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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Plenty of UConn connections on USA Basketball selection committees

USA Basketball released its selection committees for the various national teams. While some of this has already been reported, there's plenty of people with ties to UConn on the committees.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who coached the U.S. to back to back Olympic gold medals, is a special advisor on the USA Basketball Women's National Team Steering Committee

Former UConn Al-American Jen Rizzotti, currently the head coach at George Washington, is the chair of the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee while former UConn assistant coach and current Temple head coach Tonya Cardoza will serve on that committee.

Here is the release

USA Basketball committees, which will select coaches and athletes for various USA Basketball teams for the 2017-2020 quadrennium, are now in place and include representatives from USA Basketball's constituent organizations, as well as at least one former USA Basketball athlete representative on each committee.
           


Jerry Colangelo, who was named the managing director of the USA Basketball Men's National Team in 2005, will continue in that role for 2017-20.  Under Colangelo, the USA men have compiled a remarkable 88-1 overall record (60-1 in official FIBA or FIBA Americas competitions and 28-0 record in exhibition games) and claimed top honors in six of seven FIBA or FIBA Americas competitions.
           

The USA Basketball Women's National Team Steering Committee is comprised of USA Basketball, WNBA, former USA Basketball athletes and at-large representatives. The Women's National Team Steering Committee will review basketball matters related to the participation of the USA Basketball Women's National Team in the 2018 FIBA World Cup and if the USA qualifies, 2020 Olympic Games. The USA Basketball Women's National Team Player Selection Committee, which will select athletes for the aforementioned competitions and additional USA National Team training camps during the quadrennium will be announced at a later date.
USA Basketball Women's National Team director Carol Callan will serve as chair of the 2017-20 USA Women's National Team Steering Committee. The committee also includes three-time Olympic and two-time World Championship gold medalist Katie Smith as the athlete representative; WNBA chief operating officer Jay Parry as the WNBA representative; at-large selection and two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Championship medalist Ruthie Bolton; University of Connecticut women's basketball head coach Geno Auriemma, who coached USA teams to gold medals at the past two Olympics (2012, 2016) and FIBA World Championships (2010, 2014), will serve as a special advisor; and the committee is rounded out with USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley.
 
Men's and women's USA Basketball Junior National Team Committees, comprised of NCAA and athlete representatives, will issue invitations for trials and training camps and select coaching staffs and team members for college-aged teams, including USA Basketball U18 and U19 National Teams that will compete in the 2017 and 2019 FIBA U19 World Cups and 2018 and 2020 FIBA Americas U18 Championships, as well as the 2019 Pan American Games. The USA Women's Junior National Team Committee also will select the staff and athletes for the USA U23 National Team that will compete in August 2017 in the first U23 Four Nations Tournament, an event anticipated to be held annually through 2020.

Purdue University head coach Matt Painter, who was an assistant coach for the gold medalist 2009 USA U19 World Championship Team and a member of the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee from 2013-16, will serve as chair of the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team Committee. Shane Battier, who claimed bronze as a member of the 2006 USA World Championship Team and gold at the 2001 Goodwill Games, will serve as the athlete representative, and joining Painter as representatives of the NCAA are a trio of USA Basketball experienced coaches. NCAA appointees include University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, who served as an assistant on the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team that claimed gold; Providence College head coach Ed Cooley, who served as an assistant coach on the gold medal winning 2015 USA U19 World Championship and 2014 USA U18 Championship teams; and University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who was head coach of the 2015 USA U19 World Championship Team and an assistant coach with the gold medalist 2014 USA U18 championship team.
George Washington University head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, who directed the 2011 USA U19 World Championship and 2010 USA U18 championship team to gold medal finishes and also served as support staff on the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic teams, will serve as chair of the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee. 2008 Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson Barling will serve as the athlete representative, and joining Rizzotti as representatives of the NCAA are University of Texas head coach Karen Aston, Temple University head coach Tonya Cardoza and North Carolina State head coach Wes Moore.
Men's and women's USA Basketball Developmental National Team Committees, comprised of AAU, National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), athlete and at-large representatives, will issue invitations for trials and training camps and select coaching staffs and team members for USA Basketball U16 and U17 National Teams that will compete in the 2018 and 2020 FIBA U17 World Cups and 2017 and 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championships. The USA Men's Developmental National Team Committee also selects staff and athletes for the annual Nike Hoop Summit.
USA Basketball Men's National Team director Sean Ford will again serve as chair of the USA Men's Developmental National Team Committee, which also includes 2015 Pan American Games bronze medalists Keith Langford and Damien Wilkins as the athlete representatives. Serving as at-large representatives are Evan Daniels of Scout.com and FOX Sports and St. Edward High School (Ohio) head coach Eric Flannery, who served as head coach of the 2015 USA Nike Hoop Summit Team and who was an assistant coach for the gold medal winning 2013 USA U16 Championship and 2014 USA U17 World Championship teams. Torrey Pines High School (Calif.) head coach John Olive, who served as a head coach of the 2009 USA Nike Hoop Summit team, will represent the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and Boo Williams of Boo Williams AAU will represent the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU).
Chairing the USA Women's Developmental National Team Committee is Callan. Athlete representatives include four-time Olympic and two-time World Championship gold medalist Tamika Catchings and DeLisha Milton-Jones, a two-time Olympic and two-time World Championship gold medalist. Serving as at-large representatives are Westmont College head coach Kirsten Moore and Illinois Wesleyan University head coach Mia Smith. 1980 Olympian Jill Rankin Schneider, who served as head coach of the USA's gold medalist 2012 U17 World Championship and 2011 U16 Championship teams, currently is head coach at Monterey High School (Texas) and will represent the NFHS, while Kevin Lynch of the Philadelphia Belles will represent the AAU.                

