considerable action this season.”
Bars may be the thinnest event for the Utes as they prepare to open the new campaign. But, a second-team All-American returning in that event should help the transition while some new faces emerge to help on that apparatus. The remaining three events seem to provide Marsden with a number of options in the new season.
Rowe, the only senior on this season’s roster, is primed to close out her collegiate career in a big way, according to the Utah coach.
“She is primed and ready on all four events,” Marsden said of the talented Rowe, who finished tied for seventh on the beam at the national championship last season with a 9.90 and who figures to close the Utah rotation on bars and beam in 2017 after earning second-team All-America accolades last season.
“She has that showmanship way about her,” Marsden said, “and she is as talented as anyone in the country.
“I think that it’s not only the elements you display, but the way you do it that counts,” she added. “(Rowe) has that ‘it’ factor about her and she loves what she does.”
Beam was one of the areas that hampered Utah in 2016.
“I think we were weak in our performances, but certainly not in our routines,” Marsden said. “The elements were there that we were looking for … we just need to execute with more consistency if we are to be successful.”
Schwab joined Rowe as an All-American last season after finishing tied for eighth on bars (9.875) at the NCAA meet.
“She comes from a club program and was well coached,” Marsden said of Schwab, who was voted the Pac 12 freshman of the year last season. “She is a great talent and has all the physical attributes necessary to be a successful gymnast.
“She is feather-like in the way she works and I really think she is a champion in the making,” the Utah coach added. “She has a 10.0 vault just waiting to happen.”
Lewis, a junior, is expected to become a leader on and off the mat for the Red Rocks this season.
“She has continued to improve for us,” Marsden said. “Her talent will allow her to help us in a number of events and will challenge for that opportunity. She has also taken the things we try to instill about our program to heart and her leadership qualities are going to be incredibly helpful to our team.”
That list of talented freshmen making their debuts in 2017 for Utah will include MyKala Skinner. Few freshmen in the nation will get the attention as Skinner will in 2017.
And with good reason.
A four-year member of the U.S. Senior National Team, Skinner was an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in August at the Games in Rio de Janeiro. She is expected to be one of the top collegiate gymnasts this season.
Missy Reinstadtler and Kim Tessen are the other two members of that highly-touted list of newcomers who will wear the colors of Utah for the first time in 2017.
Marsden, who began coaching at Utah in 1985, looks for UCLA, with a pair of Olympians on its roster, to be the favorite as the season begins to get under way.
California and Stanford also figure to be hunt, according to Marsden.
“The Pac 12 is such a strong family of programs,” she said, “and we are honored to be a part of such a strong, dynamic family of programs.
“We work to be a legendary program here at Utah,” she added. “Most importantly, it are the little things that make that happen and it does not happen overnight. We strive to meet the small goals in order to achieve the greater goals. We have been fortunate to bring in some tremendous talent over the years and we’ve been able to put out a great product for our alumni and fans.”
The Utah fan base for gymnastics is almost as legendary as the program itself. The Red Rocks are at or near the top in attendance on an annual basis and those legions of fans are not lost on the Utah coach. Utah has already sold in excess of 8,200 season tickets with nearly four weeks to go before the season opener.
“We have built a fan base to put in the stands and who come to watch our team perform,” Marsden said. “We strive to showcase outstanding athletes and quality students in the classroom. Those two things are very important to us.”
Jan. 7 MICHIGAN
Jan. 13 at BYU
Jan. 20 BOISE STATE, DENVER, ILL.-CHICAGO
Jan. 28 at Washington
Feb. 4 CALIFORNIA
Feb. 11 at Oregon State
Feb. 18 UCLA
Feb. 25 at Arizona State
Mar. 3 STANFORD
Mar. 10 at Georgia
Mar. 18 at Pac 12 Championship
(at Stanford, Calif.)
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 25, 2016)
PHOENIX -- The flaming red hair that sits atop the head of Marina Laramie makes her difficult to miss on the basketball court. Denver certainly has no hopes of seeing Laramie again any time soon.
Laramie, a six-foot, two-inch senior, scorched the nets for a game-high 31 points to as Grand Canyon fashioned an impressive come-from-behind rally to defeat the Pioneers 73-70 in overtime in the inaugural GCU Thanksgiving Classic on Friday at GCU Arena.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak as the Antelopes improved to 2-2 on the season. The Pioneers dropped to 2-3 on the season with the loss.
Even more important than the win itself is the way in which the Antelopes managed to overtake the Pioneers. And GCU coach Trent May will certainly resort to the lessons learned on Friday as his team continues on in the 2016-17 season.
“The thing that matters most is that this team stayed together,” May said. “Never did any of them hang their heads and they all believed in one another … and played with an extra motor.”
It might have been easy for the Antelopes to hang their heads after Denver’s Lauren Loven connected on a pair of 3-pointers in a span of 26 seconds to begin the
overtime session and give her team a 65-59 lead.
Instead, August Touchard nailed a 3-pointer of her own and converted a free throw on the play to pull her team to within 65-63 with 3:12 left in the extra period. Denver managed to extend its lead to six points for a second time in overtime on a 3-pointer from Samantha Romanowski. It came with 2:34 left and proved to be the final points for the Pioneers.
Zelor Massaquoi scored to pull the Antelopes to within 70-66 and Laramie got loose underneath for a field goal with 1:47 remaining that closed the deficit to 70-68 and set the stage for the dramatic finish. Laramie displayed a nifty spin move underneath for what turned out to be her final points of the game that knotted the game for the sixth time.
Casey Rarrick’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 10.9 seconds remaining proved to be the proverbial dagger in the hearts of the Pioneers.
It did not seem that extra motor that May praised would matter much as the Pioneers, who allowed GCU to score the first points of the game, reeled off the next nine points to build a 9-2 advantage midway through the first quarter. They would extend their cushion to 27-15 when Abi Curtin banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 4:29 left in the first half.
The good news for the Pioneers is that they were able to add to the lead when Briana Johnson made a pair of free throws and Jesse Spittel connected on one of two charity tosses that saw Denver lead 30-14 with 2:41 left before halftime. The bad news is that Curtin’s trey was the only field goal by the Pioneers over the final 6:44 of the quarter.
The Antelopes continued to chip away at the abyss they found themselves in after the first 20 minutes of the game and eventually overtook the Pioneers when Laramie netted a scoop after being bumped while going through the lane. It gave GCU a 39-38 lead and marked the first time since Aniya Baker’s steal and layup gave the Antelopes a 2-0 lead at 9:07 of the first quarter.