Friday, April 14, 2017

UConn signees Coombs, Gordon score in double figures in Jordan Brand Classic

Mikayla Coombs had 12 points, three rebounds and a game-high seven assists as the West rolled to a 122-81 win over the East in the girls' game at the Jordan Brand Classic at the Barclays Center.

Coombs had six points (courtesy of a pair of 3-pointers), two rebounds and three assists as the West opened the game on a 15-0 run. Her seven assists were one shy of the team total for the East team.

Lexi Gordon had 14 points and two rebounds while Megan Walker finished with six points, four rebounds and two assists for the East team.

Stanford commit Kiana Williams had 20 points and Texas A&M signee Chennedy Carter had 19 points and five rebounds to lead five West players in double figures.

Chasity Patterson, who is headed to Texas, had 17 points as she joined Gordon as the only East players to score in double figures.

All-star games have enabled future Huskies to bond

There was already a strong connection among the four incoming freshmen before this week's Jordan Brand Classic festivities in New York. But much like when Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley as well as Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson took part in national high school all-star events, the time as teammates or even as rivals is only strengthening the bond between the future teammates.

"We all know each other but it is different when you are going to the same school with someone," said Megan Walker, who was a teammate of Mikayla Coombs at the McDonald's All-American Game and will be on the same team as Lexi Gordon in today's Jordan Brand Classic.

The roster breakdowns in all-star games can be geographically challenged at time and this year it is no different as Gordon, a Texas native, is on the East team while Coombs, who will become the third Georgia Miss Basketball award winner to suit up for the Huskies, will play on the West. Still, Coombs is learning more about Walker and Gordon over these last few days even if they happen to be on the other team.

"I guess I'm just taking it all in," Coombs said. "That (McDonald's game) was awesome, it gave me a look of what school is going to look like next year. I am sad that I can't play with Megan and Lexi. We are really close now and even on this trip, you can tell how close me and Megan are. After our official we became really close."

Walker took it a step further saying that the bonds formed with her fellow incoming freshmen helped her make her college decision.

Gordon wasn't selected to play in the McDonald's game so she is trying to make the most of every moment that she is in New York.

"It is a blessing to be there," Gordon said. "I didn't get to go to McDonald's, this is the last for me and it is really fun to be around everybody that I know and taking advantage of the opportunity we have been given."

If there is a regret it is that the fourth commit, Andra Espinoza-Hunter is not playing in the game as well. Espinoza-Hunter. She did get to play in the Rose Classic in New York and was named her team's MVP with 23 points yesterday.

The Jordan Brand Classic girls game will tip at 5:30 p.m. (or perhaps a few minutes after that). It won't be televised and I am not covering the game but hope to pass on the stats from the game either tonight or tomorrow.

Opportunity knocks for UConn's Chong

There are so many numbers associated with the UConn women's basketball program that simply boggle the mind so why not add another to the growing list.

The last 26 UConn players taken in the WNBA Draft have appeared in at least one WNBA regular-season game. It helps that 18 of those players have been taken in the first round but there have been players like Tiffany Hayes and Charde Houston who have outplayed and outlasted players taken ahead of them. Now it is Saniya Chong's turn to try to make it at the WNBA level.

Chong was taken in the third round, pick No. 26 overall by Dallas and I'm not sure there could have been a better landing spot.

First of all, she will be playing for a coach in Fred Williams who coached Hayes in the latter stages of her rookie season and her entire second year in the league. After getting fired in Atlanta, Williams was hired by Tulsa. One of the training camp invitees in his first season with the Shock happened to be former UConn guard Lorin Dixon. Although Dixon didn't make the team, it showed that Williams is willing to take a chance on former UConn players.

Then there is the roster. Before a very busy draft night for Williams and the Dallas Wings, the guards on the roster of the former Tulsa Shock franchise were Skylar Diggins, Erin Phillips, Karima Christmas and Tiffany Bias. Dallas traded away leading scorer Odyssey Sims in a deal that allowed the Wings to take Allisha Gray with the fourth overall pick. Diggins and Christmas are the top two returning scorers so certainly you'd have to think they make the team. Phillips averaged only 14.6 minutes and 4.7 points per game while Bias averaged 2.9 points and 6.4 minutes in 10 games.

The rosters on the WNBA site aren't exactly maintained in a timely fashion but assuming the roster posted is accurate, there are 16 players on the Wings' roster at the current time meaning only one needs to be let go when all the players report following the end of their overseas seasons so seemingly Chong has a chance to get time to show what she is capable of doing. She won't be the only one as she was one of five players drafted by the Wings joining Gray, fellow South Carolina product Kaela Davis, Evelyn Akhator of Kentucky and Kansas State's Breanna Lewis.

Unfortunately, Dallas is not one of the teams taking part in the two-day preseason tournament held at Mohegan Sun Arena and for Connecticut fans to see Chong up close and in person, she would have to be on the team when Dallas plays at the Connecticut Sun twice in August.

Speaking of interesting training camp showdowns, I'm not sure what to make of the list of post players coming into Connecticut Sun camp.

Morgan Tuck and Jonquel Jones lead the list as they prepare for their second WNBA seasons. Former Sun forward Kayla Pedersen is back in the fold. Pedersen played for the Sun for three seasons before taking last season off. Then there are a bunch of newcomers led by Brionna Jones and Shayla Cooper, the Sun's top two picks in last night's draft. Danielle Adams played for San Antonio from 2011-15 and averaged 11.4 points in 155 career regular-season games. Reshanda Gray, who averaged 4.4 points playing in 45 regular-season games for Atlanta in the last two seasons, will join veteran Lynetta Kizer and former second-round pick Jennifer Hamson as post players in camp. Alyssa Thomas could be added to that list as well although you never really know if she is viewed as a post player or a wing.

There are currently 19 players on the roster and there can't be more than 15 in camp at any on time. Sun coach Curt Miller said last night that second-round pick Leticia Romero, a guard out of Florida State, won't be playing in the WNBA this summer due to her obligations with Spain's national team and Chiney Ogwumike is currently injured. I asked Miller what would be a preferred number of post players to make the roster and he gave me a rambling answer that really wasn't an answer. Obviously Tuck, Jonquel Jones, Brionna Jones and Kizer should make the roster. That would leave Adams, Cooper, Gray, Hamson and Pedersen fighting it out for one or two spots. Then there is Ogwumike's situation. The team could suspend her but that would mean she can't play for the entire season or use one of the 12 roster spots on her with the hope that her rehab from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon would allow her to play at some point this season. Other moves will need to be made earlier depending on when players with overseas commitments get to report to training camp.

The fun will start on April 24 for the first day of training camp with media day being held two days later.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maryland's Jones taken by Sun, UConn's Chong goes to Dallas

Former college rivals Brionna Jones (left), Morgan Tuck
will be teammates with the WNBA's Connecticut Sun 
Proving that fact is often times stranger than fiction, I give you the professional landing spots of Maryland All-American Brionna Jones and UConn's Saniya Chong.

Jones' final collegiate game came in the state of Connecticut when Maryland was upset by Oregon in the Sweet 16 game in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Chong run as a part of the winningest class in NCAA Division I women's basketball history ended with a Final Four loss to Mississippi State in the city of Dallas. Naturally, the Dallas Wings took Chong in the third round (No. 26 overall).

"I am truly blessed to be able to get this opportunity," Chong said in a statement released by UConn. "I am grateful and excited to start my new journey.  Thank you to everyone out there that supported me."

Chong becomes the 33rd UConn player taken in the WNBA Draft. It should be noted that current UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph is the only UConn player selected in the draft not to play at least one regular season game in the WNBA. Ralph likely would have made it onto a roster if not for the career-ending knee injury she suffered as a senior with the Huskies.

After having a roller coaster ride during her first three seasons at UConn, Chong had s rock-solid senior season with the Huskies hitting 40 percent of her shots from 3-point range and ranking fourth among Division I women's players (second among 2017 WNBA draftees) with an assist/turnover ratio of 3.33.

Chong is one of five college players drafted by the Wings. Kentucky's Evelyn Akhator went third overall in the first of the major surprises in the draft. South Carolina's Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis were also taken in the first round by Dallas while Kansas State's Breanna Lewis was taken by the Wings in the second round.

For Chong to play a game in Connecticut as a member of the Wings, she would have to be on the roster in August as the Wings play at Mohegan Sun Arena on Aug. 12 and 23.

According to Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller, the team wasn't set on whether it was going to take a guard or post player until Jones fell all the way to pick No. 8.

"Not one time in our war room did we think Brionna Jones would drop to 8," Miller said. "We needed more post depth and we now have tremendous post competition in our camp so it should be a lot of fun, a lot of wars throughout camp to see how the final roster plays out."

Jones led all Division I players with a field-goal percentage of 69 percent and was also in the top 10 in rebounding. She also graduated from Maryland in three years. Miller believes that Jones has one of the highest basketball IQs of the players in the draft and that she, 'absolutely is what we want in our locker room."

The pick was acquired in a trade resulting in veteran Camille Little being traded to Phoenix in a three-team trade. Also, leading scorer Chiney Ogwumike is out indefinitely and perhaps could miss the entire season after requiring surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon leaving opportunities for Jones and second-round pick Shayla Cooper to be in the post rotation as rookies.

"I think it is good fit for me because of the loss of Chiney," Jones said. "We are definitely are going to learn and grow together. We believe in each other, we believe in the program, we are looking to make an impact next year."

If there is common thread between Jones and Cooper other than the fact that they both played in the Big Ten, it could be that one of their most noteworthy performances during their junior seasons came against UConn.

Jones had 24 points on 12 of 14 shooting while Cooper had 17 points against the Huskies while going head to head with eventual No. 1 overall pick Breanna Stewart and third overall pick Morgan Tuck.

"It definitely gave me confidence in the way I was playing knowing that I could have that impact against them and I would be fine against anybody else," Jones said.

Jones and Cooper have squared off dating back to their AAU days.

"We mixed it up a lot," Cooper said with a laugh. "In zone, when I had to rotate over I caught a couple of elbows from her."

Miller said he is in contact with the Ohio State staff on an almost daily basis and was in attendance when Maryland and Ohio State squared off so he has more knowledge about Cooper's strengths and weaknesses than he would of a player from another program.

Former Florida State point guard Leticia Romero, a member of Spain's silver medal winning Olympic team, was taken with the 16th overall pick. However, Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller said that Romero's intention is to play with Spain's national team this summer before trying to make the Sun in 2018. DePaul's Jessica January was selected by the Sun in the third round and Miller said she is talented enough to make a run at landing a spot on the Sun's opening day roster.

Washington's Kelsey Plum went first overall to San Antonio while Alaina Coates of South Carolina was selected second overall by Chicago.