That seemed to spark Laramie, a native of St. Louis, Mo., who scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and providing momentum for her team down the stretch. She downplayed that and praised her teammates instead.
“They all did such a great job of finding me and getting me the ball,” said Laramie, who entered the game as the leading scorer for the Antelopes on the young season at 15.7 points per game. “It is so special to be a part of this team. No matter how things are going we all know that someone is capable of getting things done.”
Laramie finished with 13 field goals on 24 attempts in the game and added five of six from the free throw line. She was one of three players to reach double figures for GCU as Baker, who also had a team-high six assists, and Rarrick each added 11 points in the win. Massaquoi led the way for the victors with 11 rebounds while Laramie added 10 boards.
The Pioneers placed four players in double figures. They were led by Romanowski’s 14 points. Jaclyn Poss and Loven both finished with 12 points and Johnson chipped in with 10 points.
Grand Canyon will conclude the weekend’s tournament when the Antelopes take on Idaho at 3 p.m. Saturday. Idaho and Northern Iowa tangled in Friday's nightcap.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 24, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Success often comes as the result of withstanding some adversity along the way.
Arizona State learned that lesson as the Sun Devils overcome several mistakes in the opening set before putting the lessons to use by winning the next three sets on the way to a win over Colorado in Pac 12 volleyball action on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU won 21-25, 25-16, 26-24, 25-18 for its second consecutive win at home and improved the Sun Devils to 4-15 in conference play and 11-20 on the season. Colorado, meanwhile, dropped to 5-14 in the Pac 12 and 13-16 on the year with the loss.
While strong play at the net and mammoth kills, both of which were on display throughout the first three sets by both teams, it was a diving defensive play that might have been the key play of the night that proved to be the difference for the Sun Devils.
After trailing by as many as six points midway through the set, ASU began to chip away at the Colorado lead. A kill by Ivana Jeremic put an end to a string of six straight points by the Buffaloes as they built a 17-11 lead on the Sun Devils.
A kill by Lexi MacLean later tied the match for the Sun Devils at 23-23 and set the stage for the dramatic ending to the set. Stephanie Shadley’s kill allowed Colorado to tie things up for the final time at 24-24 before Oluoma Okaro’s kill pushed ASU to set point.
It was on that set point the tables seemed to turn in favor of the Sun Devils.
Following a serve by Jeremic the two teams exchanged one of the best rallies of the match and when a Colorado attack had all the earmarks of being successful freshman Courtney Leffel had other ideas.
The five-foot, five inch backrow specialist dove to her left and got her hand under the ball to keep the ball alive. Seconds later MacLean slammed down the kill from the left side of the net to give the point and the set to the Sun Devils as they moved in front.
And, unlike ASU after dropping the opening set, Colorado was not able to recover as the Sun Devils had little trouble in the fourth set to claim the win.
The Sun Devils, who defeated California last week to win on their home floor for the first time this season, allowed Colorado to control the opening set. An ASU service error allowed the Buffaloes to grab a 2-1 lead in the early portion and they held that advantage the rest of the way as the Sun Devils had no answer for Shadley as she recorded nine kills in the opening set.
Errors on the part of the Sun Devils also thwarted their efforts throughout the set. ASU committed three service errors and five attack errors to account for eight points for the Buffaloes as they claimed the opening set.
A kill by MacLean tied the second set at 2-2 and an attack on the part of the Buffaloes moments later allowed the Sun Devils to take a 3-2 lead in the second set. It was their first lead of the match … and made the most of it.
ASU continued to roll from that point, save for a brief spell midway through the set when Colorado reeled off five straight points to pull to within 14-12. But, ASU, thanks to the earlier lessons
learned, withstood that rally and scoring 11 of the next 16 points to claim the set.
Jeremic was one of four Sun Devils to reach double figures in kills in the match as she tallied 18 kills on the night and Okaro added 17 kills of her own. MacLean and Maya McClendon chipped in with 14 and 13 kills, respectively.
The defense also shined bright for the Sun Devils as Halle Harker led the way with 15 digs to move within 10 digs of moving into sixth place on the school’s all-time list in that department. The junior now has 1,372 digs in her career.
Leffell and teammate Kylie Pickrell each added 14 digs, as did Jeremic. Okaro had two block solos and added one block assist to lead the Sun Devils in that department.
“To have four hitters in double digits and four diggers with double digits … that was a great night for everyone,” ASU coach Stevie Mussie said following the win.
Shadley led the Buffaloes with 15 kills on the night Katelyn Cuff chipped in with 11 kills of her own. Alexas Smith had 15 digs to pace Colorado, which also got 11 digs from Marie Zimmerman while Shadley and Cierra Smith each added 10 digs.
Arizona State closes the 2016 season with a Saturday matinee when they play host to arch-rival Arizona (10-9, 18-13). The match is slated to begin at 3 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 23, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- With its high scoring offense The Citadel is sure to cause some problems when March Madness roles around and Arizona State could very well factor into which teams advance to the annual mayhem in a big way.
Those two facts were driven home in a big way on Wednesday afternoon as the Sun Devils outlasted the Bulldogs 127-110 in a matinee encounter in front of an announced crowd of 4,702 at Wells Fargo Arena. The win is the fourth in six games for ASU, under second-year coach Bobby Hurley. The Citadel fell to 3-3 on the season with the loss. The Bulldogs opened the season with loss to the College of Charleston before averaging 127 points in notching three straight victories. They lost to No. 20 Iowa 130-63 on Sunday before traveling to Tempe to face the Sun Devils.
“I was pleased to see the ball go through the basket, that’s the good news. We shot and scored the ball a lot better than we did in Florida,” Hurley said in reference to his team dropping two out of three games last week in the Sunshine State after opening the season with a pair of wins on its home floor.
But, like most coaches, Hurley found some areas of concern moments after Wednesday’s win over the Bulldogs.
“I just wish we had a little more resistance defensively, especially in the second half,” the ASU coach said.
The Sun Devils held a 10-point advantage after the first 20 minutes of the game, but the visiting Bulldogs scored seven of the first nine points of the second half to
close to within 57-52 on a field goal from Brian White with 17:29 on the clock. ASU responded with a run of its own. Torian Graham got things rolling with a 3-pointer from the left win and less than
one minute later converted a Citadel turnover into two more points with a monstrous dunk. Kodi Justice added a field goal of his own and Obinna Oleka nailed a pair of free throws that ended the 9-0
run that provided the Sun Devils with a 66-52 lead with 15:35 to play.
It was still not enough to derail the Bulldogs.
The Citadel responded with an 8-0 run of its own to make things interesting. An basket off an offensive rebound by Frankie Johnson pulled the Bulldogs to with 66-62 with 14:02 left in the game and the Sun Devils were forced on their heels.
Highly-touted freshman Sam Cunliffe nailed a 3-pointer of his own and Shannon Evans added another to keep the Bulldogs at bay. The visitors would get back to within four points on a 3-pointer from Quayson Williams to trail 72-68 with 12:25 remaining. It would be as close as The Citadel would get the rest of the way.
A steal from Cunliffe and a dunk by Evans to convert the opportunity gave the Sun Devils with a double-digit lead at 87-76 and the Bulldogs would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“They are a very unique team,” Hurley said of the Bulldogs. “You don’t come across many teams that play the style the do and get up and down the floor the way they
“It was a good game for us leading into next week,” the ASU mentor added. “Just from the pace of the game, it got us ready for our next game.”
All five ASU starters finished in double figures with Cunliffe leading the way with 23 points. He was seven of 12 from the floor, including three of four from behind the arc. He also made six of nine foul shots in the game after missing all three free throw attempts in the first half. Oleka and Cunliffe hauled down 15 and 10 rebounds, respectively, to lead ASU to a 49-41 rebounding edge in the game.
Tra Holder added 22 points and Oleka finished with 20 points, as did Kodi Justice after coming off the bench and connecting on four 3-pointers in the first half to spark the Sun Devils on the offensive end. Evans finished with 17 points.
The Citadel placed five players in double digits. The Bulldogs were led by Kaelon Harris’ game-high 30 points and Zane Najdawi scored 28. Williams and Preston Parks both added 13 points, while White finished with 12 points in the contest.
ASU is scheduled to tangle with top-ranked Kentucky on Monday in the Bahamas before returning home to face UNLV on Dec. 3 at Wells Fargo Arena. The Citadel also returns to action on Monday when the Bulldogs tangle with Presbyterian .
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 20, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It was a long time in the making but history was finally made on Nov. 19 as Arizona State won for the first time on its home floor at Wells Fargo Arena under first-year coach Stevie Mussie.
The Sun Devils swept past California 25-22, 25-22. 25-21 to improve to 3-15 in the Pac 12 and 10-20 on the year. It also completed a sweep of the Golden Bears on the year as ASU defeated California in four sets on Oct. 14 in Berkeley. The Bears are also 3-15 in conference play following the loss and are 9-19 on the season.
“I was super excited for the girls to be able to come and play like that in front of their home crowd,” Mussie said following the match. “It’s a big, big deal to be able to do it at home with your highest percentage.”
The night virtually belonged to the Sun Devils from the outset as ASU scored the first two points of the opening set on kills by Ivana Jeremic and led by as many as six points when an attack error on the part of the Golden Bears allowed the Sun Devils to build an 11-5 advantage and the visitors were unable to get within two points the rest of the way. A mammoth kill from Oluoma Okaro that handcuffed the Cal defender ended the first set.
The second set was a near carbon copy of the start to the match as the Sun Devils raced to a 3-0 lead thanks in a large part to Okaro. She and Jeremic combined to
block an attack on the net to give ASU the first point of the set. She added kills for the next two points as the Sun Devils took command early.
Cal managed to hang close and made things interesting down the stretch as the Bears scored four of six points to forge a 22-22 tie. Mmachi Nwoke quickly gave the lead back to the Sun Devils and a kill by Lexie MacLean put ASU on the brink in taking a commanding lead in the match. Courtney Leffel’s serve of set point was misplayed by Cal as a setting error and miscommunication allowed the ball to fall to the floor giving the set to the Sun Devils.
Cal seemed to come out of the intermission with a bit of urgency in its game and took advantage of an attack error, a back-row block violation and a setting error on the part of the Sun Devils to grab its first lead of the match. The Bears extended that lead to 4-0 when Jenelle Jordan and Bailee Huizenga teamed to block an attack by the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils, despite starting one of the youngest lineups in the Pac 12, did not seemed fazed by the deficit. They continued to chip away and two straight attack errors on the part of the Bears allowed ASU to take the lead 17-16. Moments later another kill from Nwoke put ASU in front 18-17 and the Sun Devils would never trail again on their way to the win.
“I thought our right-back defense allowed us to stay in the match,” Mussie said. “It was a collective group, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, that it was
everybody deciding enough was enough.”
The ASU defense accounted for 45digs in the match, many of which came at critical times and allowing rallies to continue before the Sun Devils eventually scored to keep the Bears at bay. Ivana Jeremic led the way with 12 digs for ASU and teammate Kylie Pickrell added 10 digs of her own.
“We’re a pursuit type of team.” Mussie explained. “That’s the kind of thing we want to leave out there. We are going to go as hard as we can defensively.”
The Sun Devils also totaled eight blocks in the contest to bolster Mussie’s belief Saturday’s result was one of the top defensive efforts on the part of her team this season.
MacLean was one of three Sun Devils to reach double figures in kills in the match as she paced ASU with 15. Okaro, who had six block assists, and Maya McClendon added 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Pickrell finished with a match-high 39 assists for the Sun Devils.
Cal was paced by Huizenga’s 11 kills. No other Bear reached double figures in that department.
Arizona State closes the season by playing Colorado on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena before entertaining arch-rival Arizona on Saturday in the final match of the year. Cal, meanwhile, entertains Oregon State on Wednesday before tangling with Stanford on Friday at Maples Pavilion.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 13, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The challenge that was expected from San Jose State never materialized the way Charli Turner Thorne envisioned it would.
“They are a very athletic team and have some very good shooters,” Turner Thorne said after her Arizona State team rolled over Illinois State to open the season two days earlier and her thoughts advanced to the Spartans.
The athleticism of SJSU was not nearly enough to overtake that of ASU. Nor were the Spartans able to match the bench play of the Sun Devils, who got scoring from 12 different players on the way to an easy 82-37 win over the Spartans on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena.
The win improves the defending Pac 12 champion Sun Devils to 2-0 on the young season after their 76-40 triumph in the opener. San Jose State, which lost 66-55 to New Mexico on Friday to open the season in Las Cruces, is now 0-2 on the year.
“I think we played much better than we did (Friday),” the ASU coach said. “I think we had some jitters coming out in that first game, but we did a much better job of handling the emotions from the start (Sunday}.”