The Sun open training camp on April 24. While Ogwumike will not be healthy enough to play by that point, both Tuck and fellow 2016 first-round pick Rachel Banham should be good to go. Banham spoke with reporters at a draft event at Mohegan Sun Arena and declared that it will be full speed ahead when training camp commences.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wesleyan School reunion will be one to remember for UConn signee Mikayla Coombs

Mikayla Coombs already knew that she would be spending a few unforgettable days in New York by virtue of being selected to play in the Jordan Brand Classic.
Little did she know, however, that she would be seeing a familiar face on the sidelines as she is part of the third annual Jordan Brand game.

Jan Azar, who coached the UConn signee for the last six seasons at the Wesleyan School in Peachtree Corner, Georgia, is one of three coaches for the West team which includes Coombs.

"It is bittersweet," Coombs said of her final high school game shortly before Wednesday's practice began at the HSS Training Center in Brooklyn. "The reason I think I am on the West team is because my high school coach is coaching the West so it is our last go around and I am excited about that.
"We are actually super close so just the fact that she is here and able to coach me, I am super
excited."

Azar still remembers the first time Coombs came into the gym to take part in a practice at Wesleyan. The wide-eyed seventh grader had already been cut from softball and volleyball teams.

"Mikayla wanted to uphold the tradition we had already set at Wesleyan," Azar said. "When she began playing basketball back in seventh grade for us, she knew what she was getting into and she wanted to be a part of something special. When she went out with that knee injury (in the first game of her sophomore season) but I have never seen somebody more excited than Mikayla was as an injured player winning a state championship.

"She spoke at our banquet the other night about that, talked to the other kids about finding what you are good at. Just because it looks like you have the world doesn't mean you haven't had to work for it. She was cut from both of those teams in seventh grade and really dove into basketball. I think the work that she put in is what put her at this level. I knew she was going to be special, it depended on the work she wanted to put in to utilize that."

There were plenty of things that Azar could say about Coombs, what an unselfish player she is but the greatest tribute came when the other seven seniors on this year's state championship Wesleyan team paid their way to Chicago so they could see Coombs play in the McDonald's All-American Game.

Another tribute came when UConn coach Geno Auriemma said that Coombs' ability to impact a game even if her shots aren't falling reminds him of current UConn star guard Kia Nurse at a similar time in their respectively careers.

"She is an unselfish person and that translates to the court," Azar said. "I think that is a great comparison and an honor for Mikayla to be compared to somebody like that so for somebody to look up to and aspire to play like, I think it is great for her."

Coombs was a teammate of fellow UConn signee Megan Walker in the McDonald's game but she may have to guard either Walker or another UConn commit Lexi Gordon in Friday's Jordan Brand Classic.

"I think it will give me a look into what practices are like," Coombs said. "It will be fun. I got to play with Megan and now I play against her so I think it will be cool, a different perspective."

Coombs got a taste of just how competitive things are when she took part in pickup games against her fellow commits and the current UConn players during her official visit so she has some idea of what she is getting into.

"I think they are just fighters," Coombs said. "Even when we went to go scrimmage them, you could tell that even losing in scrimmages was (upsetting) to them. Lou is super competitive, Phee is super competitive, Gabby is competitive so I think it is a good environment for us because some people think winning is important but they take it seriously."

So does Coombs.

She entered a program that has played in the state title game every year since 2004. Forced to the bench with early foul trouble in the Georgia Private School 1A title game against rival Holy Innocents. Coombs had 10 points in the second quarter as Wesleyan rallied from a 17-point deficit to win the program's 12th title in the last 17 seasons. True to her nature, she impacted the game in the fourth quarter not with an offensive explosion but with stout defense, pinpoint passes and rebounds in traffic.

"She came in that second quarter, put up 10 points right away and I think that just let her
teammates know that she was there, follow me and I will lead you,"Azar said. "I think the rest of the game, it was more about involving her teammates and bringing them along with her which I think she did a really good job of, she gave them a lot of confidence.

"Once she started scoring so much, they really started keying on her and because we have some
really talented players, once they keyed on her it left her teammates open to distribute the
basketball. Mikayla didn't care how many points she had, she just wanted to win."

That is an attribute that should serve her well at the next level.

"I think my game is based off doing the little things and helping my team in any way I can," Coombs said. "It is just finding my spot at UConn and trying to help them succeed the way they have been doing."

Azar will be watching on from afar. It will be the first time that one of her players will suit up for Hall of Fame UConn coach Geno Auriemma but she has seen plenty of her star pupils play major-college basketball. Nikki Luckhurst played at Tulane, Anne Marie Armstrong and Kaelyn Causwell suited up at Georgia while more recently former Wesleyan players have gone to Auburn and Clemson.

"I think she is going into a program that we all look up to and they get it, those kids get it," Azar said. "It is a team-first atmosphere. She is going to add (the qualities) that Geno recruits to bring in there, those are kids who understand team first. She will add that along with all of these other kids who are coming in because the selfishness is not there with Mikayla and Mikayla is not a selfish player.

"I can't wait. I have never been to UConn for a game. I will be traveling. I have a daughter in
eighth grade, a son who is in the fifth grade so we will be making some trips, seeing some games
in person, that atmosphere is great for girls sports for general so I can't wait."

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Wichita State officially joins AAC

Wichita State was unanimously approved as the newest member of the American Athletic Conference.

It will benefit the conference in some sports, most notably men's basketball and baseball but shouldn't make that much of an impact from a women's basketball standpoint.

Wichita State did win 29 games during the 2013-14 season but the program is coming off of back to back losing seasons. It obviously will result in a change in a scheduling grid since another team is being added to the equation. If logic is utilized, you would think Wichita State would get to host UConn during the upcoming season to provide a jolt to the attendance although it should be noted that Wichita State averaged 2,085 fans last season and the Shockers do return leading scorer and rebounder Rangie Bessard.