That was evident earlier on as Sophie Brunner connected on a turnaround jumper from the left side just 16 seconds into the game to give the Sun Devils the early advantage.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
Four different players scored the next four field goals of the game as ASU raced to a 12-0 advantage with just over four minutes gone in the contest. The Sun Devils
would extend that lead to 16-0 before Myzhanique Ladd got the Spartans on the board at 4:45 of the first quarter, but the ASU defense limited visitors to just on more field goal in the opening 10
minutes as the Sun Devils built a comfortable 29-7 lead at the first break.
The two teams played on nearly even terms in the second quarter, thanks in part to several turnovers on the part of the Sun Devils and some key baskets from SJSU standout Dezz Ramos, but the early abyss was too much for the Spartans to overcome. ASU was still comfortable in front 44-21 at halftime.
Robbi Ryan and Reili Richardson, both freshmen, paced the victors with 11 points each and Ryan, a native of Sheridan, Wyo., led the way with a game-high rebounds. Kelsey Moos, Kiara Russell and Kianna Ibis all added eight points for the Sun Devils and Brunner , along with teammate Sabrina Haines, both added seven points in the winning effort.
The Sun Devils combined for 29 of 59 (.492) field goal shooting in the game, including seven of 16 (.438) from behind the arc. Ryan netted two of those long-range
Ramos finished with a team-high nine points, six of which came in the second quarter, to lead San Jose State. Four other players each scored five points for the Spartans, which were hurt by poor shooting from the floor throughout the game. SJSU finished with just 13 of 52 (.250) from the floor and a 3-pointer from Hallie Gennett at 6:12 of the second quarter was the only 3-pointer of the game for the Spartans, who attempted 14 long-range shots. Jasmine Smith and Gennett both grabbed five rebounds to lead their team in that department.
“We did a lot of things very well,” Turner Thorne said, “but, we need to continue to more consistent on defense and on handling the basketball.”
Arizona State hits the road for the first time this season when the Sun Devils play at Marquette on Nov. 19. They will then play in a tournament in Las Vegas where ASU will play Maryland and St. John’s (Nov. 25-26). San Jose State will play its home opener on Nov. 18 when the Spartans entertain Pacific.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 12, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If the true identity of his team comes together the way things fell into place for Arizona State on Friday, Bobby Hurley could be in for a very successful season and a serious bid to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Torian Graham and Tra Holder both scored 23 points and teammate Shannon Evans added 19 as ASU rolled past Portland State 88-70 at Wells Fargo Arena. It was the season opener for both schools.
“We are a work in progress,” Hurley said following the game. “We are still finding ourselves and guys are getting accustomed to playing different position.”
It did take some time for the Sun Devils to find themselves in the opener against the Vikings as Portland State scored eight of the first 10 points of the game. A Braxton Tucker put back of a missed shot from Traylin Farris put PSU in front 8-2 with 14:48 remaining in the opening half of play. A driving layup from Holder was the only points for the Sun Devils in the first five minutes of the game.
Then Graham came to life and put some spark into the ASU attack.
The six-foot, five-inch senior, who is in his first season at ASU after transferring from Buffalo before the start of the 2015-16 season, scored on a driving layup of
his own at 14:27 of the half to cut the Viking lead in half. Evans followed with his field goal of the night to pull the Sun Devils to within 8-6 and 28 seconds later Graham connected on a 3-pointer
to give ASU its first lead of the night with 13:02 remaining in the half.
The Sun Devils would never relinquish that advantage and Graham would end the first half with 18 points as ASU led 44-30 at the intermission, thanks also in part to 12 points from Holder through the first 20 minutes of play.
“(Graham) gave a real spark in the first half,” said Hurley, who coached at Buffalo before becoming the ASU coach prior to the start of the 2015-16 season and leading the Sun Devils to a 15-17 record in his first season. “That’s who he’s been for a while. He is certainly one of our best players. He hasn’t been disappointed by not starting, but he has embraced the roll for right now.”
Evans, who scored seven points through the first 20 minutes, draw praise from the ASU coach following his 12-point second-half performance.
“I think he’s going to play a lot better … he picked it up some in the second half,” Hurley added. “He would probably agree that it wasn’t his best.”
Behind the performances of Evans, Graham and Holder, who combined to hit 24 of 43 field goal attempts, the Sun Devils finished the game shooting 49 percent (33-67) from the floor, despite missing four of their first six shots in the game. PSU, meanwhile, connected on just 26 of 67 shots for 38.8 percent shooting.
Obinna Oleka finished with eight points in the game to go along with his game-high 13 rebounds.
Tucker finished with a team-high 19 points for the Vikings and teammate Bryce Canda added 12 points.
ASU returns to action on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena when the Sun Devils entertain Cal Poly. Portland State, of the Big Sky Conference, plays at Cal-Fullerton that same day.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 12, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Despite losing several players to graduation who helped Arizona State to a share of the Pac 12 women’s basketball title last season the Sun Devils were getting plenty of recognition as a new season prepared to get under way.
The respect and recognition are sure to continue after ASU breezed past Illinois State 76-40 on Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena as the No. 18-ranked Sun Devils opened the 2016-17 season in front of 1,748 fans.
It was a total team effort for the Sun Devils as 12 different players broke into the scoring column. They were led by sophomore Armani Hawkins, who came off the bench to score 14 points. Sophie Brunner was the only other player to reach double figures as she scored 11 points for the victors.
Reili Richardson, a freshman scored seven points, while Kelsey Moos, Quinn Dornstauder, Kiara Russell, Kianna Ibis and Jamie Ruden all tallied six points in the triumph.
Russell, who drew the starting assignment in her first collegiate game and Ruden are both freshmen, while Ibis is a sophomore. Moos and Dornstauder, along with Brunner, are in their final collegiate season.
“That was a nice team win,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said after the victory. “Everyone got some good rotations in … and the thing you should see in this team is
that everyone can score.
“We not equal, by any means, in terms of the rest of our games, but in terms of everyone that goes in can flat out the ball in the basket,” the veteran Sun Devil coach added.
It took little time for that to be proven against the Redbirds, who compete in the Missouri Valley Conference and finished 8-22 last season.
Russell, a freshman who starred at Osseo (Minn.) High School last season, scored the first two baskets of her collegiate career in a span of 13 seconds early in the first quarter as ASU scored the first 11 points of the contest to take control. The Redbirds would never get any closer than six points the rest of the way.
Arizona State led 21-12 at the first break and outscored ISU 20-8 in the second quarter to forge a 41-20 halftime advantage. A basket by Hawkins just before the buzzer to close the third quarter gave the Sun Devils a 60-30 lead, their largest advantage of the night.
Hawkins scoring output, along with the production from the other reserves, allowed the ASU bench to score 43 points, more than the 40 put on the board by the entire Redbird squad. ISU starters combined for 29 of the Redbirds 40 points.
“It’s great to have a game this early to get everyone in,” said a smiling ASU coach. “I would rather beat a team by 30 and play everybody than what most of the top-ranked teams in our country do,
which is beat people by 55 or 60 and play seven people. That’s just not who were are and it’s always paid off for us.”
Illinois State was led by Hannah Green’s 12 points. She was the lone Redbird to reach double figures.
ASU, which entered the game ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll and 16th in the coaches poll, finished 26-7 last season after falling to Tennessee 75-64 in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Sun Devils return to action on Sunday when they play host to San Jose State at Wells Fargo Arena. Illinois State, meanwhile, returns to action on Monday when the Redbirds play at Illinois-Chicago.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 11, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Big plays were the name of the game as No. 13 Utah overcame a slow start and went on to defeat Arizona State 49-26 on Nov. 10 at Sun Devil Stadium.
The win improved the Utes to 5-2 in the Pac 12 South and into a second place tie with USC in the division as both teams sit behind division-leading Colorado which enters Saturday’s game at Arizona with a 5-1 record. Utah is now 8-2 on the season. Arizona State, meanwhile, fell to 2-5 in the division and 5-5 on the year with the loss. The Sun Devils must win one their two remaining game to become bowl eligible for the sixth straight season and the fifth time in Todd Graham’s tenure as coach in the Valley of the Sun.
After fumbling the snap on the first play of the game and being held to just 27 yards of offense in the first quarter of Thursday’s game the Utes exploded for a pair of scores in the second period to take a 14-13 lead. Utah quarterback Troy Williams found Raelon Singleton along the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown that put the Utes on the board with 13:43 to play in the half. Moments later Williams connected with Siaosi Wilson from 27 yards out to put the Utes in front for the first time in the game. Both scores came in a span of 3:30.
Arizona State managed to regain the lead when N’Keal Harry traversed the field while avoiding several would-be tacklers and scampered in from 31 yards out to put the
Sun Devils back in front 20-14 with 3:36 left in the half. But, Utah was able to regain the lead with just 22 seconds left in the half when Williams connected with Singleton for the second time in
the game as the Utes took a 21-20 advantage to the intermission.
Utah used its third big play of the game to extend its lead early in the second half. After forcing the Sun Devils to punt on their opening drive of the second half Joe Williams got loose along the right sideline and raced 82 yards to push the Utes’ lead to 28-20 with 9:41 to play. The one-play drive took just 15 seconds and combined with the three earlier scores gave Utah four touchdowns on drives that totaled just 6:27.
Tim White later caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Wilkins to pull the Sun Devils to with 28-26 after a two-point conversion attempt failed with 2:02 left in the period.
ASU would get no closer.
Singleton would catch his third touchdown pass of the night, this one from 24 yards out to give Utah a 35-26 lead with 11:48 to play and Chase Hansen’s 34-yard interception return with 5:46 left in the game virtually put the game on ice. Joe Williams closed the scoring on a 40-yard run moments later for the Utes.
Arizona State, which has lost five of six games since opening the year with four straight wins, grabbed the early momentum with the turnover on the first play of the game. But that ended quickly when Manny Wilkins’ pass was intercepted in the end zone by Marcus Williams just six plays later to thwart the ASU drive.
Zane Gonzalez gave the Sun Devils the lead with a 24-yard field goal with 7:18 left in the opening period. Kalen Ballage added to that advantage with a two-yard run
just over three minutes later and Gonzalex added his second field goal of the night just before the end of the period to push the lead to 13-0.
Joe Williams finished with 181 yards on 15 carries to lead Utah in rushing as the visitors gained 201 yards on the ground against the depleted ASU defense. Troy Williams connected on 21 of 37 passes for 296 yards and four scores for Utah. Singleton led the receivers with four catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns, while Cory Butler-Byrd had seven catches for 72 yards as part of a 497-yard offensive showing by the Utes.
Arizona State finished with 396 yards of total offense and was led in rushing by Ballage, who rushed 15 times for 41 yards. Wilkins completed 19 of 31 passes for 309 yards and was picked off twice in the contest. Ballage was also the top pass catcher for the Sun Devils after hauling in seven passes for 118 yards. Harry added eight receptions for 114 yards.
Utah’s defense tallied 11 sacks in the game for negative 80 yards.
Utah returns to action Nov. 19 when the Utes play host to Oregon before closing the regular season on Nov. 26 at Colorado in a game that could determine the division winner. ASU travels to No. 4 Washington on Nov. 19 and closes the season Nov. 26 on the road at arch-rival Arizona.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Nov. 4, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Stevie Mussie is hoping her Sun Devil volleyball team can transform their home at Wells Fargo Arena into a house of horrors for opposing teams.
The Sun Devils nearly made that reality on Friday as they pushed visiting Southern Cal to the limit in the opening set. In the end, the Trojans managed to come away with a three-set sweep by winning 27-25, 25-14, 25-18 and rebounding after dropping a five-set match at Arizona earlier in the week.
The No. 25-ranked Trojans are now 8-6 in Pac 12 play and improved to 16-9 on the season,. ASU, meanwhile, dropped to 2-11 in conference play and are 9-16 in Mussie’s first season as coach of the Sun Devils.
“I was super fired up the way we came out in the first set. We were battling them point for point,” said Mussie, whose team is still looking for its first conference win at home this season.
The opening set was tied nine times and a kill by ASU’s Maya McClendon tied the set for the 10th time at 24-24 and the Sun Devils had a chance to take the lead and come away with the win in the set. But a service error prevented that and a pair of attack errors on the part of the Sun Devils allowed the Trojans to escape with the 27-25 triumph in the initial set.
“We just have to be a lot better at hitting the ball in,” Mussie added. “I think we passed and served okay … we just missed the hitting part.”
From there it was all USC as the Trojans rolled to a 7-0 lead to open the second set and never allowed the Sun Devils to get any closer than 10-5 in steamrolling to a 25-14 decision. A kill by USC’s Khalia Lanier gave the Trojans a 3-2 advantage in the third set and her team continued to pull away. Elise Ruddins and Lanier teamed up for a block that gave USC a 22-17 lead late in the set and the visitors were able to seal the win on a service error on the part of the Sun Devils.