It should be noted that Wichita State averaged 2,085 fans in 15 home games last season and that number would have ranked fourth in the AAC behind UConn, USF and UCF.

Here's the release from the conference

Commissioner Mike Aresco announced today the addition of Wichita State to the American Athletic Conference in men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports beginning on July 1, 2017. The American’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to accept Wichita State as its newest member.

 “We are pleased and proud to welcome Wichita State to The American,” Aresco said. “This is a University with a strong athletic and academic heritage which shares our Conference’s commitment to excellence, and we look forward to having them as a member. The University has an exceptionally strong tradition of success in men’s basketball and baseball. The addition of Wichita State in basketball and Olympic sports extends our Conference’s national footprint, enhances our national profile, and strengthens our position as a leader in intercollegiate athletics.”
        
“This is an event of great importance in defining the future of Wichita State,” John Bardo, President of Wichita State University said. “Two years ago, we set out on a fact-finding process to determine the best way athletics could help position the University for enrollment growth and enhance WSU’s reputation as an academic and research institution. It became clear to us that The American offered the best combination of universities who share our academic and cultural values and research focus.”

“On behalf of all the presidents of the American Athletic Conference, I am very happy to welcome Wichita State to our league,” said Susan Herbst, President of the University of Connecticut and Chair of The American Board of Directors. “Wichita State brings a strong academic and athletic tradition to The American, and their fans and alumni are passionate about the school and their teams. The addition of Wichita State to The American will further enhance the league and its national reputation.”

Founded in 1895, Wichita State University is a public university and the third-largest research university governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. The University is a growing leader in innovation, creativity and collaborative learning and enrolls 14,500 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. Wichita State offers 200 areas of study in seven academic undergraduate colleges, 42 master’s degrees, 12 doctoral degrees and 26 certificate programs.

Wichita State sponsors 15 sports – baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s cross country, women’s cross country, men’s golf, women’s golf, softball, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men’s indoor track & field, women’s indoor track & field, men’s outdoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and volleyball – all of which will compete in The American. The Shockers have been a member of the Missouri Valley Conference since 1945.

Wichita State’s men’s basketball program has a storied history, winning more than 1,500 contests in its 111-year history. The school has won 11 MVC regular-season championships, including four straight, and four tournament crowns, its most recent in 2017. Under current head coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers have won more than 260 games for a nearly .750 winning percentage.

Marshall’s teams have captured five MVC regular-season titles and two tournament crowns. He led Wichita State to the school’s second-ever NCAA Final Four appearance in 2013 and was named National Coach of the Year in 2014. Marshall also guided the Shockers to the National Invitation Championship in 2011 and his teams have won 25-plus contests in eight consecutive seasons.

One of five schools to win an NCAA Tournament game in each of the last five years, Wichita State has registered 10 NCAA Tournament wins since 2013, tied for fifth-most in college basketball. Over the last four seasons, the Shockers are 59-1 in home games at Charles Koch Arena (10,506 capacity), the second most wins and second-best winning percentage behind Arizona’s 66-1 record at the McKale Center. Charles Koch Arena is home to the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball programs.

Wichita State’s women’s basketball team won three consecutive MVC regular-season and tournament titles from 2013-15 and has appeared in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on four occasions. The Shocker volleyball team won the MVC Tournament title for the fourth time in school history in 2016 and has earned a berth in the NCAA Championship nine of the last 10 seasons, including an appearance in the round of 16 in 2012.

On the baseball diamond, Wichita State has won more than 2,100 games and captured the 1989 College World Series crown. The team plays in 8,153-seat Eck Stadium and boasts 37 Major League Baseball players all-time.

The Wichita State men’s and women’s tennis programs also have experienced great success. The men’s team has captured 25 MVC tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Championship on 11 occasions, while the women’s program has won 18 conference crowns and earned 10 NCAA Championship berths.

Beginning July 1, 2017, the Conference will consist of the University of Central Florida, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Connecticut, East Carolina University, the University of Houston, the University of Memphis, Southern Methodist University, the University of South Florida, Temple University, Tulane University, the U.S. Naval Academy and Wichita State University. Navy is a football-only member and Wichita State will be a basketball and Olympic sports-only member.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

UConn's Final Four loss to level playing field? I don't think so

UConn will be favored to win national title during
Kia Nurse's and Gabby Williams senior year


Based on the reactions I've seen since UConn's season ended with a loss to Mississippi
State, the issue of a lack of parity has been solved thanks to that one result or at least there is a hope of breaking the stranglehold that the Huskies have on the sport.

Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, maybe it is the euphoria from the "anybody but UConn" crew out there loving life after the Huskies run of four straight national titles came to an end but the reality is that next year is shaping up at yet another season of UConn dominating the women's basketball universe.

So what has exactly changed since the UConn loss? Other than plenty of noise on social media, not a heck of a lot.

Napheesa Collier one of three returning
All-Americans for UConn women
The Huskies will return three WBCA All-Americans. That is the first time that has ever happened. No, not in program history but in the sport's history. Not only will Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams be back but so will Kia Nurse, who only happens to be a starting guard on Canada's national team. Azura Stevens, who would have been listed among my top five players going into this season had she remained at Duke, will be eligible giving the Huskies five 1,000-point scorers. Fellow transfer Batouly Camara will also be eligible after sitting out last season as well. Highly-touted freshman Crystal Dangerfield should have a larger impact after enduring some ups and downs in her debut season and national high school player of the year Megan Walker
highlights a talented recruiting class. The depth and lack of height issues that were prevalent with the team this year are no longer issues.