Arizona State, which started three freshmen in the match, was unable to contain the front line of USC as the Trojans combined for 49 kills on the night. Lanier, along with teammate Alyse Ford, both tallied 11 kills to lead their team in that department and Nikki Withers added 10 kills of her own. Brittany Abercrombie and Ruddins finished the night with nine and eight kills, respectively. Most of Ruddins’ kills come from the middle of the night and she added 3 blocks (2 solo) on the night to aid in the win.
“She owns the city right now,” USC coach Mick Haley said of the performance of the 6-foot, 3-.inch senior. “She is playing her best volleyball right now.
Reni Meyer-Whalley, who began her collegiate career at Oregon before transferring to USC, also had a big night for the Trojans. The finished shared team-high honors in digs with Taylor Whittingham. Both had 14 in the contest and Meyer-Whalley finished with 17 assist. Alice Pizzasegola recorded a team-high 19 assists for USC.
The Sun Devils were paced by Ivana Jeremic who notched her first career double-double for ASU. The freshman had a team-high 10 kills and added 10 assists in the match
along with three blocks. Maya McClendon and Oluoma Okaro (three blocks) both chipped in with eight kills.
“I am a big fan of the way they are playing,” Mussie said of Friday’s trio of standouts for the Sun Devils. “We are asking Jeremic to do a lot these days and she is up to the task.”
Nicole Peterson, another of the highly-touted newcomers for ASU, netted 28 assists on the night. Peterson was the national player of the year in 2015, according to MaxPreps.
"That is a very, very talented team," Haley said of the Sun Devils. "They aren't quite there yet ... but they are going to become a formidable force in this league.
They are certainly heading in the right direction."
Arizona State returns to action on Saturday when the Sun Devils entertain No. 9 UCLA at Wells Fargo Arena. The match is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 23, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The outcome of any football game usually comes back to defense. And Washington State got the defensive stop when it was needed the most as the Cougars held off Arizona State 37-32 on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.
The win allowed WSU to keep pace with arch-rival Washington as both teams are now 4-0 in the conference and sit atop the North Division standings. The Huskies had little trouble in defeating Oregon State 41-17 earlier in the day. Washington is 7-0 on the season and the Cougars improved to 5-2 on the year after winning their fifth straight contest. Arizona State, meanwhile, lost for the third time in four games and saw its record fall to 5-3 on the year and 2-3 in the conference.
WSU quarterback Luke Falk connected with Gabe Marks along the right sideline for a 52-yard scoring strike with 13:27 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Cougars a seemingly comfortable 37-21 lead, despite missing the PAT.
But, the Sun Devils would not go quietly into the night.
After short drives by both teams ASU’s Tim White returned a Kyle Sweet punt 70 yards and the Sun Devils converted on the two-point try when Fred Gammage passed to Kody Kohl to pull ASU to within 37-29 with 11:15 remaining.
Washington State was unable to do anything on its next possession and ASU had a chance to make things interesting. The Sun Devils moved deep into WSU territory but was forced to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez to make the score 37-32 with just over four minutes to play in the game and the Cougars were able to run out the clock to secure the win.
Arizona State opened the game by marching 59 yards in 11 plays and took an early lead when quarterback Manny Wilkins hurdled a defender and found the left corner of the end zone to put his team in front 7-0 with 10:25 to play in the period. Wilkins, who completed five of six passes on the drive, left the game following his score and would not return.
The Sun Devils increased their lead to 14-3 when Kalen Ballage broke off right tackle and went untouched for 52 yards with 8:56 remaining in the half. Ballage’s score
came just over two minutes after Erik Powell connected on a 29-yard field goal for the first points of the game for the Cougars.
Washington State would score two more times in the half to move in front 17-14 at the intermission. The first came on the kickoff following Ballage’s score for ASU when Robert Taylor took the kick about three yards deep in the end zone, broke to the left sideline and somehow managed to stay in bounds as he raced in for the score. Taylor was credited with a 100-yard return and Powell’s PAT pulled the Cougars to within 14-10 with 8:41 left in the half.
The Cougars would take their first lead of the game when Tavares Martin took a pass from Falk from nine yards out with 57 seconds left in the half. Powell’s PAT gave WSU a 17-14 cushion at the break.
Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow both caught scoring passes from Falk in the third period to extend the WSU lead to 31-14. Wick’s scored from three yards out with 11:26 to play in the third and Morrow found himself wide open in the left side of the end zone for a three-yard score of his own with 4:32 to play.
ASU managed to close the gap to 31-21 on the last play of the quarter when Richard Demario plunged in from one yard out and set the stage for the final period.
Falk finished the game with 398 yards passing after completing 42 of 53 passes and three touchdowns. He connected with 11 different receivers in the game with Marks
leading the way with eight catches for 107 yards. River Cracraft added seven receptions for 79 yards. He now has 203 career receptions and joins Marks as the first teammates in conference history to
each have at least 200 career catches.
The ASU defense limited the Cougars to minus-52 yards rushing, most of those lost yards came when the Sun Devils sacked Falk seven times in the game. Morrow finished the game with four rushes for 17 yards to lead the Cougars in that department.
Arizona State, meanwhile, was forced to use its Sparky formation extensively following the departure of Wilkins after the opening drive. Four ASU passers combined to complete 14 of 24 passes for 167 yards in the game. The Sun Devils got 86 yards rushing from Ballage, who carried 12 times, and the team combined for 113 yards on the ground in the game.
Washington State travels to play Oregon State on Saturday. The Beavers are 1-3 in Pac 12 play and 2-5 on the season following their loss to No. 5 Washington on Saturday. ASU also takes to the road and will play at Oregon on Saturday. The Ducks are 0-4 in the conference and 2-5 on the year.
Oct. 22 Pac 12 Results
California 52, Oregon 49
Colorado 10, Stanford 5
Utah 52, UCLA 45
Washington 41, Oregon State 17
Washington State 37, Arizona State 32
Arizona ~ Idle
Southern Cal ~ Idle
This Week’s Games
Thursday -- Oct. 27
California at Southern Cal -- 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 29
Arizona State at Oregon -- 2 p.m.
Stanford at Arizona -- 8 p.m.
Washington at Utah -- 12:30 p.m.
Washington State at Oregon State -- 7:45 p.m.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 19. 2016)
TEMPE. Ariz. -- The performance of Washington State was not dazzling or brilliant in the most common senses. It was, however, impressive nonetheless as the Cougars swept past Arizona State in three sets Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.
WSU won 25-21, 25-18, 25-20 to improve to 6-3 in Pac 12 play and raised its record to 16-5 on the season. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, dropped to 1-8 in the conference and 8-13 on the year with the loss.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about, just being more consistent,” said WSU coach Jen Greeny, whose team entered Wednesday’s tilt ranked No. 18 in the latest national poll. “Nobody has to play perfect, but everybody has to each do something just a little bit better.”
What the Cougars did was take a hard hat and lunch bucket approach throughout the match to take down the Sun Devils, who came out strong in the opening set. A kill by ASU’s Oluoma Okaro gave the Sun Devils the first point of the set. But WSU responded by going on a 6-2 spurt which was capped by a kill from McKenna Woodford to put the visitors in front 6-3.
ASU would regain the lead at 11-10 on a kill from Ivana Jeremic. The Sun Devils would maintain the lead until an attack error on the part of ASU tied the set at 19-19
and the Cougars would quickly respond by reeling off six of the next seven points en route to taking the opening set.
The second set again saw the two teams play on virtually even terms until a kill from Taylor Mims gave WSU a 14-13 advantage that seemed to inspire the visitors who went on to win the set 25-18 and take a 2-0 advantage at the intermission.
A kill from Holt tied the third set at 12-12 and WSU added another point when Mims and Holt combined for a block to put the Cougars in front 13-12 and the Sun Devils were never able to tie the set the rest of the way.
“(Holt) has been playing extremely well,” said Greeny of the senior, who finished the night with a match-best 13 kills for the Cougars. “Offense, defense, blocking, … she does a lot of nice things and that’s good to see.”
Woodford added seven kills for WSU, which also got six kills from Mims in the win over the Sun Devils. Mims also notched two solo blocks and five block assists in the match for the Cougars. Nicole Rigoni and Haley MacDonald tallied 14 and 12 assists, respectively, to lead the victors in that department.
Arizona State was paced by Lexi MacLean’s nine kills, while Okaro and Cassidy Pickrell finished with six and five kills, respectively. Kylie Pickrell registered 14
assists and Nicole Peterson netted 13 assists of her own for the Sun Devils.
Washington State continues its road swing through the desert when the Cougars take on Arizona on Friday in Tucson. ASU will play host to Washington on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. That match is slated to get under way at 8 p.m.
WSU 25 25 25
ASU 21 18 20
WASHINGTON STATE -- Kills: Kyra Holt 13, McKenna Woodford 7, Taylor Mims 6. Blocks: Mims 3.5, Casey Schoenlein 2.5, Woodford 2,
Claire Martin 2. Assists: Nicole Rigoni 14, Haley MacDonald 12. Digs: Alexis Dirige 10. Aces: Holt 1.
ARIZONA STATE -- Kills: Lexi MacLean 9, Oluoma Okaro 6, Cassidy Pickrell 5, Maya McClendon 5. Blocks: Jasmine Koonts 4.5. Assists: Kylie Pickrell 14, Nicole Peterson 13. Digs: Halle Harker 10. Aces: Peterson 1, Okaro 1.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 13, 2016)
PHOENIX -- The road has been a bumpy one as of late for Grand Canyon University as the Antelopes continue to search for their first win in Western Athletic Conference volleyball play. But, make no mistake, that milestone will soon be reached.
“We showed some toughness,” GCU coach Tim Nollan said. “I really believe that soon things are going to go our way. I think the odds are in our favor.”
GCU pushed Seattle University to the limit before falling in five sets on Thursday inside Antelope Gym. The Redhawks won 25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 21-25 and 15-10.
The win improved Seattle to 3-3 in conference play and 10-9 on the season. GCU, meanwhile, is still winless in league play as the Antelopes saw their mark drop to 0-6 and are now 4-14 on the season.
GCU got off to a great start in Nollan’s first season as coach as the Antelopes won four straight matches after falling in the season opener.
Since defeating Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Washington on Sept. 3 in the GCU Invitational, the Antelopes have been unable to notch a win. They have now dropped 13 straight matches, including a stretch of matches where GCU was swept in seven of nine matches.
Thursday marked the third straight match that GCU hung around and forced a fifth and deciding set after eventually falling to Chicago State and Kansas City a week ago.
Grand Canyon was unable to put the finishing touches on the comeback attempt as Seattle broke away from a 3-3 tie in the deciding set and went on to post the victory.
Seattle, the top serving team in the conference, was anything but that in the opening set as the Redhawks committed 10 service errors and helping Grand Canyon hang around. A kill from Lane gave the visitors a 14-13 lead that Seattle would not relinquish the rest of the way and taking the first set when Glavinic slammed down a cross-court kill to end the set.
Matea Mamic registered three kills and teammates Kerry Lane and Maja Stojanovic combined for a block during a crucial stretch in the second set as Seattle managed to pull away from a 17-17 tie before winning the set on a kill by Kory White.
Grand Canyon began to show life after intermission as the Antelopes took advantage of an attack error to take an 18-17 lead in the third set. Myria Colley would later add a kill and a service ace as GCU opened a 21-18 lead before winning the set when Leigh Stonerook’s kill went off a Seattle defender and out of play.
It was more of the same in the fourth set as a service error on the part of the visitors allowed GCU to tie the set at 21-21 before reeling off four straight points off the serve of Heidi Carpenter.
Seattle was paced by Mamic, who was one of three Redhawks to finish in double figures in kills. She tallied 21, while Marinkovic and Glaginic each added 11. Stojanovic paced Seattle with six block assists.
Stonerook came off the bench to finish with a team-high 14 kills in the contest, while Carpenter and Randahi Powers each added seven kills.
Grand Canyon returns to action on Saturday when the Antelopes play host to Utah Valley State. The match is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in Antelope Gym.
Seattle 25 25 18 21
Grand Canyon 22 21 25 25 10
SEATTLE: Kills -- Matea Mamic 21, Katarina Marinkovic 12, Katarina Glavinic 11. Blocks -- Maja Stojanovic 6, Kory White 4.
Assists -- Kerry Lane 45. Digs -- Marmic 11, Aly Borje-Bonkowski 11. Aces -- Marmic 4, Marinkovic 4, Lane 1, Stojanovic 1, Glavinic 1.