The Huskies are also involved in the recruitment of three of the top four players in the Class of 2018 (Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Christyn Williams, NaLyssa Smith) and the top-rated player in 2019 (Samantha Brunelle). So if the Huskies add Williams and Brunelle to play alongside of Walker as well as top 10 Class of 2018 commit Charli Collier, don't you think the familiar refrain of UConn's dominance being bad for the sport will continue to be uttered?


Charli Collier among talented recruits who are part
of the future with UConn women's basketball team
The Huskies were already going to be the favorite to win next year's title but consider what has transpired over the last few days. National champion South Carolina lose starters Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray to the WNBA Draft, national freshman of the year Destiny Slocum is one of three players transferring out of Maryland while freshmen Tori McCoy and Kiara Lewis, both top 25 recruits, are leaving Ohio State after one season.

Wonder why the Huskies are able to dominate year after year, well roster upheavals at
other national powerhouse programs have a lot to do with that.

The year after UConn signed the class to end all recruiting classes when Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck came to Storrs and were members of four national championship teams another super class was put together. Diamond DeShields, Gray, Stephanie Mavunga and Jessica Washington were all top 25 recruits who were supposed to lead North Carolina to its first national title since 1994. They did lead the Tar Heels to 53 wins in their first two seasons before abandoning ship. UNC finished 14-18 and 15-16 over the last two campaigns. Gray did get her national title but none of the others have even made it to the Final Four - yet.

Teams like Texas, Notre Dame, UCLA and Louisville certainly have the makings of teams capable of challenging the Huskies but I don't see UConn being knocked off of its perch as the top program in the sport in the foreseeable future.

I've heard that chatter of how South Carolina is going to be able to use the momentum of this year's title run to separate itself from the pack. If that happens, Dawn Staley is going to need to get to work on the recruiting trail preparing for life after A'ja Wilson as the star of the national champions has one season remaining. I really like what I saw from freshman guard Tyasha Harris at the Final Four as she looks like a completely different player from the one I saw play against UConn in February but the jury is still out on the rest of Wilson's running mates for her final season.

Recent history has illustrated that a run to the title or the national championship game doesn't necessarily translate into a team making that next step.

Texas A&M won the championship in 2011 and has advanced to the regionals just once since that time. Duke played in the 2006 title game and hasn't returned to the Final Four again. The next year Rutgers played for the national championship and that was supposed to push them over the top. Well, the Scarlet Knights have missed four of the last five tournaments and since 2010 have won a grand total of two games in the NCAA tournament. LSU made it to five straight Final Fours from 2004-08 and its best showings since that time are two Sweet 16 appearances. What is the future looking like for  2016 national finalist Syracuse with Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes and Bria Day all graduating? Notre Dame, Baylor and Maryland are programs who used their deep NCAA runs to become among the sport's A-list programs on an annual basis but sustained excellence is much harder to hold onto.

If there is one constant it is the teams with the best player are the ones to make the most noise on the national level. Case in point, 16 of the last 21 national champions had at least one player who won either the Gatorade or WBCA national high school player of the year award. Oh, UConn happens to have the winner of both of those awards coming into the program next season.

Staley has done a remarkable job at South Carolina and it can't hurt that she is the U.S. national team head coach for the next four seasons. She already has a top 10 recruit in the fold in 2018 in Destanni Henderson. Also, I don't want to hear any of this "well, she didn't have to beat UConn in the tournament." I don't recall UConn's 2013 championship run being trivialized because the Brittney Griiner/Odyssey Sims Baylor team failed to reach the Final Four. UConn didn't get to the final game and that wasn't South Carolina's fault.

Mississippi State's upset made for a great story. Morgan William's emotional interview after the win over Baylor in the Elite Eight was as powerful as any I've ever witnessed and I knew right then that she was going to be a major part of my national semifinal advance which she was. However, the fact that it took 37 games for the Huskies to taste defeat says more about the state of sport. I sat right behind the Mississippi State bench and the pure emotion displayed when they won was great to see. That is what March Madness (although it was actually April by the time the final buzzer sounded) is all about. The question is why couldn't another team made life as difficult for UConn as Mississippi State did on that night in Dallas? The challenge now is to take the next step but to avoid the mistakes that Rutgers made of recruiting a different type of player than the ones that got them to the title game in the first place.

When I first started covering the UConn women's basketball team, it was during Sue Bird-led glory days. My second season on the beat the Huskies had seven future WNBA first-round picks (would have been eight if not for Shea Ralph's career-ending knee injury). The Huskies escaped with a win over Tennessee and lost by 16 at Notre Dame before the injuries hit. The following season UConn may have had the best starting five in the history of the sport and was pushed to the brink in the national title game by Oklahoma. I didn't even mention to down to the wire national finale between Notre Dame and Purdue in 2001. The competition level at the current time is nowhere near what it was during that time. The Huskies lose Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck and head into the Final Four with an undefeated record despite playing every top team that is could schedule. That simply should not have happened.

How is it that there were such compelling matchups a decade and a half ago and now we are talking about the future of the game being bright and how the game was improved because UConn lost in the Final Four? The quality of play in the national semifinals was not exactly anything to write home about, the officiating even worse. William did the sport a world of good because had UConn won that game, the attention would have been on that flagrant foul called well after the fact which had the Huskies executed properly, would have put them in the national championship game. If that had happened it would mean that both the Division I college and WNBA titles were influenced by shoddy officiating down the stretch which is not a good look for the sport.
The fact that UConn nearly walked away with an undefeated season and national title after losing the players taken No. 1, 2 and 3 in the WNBA Draft speaks volumes of how the game has failed to capitalize on those great 2000, 2001 and 2002 seasons when players like Tamika Catchings, Ruth Riley, Stacey Dales and Katie Douglas helped their teams put up a fight against star-studded UConn squads.