GRAND CANYON: Kills -- Leigh Stonerook 14, Heidi Carpenter 7, Randahi Powers 7. Blocks -- Gracie Dimond 3, Carpenter 2. Assists -- Carpenter 29. Digs -- Chloe Jenkins 11, Carpenter 9, Sara Westerman 8. Aces -- Carpenter 4, Jordyn Sanchez 1, Myria Colley 1, Westerman 1.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 9, 2016)
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Zane Gonzalez entered the NCAA record book and helped Arizona State rebound from its first loss of the season as the Sun Devils defeated UCLA 23-20 on Oct. 8 at Sun Devil Stadium.
The win improved the Sun Devils to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in Pac 12 play after losing for the first time the previous week 41-20 at Southern Cal.
Gonzalez kicked three field goals, including a 46-yard field goal with 12:28 remaining in the game to give ASU a 23-13 lead in the contest. It was the 89th field goal in the career of Gonzalez, a senior, and surpassed the mark of 88 held by Dustin Hopkins during his career at Florida State (2009-12). Gonzalez had hit on field goals of 23 and 35 yards earlier in the game.
UCLA closed to within 23-20 just over one minute after Gonzalez’s history-making field goal as quarterback Josh Rosen connected with on an 18-yard scoring play to Nate Iese that set the stage for
the dramatic ending to the game.
The Bruins were unable to take the lead when Robbie Robinson picked off a pass from UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul with 48 seconds remaining in the game.
Arizona State seemed to take control of the game in the third quarter. Gonzalez connected on his second field goal of the night to put the Sun Devils in front 6-3 with 12:10 left in the third period and Richard Demario rumbled in from five yards out for the first touchdown of the game. Gonzalez added the PAT to push the ASU advantage to 13-3 with 8:29 remaining in the quarter.
JJ Molson connected on his second field goal of the night for UCLA just over two minutes later as the Bruins closed to within 13-6 and later tied the game when Jordan Lasley got free of the ASU secondary and raced in after hauling in a pass from Rosen on a play that covered 52 yards.
N’Keal Harry returned the lead to the Sun Devils on a 14-yard scoring pass from Brady White on the final play of the third quarter. White, who would later limp off the field, was starting in place of Manny Wilkins, who was sidelined with a leg injury.
Both teams sputtered in the first half on the offensive side of the ball. Gonzalez gave the Sun Devils the early lead on his first field goal with 7:54 remaining in the first quarter. His UCLA
counterpart, Molson, knotted the game at 3-3 early in the second period with a 38-yard field goal and the two teams would go to the intermission in a 3-3 tie.
White finished the game by completing 19 passes for 179 yards and the touchdown pass to Harry. White left the game late in the fourth quarter after suffering an injury of his own. His status for Saturday’s game is in doubt as the Sun Devils travel to Colorado for a key conference matchup with a resurgent Buffalo team that pushed Southern Cal to the limit before falling 21-17 on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Rosen, who missed a large part of the game in the second and third quarters after being sacked by in the second quarter. He returned to lead the Bruins’ comeback efforts, but was forced from the game for a second time shortly after his pass to scoring pass to Iese in the final period of play.
The Bruins held a marked advantage in total offense in the game as UCLA quarterbacks combined to throw for 444 yards in the game, but the ASU defense limited UCLA to minus-1 yard rushing. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils had just 275 yards of offense with 196 of those coming through the air.
UCLA, which dropped to 1-2 in Pac 12 play and 3-3 on the year, plays at Washington State on Saturday. The Cougars upset Stanford 42-16 on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in league play and 3-2 on the season.
By Ray Maloney
(posted Oct. 2, 2016)
PHOENIX -- All season long Minnesota has proven it was one of the best teams in the WNBA and the Lynx put an exclamation point on that claim with an impressive 82-67 win over Phoenix on Sunday afternoon at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The win, the third straight over the Mercury in the WNBA semifinal round, propels the Lynx into the championship round for the second straight season and the fifth time in six years. Minnesota will take on either Los Angeles or Chicago in the championship round. Los Angeles, which won the first two games of the other semifinal round, dropped a 70-66 decision to Chicago on Sunday in the Windy City to force a Game Four on Tuesday in Chicago.
“We are disappointed in the result, but obviously the better team won,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said when addressing the media following the game. “(Minnesota) has been the best team all season long … and they showed that.”
Did the Lynx ever do that.
Minnesota used a 14-5 run to open the second half to begin to pull away from its narrow 39-38 lead at the intermission. Maya Moore and Natasha Howard both scored six points during that spurt that was capped by an easy steal and layup by Moore that put the Lynx in front 53-43 with 5:20 to play in the third quarter.
It only got worse for the Mercury as Minnesota used a 26-15 scoring advantage in the quarter to lead 65-53 heading into the final period of play. Moore and Howard continued their torment of the Mercury by combining the first five points of the final quarter for the Lynx. A traditional 3-point play from Howard extended the Minnesota lead to 70-53 with 7:35 remaining in the game.
“We have to get quicker,” said Brondello as she was asked what her team may be looking to add before the start of the 2017 season. “We need to find someone who can lock down Maya Moore … but, I am
not sure she can be locked down.”
Phoenix opened the game strong and took its first lead of the game on a 3-pointer from Taurasi with just under eight minutes to play to put the Mercury in front 5-2, but Moore was able to knot the game at 6-6 with a pair of free throws just over one minute later.
That was when Phoenix put on its most impressive run of the game.
Taursasi and Brittney Griner combined to score the next nine points for Phoenix as the Mercury extended their lead to 15-10. A pair of free throws from DeWanna Bonner with 1:05 to play pushed the Phoenix advantage to 21-14 and give the Mercury their biggest lead of the game.
Minnesota, which ended the regular season with a WNBA-best 28-6 record, regained the lead with 8:38 left in the second quarter when Howard put back on offensive rebound for a 24-23 lead. The two teams exchanged the lead through the rest of the period. Bonner’s field goal with 16.9 seconds remaining gave Phoenix its final lead of the game at 38-37 before a pair of free throws from Lindsay Whalen with 5.3 seconds left gave Minnesota its 39-38 halftime advantage.
Moore led all scorers with 20 points in the game and was of four Minnesota players to finish in double figures. Natasha Howard came off the bench to spark the impressive second-half run by the Lynx and finished with 17 points in the game. Seimone Augustus and Whalen also reached double figures with 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the victors.
Phoenix, which entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, got 12 points from both Taurasi and Bonner as just two Mercury players reached double figures. Taurasi, who had 11 points in the first half, was held to just one free throw after intermission. It was the second time Bonner has come off the bench to reach double figures in scoring in this postseason. Only two players since 2013 had scored in double figures in a single game after coming off the bench.
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 assists.
“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. 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. 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 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 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.