I tweeted late in the UConn/Mississippi State game that I wish there were about 20 of these games a season to cover and I stand by that statement. Florida State and Tulane deserve credit for what they did against UConn this season before the Huskies emerged with hard-fought victories but so many of the other top programs simply did not live up to their end of the bargain.

I've seen some what of the outrage after Geno Auriemma's comments on the dwindling number of female head coaches at the Division I level. It was probably a better story a season ago when - gasp - all four Final Four teams were coached by men. Oh the humanity. I remember hearing stories about prominent female head coaches high fiving each other when Notre Dame beat UConn in the 2001 Final Four. The reaction wasn't because they were that happy for Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw but because Auriemma lost.

More recently an organization consisting of female coaches had a post on social media asking what impact Auriemma has made to the game. The fact that somebody who I assume is involved in the sport has to even ask the question is beyond pathetic. There is a story this year of an All-American who approached Auriemma after her team lost to the Huskies asking for advice on how to get better. Even though there is a chance that player could have knocked his Huskies out of the tournament, he took her aside and told her what UConn's scouting report was. Auriemma said to her to make the notes on her scouting report as few and far between as possible. Tell me how many coaches would take that step? How many times have coaches come to watch his practices and I've never heard of a time when he said no. Try asking Quinnipiac coach Tricia Fabbri of the role Auriemma had when she went after that job or count the number of his former players who have headed into the coaching profession.

I've heard stories of prominent coaches distancing themselves from their former players once they left the program but try counting the number of former Huskies who show up at the Final Four year after year. How about when he sat down with the coach who would knock him out of the NCAA tournament to answer questions about his offensive coaching philosophy. I remember asking him about how much more aggressively Brittney Griner goes up for layups after her time with the U.S. national team after Griner helped Baylor hand UConn a loss and he simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say am I not supposed to coach her to the best of my ability so I can win a college game? Sure, he has his agenda but to say the former president of the WBCA is only interested in what is best for UConn or requesting examples of what he has done to make the game better is downright laughable.
Look, I understand Auriemma's personality rubs people the wrong way but I also understand that there are those who have been entrusted for growing the sport that are more interested in seeing male coaches gone from the game rather than having the best possible coaching candidates involved in the game.

I don't cover women's soccer and softball at the collegiate level but I haven't heard of North Carolina's Anson Dorrance and Arizona's Mike Candrea being viewed as public enemy No. 1 in the female sports that they dominated. How much of that is Auriemma getting under people's skins and how much of that is simply the amount of pettiness in the women's basketball world? I don't have an answer to that question.

I would think the goal is to have teams coached by the best people but instead the attention turns to the gender of the coaches. It shouldn't matter that Auriemma and Vic Schaefer are men coaching women, it should matter that they have elevated their programs to remarkable levels as have Staley, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer, Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw among others. Take a look at the Oregon State program since Scott Rueck took over and tell me that he hasn't done a remarkable job turning around a program that was in disarray. There's no way what he has done or what Kelly Graves figures to do in the coming years at Oregon is bad for the sport.

I'd love to see a time when UConn's game against Mississippi State becomes the rule and not the exception but I'm not optimistic that will ever be the case while Auriemma is at the helm and I am certainly not anticipating that taking place during the 2017-18 season.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

UConn's Collier, Samuelson, Williams named WBCA All-Americans

It's time to make room up on the wall for most additions to the Huskies of Honor.

Sophomore forward Napheesa Collier, sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelson and junior forward Gabby Williams were among 10 players named to the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Division I All-American team it marked the first time three non-seniors from one team were selected to the squad.

They will be the next trio of players to join the Huskies of Honor. The ceremony honoring Williams figures to take place late next season while Collier and Samuelson will need to wait until the 2018-19 to see their numbers up with the all-time greats in UConn history.

It is the fourth season in a row that the Huskies had three WBCA first-team All-Americans and sixth time it happened in program history. Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Diana Taurasi accomplished the feat during the 2001-02 season, Tina Charles, Renee Montgomery and Maya Moore were the honorees in '08-09. Breanna Stewart was part of the next three occurences joining Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley on the 2013-14 squad, Moriah Jefferson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in '14-15 while Jefferson and Morgan Tuck joined Stewart on last season's All-American team.

Collier and Samuelson became the first set of UConn teammates to average at least 20 points per game in the same season. Collier's 754 points were tied for third and Samuelson's 747 placed fifth on UConn's single-season charts. Samuelson's 118 3-pointers is tie for the second most in program history and she is one of two UConn players with at least 100 3-pointers and assists in the same season. Collier's 336 rebounds is tied for ninth.

Collier and Williams joined Maya Moore and former teammate Breanna Stewart as the only UConn players with at least 50 steals and 50 blocked shots in the same season.

Williams, who was also named the WBCA's Defensive Player of the Year, is the first player in program history with 300 rebounds and 100 steals in the same season. Her 100 steals were tied for seventh on UConn's single-season list and her 190 assists rank eighth.

Also, UConn coach Geno Auriemma was named the winner of the Naismith Coach of the Year award for the eighth time. The award was announced the same day that Rebecca Lobo became the first of Auriemma's UConn players to be part of the induction class for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Lobo was the first national-level recruit to take a chance on a former Virginia assistant coach Geno Auriemma when she committed to UConn. Now she is the first of his former UConn stars headed to the Hall of Fame.

Fifteen miles away, but it took a lifetime to get there. #SouthwickToSpringfield #413

Lobo arrived at UConn in 1991 a few months after the Huskies reached their first Final Four. After the Huskies lost their first game in the NCAA tournament during her freshman and sophomore seasons. During Lobo's junior season the Huskies reached the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina. The following season Lobo was the centerpiece of Auriemma's first national championship team as the Huskies went 35-0. Lobo was not only the national player of the year but her personality made her more than just a resident superstar. She has kept a high profile during her injury-shortened career in the WNBA and during her role as a women's basketball analyst for ESPN.


UCONN RETURNS HOME TOMORROW
UConn announced that the team is expected to land at Bradley Airport at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow and will head to campus after that.

There's not going to be any media availability so I won't be there to provide coverage of their return.

UConn's surprising run ends with stunning Final Four loss

If I said I did not see this coming I would only be partially accurate.

When the season began I thought there would be times when the young UConn women's basketball team would act its age. I wasn't expecting there to be a ton of times when the Huskies struggled to pile up the wins but thought it was inevitable that they might tumble every now and then.

Well, other than the season opener at Florida State and a game at Tulane, the new-look UConn team passed all the tests and headed to the Final Four undefeated even after bidding adieu to All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.The clock struck midnight not long after midnight with an overtime loss to Mississippi State.

Morgan William (whose story of pressing on following the death of her beloved stepfather three years ago was a large portion of my advance) did the honors with a buzzer-beating jumper.

It certainly will go down as one of the biggest upsets in women's college basketball history although when the it is all said and done, I'm not sure it would top Baylor's loss to Louisville when Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims were on the verge of putting that Lady Bears team into the conversation as the best women's basketball team of all time or Tennessee's loss to Duke back in 1999 when the Lady Vols seemed destined for a 4-peat.

"They deserved to win today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the record 111-game winning streak came to an end. "We had them on the ropes a couple of times and they never backed down. Sometimes you think they snuck one out on us but they deserved to win today.
"Of course the kids in the locker room are disappointed we lost and disappointed we didn't play our regular UConn kind of game but when it wears it, you realize that they kicked our butts tonight in some really important areas."

William's 14-foot jumper over Gabby Williams' outstretched hand dropped through the basket as time expired to give the Bulldogs the 66-64 overtime victory.

The shot ended the longest winning streak in NCAA basketball history at 111 games and avenged a 60-point loss to the Huskies in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

"When I made the shot, I was in shock," William said. "I'm still in shock. I'm over here like, 'hey, I just won the game.

"My teammates are just so happy and proud of me. I can't thank them enough because I can't be playing the way I'm playing without them."

UConn (36-1) were in position to steal the game away.

Katie Lou Samuelson was awarded two free throws when an official review resulted in Dominique Dillingham being called for a flagrant foul. After Samuelson made the free throws, the Huskies had the ball with a chance to take the last shot. Senior Saniya Chong's attempt to win the game resulted in a play ruled as a turnover but could just as easily been considered to be a shot. There was no question where Mississippi State was going after calling a timeout with 13 seconds left.

William, coming off a 41-point effort in a win over Baylor to earn a spot in the Final Four, drove and took the shot heard 'round the women's basketball world.

"All of us really wanted it to end on a better note," Samuelson said. "I was in a little bit of disbelief. it dodn' really hit me until we got closer to the locker room because when she hit that shot, it was kind of weird. I didn't know how to act."

Gabby Williams led UConn with 21 points but the team leader in assists had just two to go with five assists. Mississippi State had 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan guard Williams in the high post knowing that there would be times when Williams would drive in for layups but McCowan's size would keep Williams from distributing the ball the way she has all season long.

"I could only give so much so me trying to contest her and try to make her score over my height was the main thing going into the game," McCowan said.

Schaefer addressed the strategy as Mississippi State's decision to try to disrupt Williams as a facilitator in the high post is something only accomplished this season in a three-point win at Tulane.
"She got drove on a couple times," Schaefer said. "We knew there'd be some heartache with that. We also knew that might be the best thing in the long run to help us put a kink in the sprocket, so to speak."

Auriemma pinpointed the issue to Samuelson, who had only eight of her 15 points in the first three quarters and Collier struggling to get into a rhythm leaving Williams to try to carry the offensive load.

It's hard not to like this Mississippi State team. I was really impressed with my dealings with the players and in particular William.

It was a tough ending for UConn senior Saniya Chong who had a major role in the Huskies putting together the season they had but she was the one who tried to give the Huskies the lead in the closing seconds only to be charged with a turnover.

"They are going to remember that play because they have never been in that situation, they've never sat on the bench and watched," Auriemma said. "Those people have never been in the Final Four.

"Saniya's played more minutes in the NCAA tournament this year than she did in the other three years combined.  Now she gets the ball and tried to make a play to win the game. OK, only problem was it was seven seconds too early. She is trying to make a play to win the game. We probably wouldn't be in the situation we were in if she didn't have the last couple of months that she had."

Auriemma obviously wanted to get two more wins this season so the Huskies could have walked away with the program's 12th national title. However, he's more than happy to bid adieu to the questions about the longest winning streak in NCAA basketball history.

"I wish it would have happened against Florida State, I wish it would have happened against South Carolina, I wish it would have happened against Baylor, I wished it would have happened against Tulane," Auriemma said. "I've been praying for the end to the winning streak all season long because it is an incredible distraction."