Rockne's Weekly Wrap-Up

Jan. 11, 2006

By Dick Rockne

The category: Women's basketball story of the year in the Pac-10 Conference. So far.

The nominees:

Washington, picked to finish seventh in a preseason poll of league coaches, is in second place at 4-1 and 11-3 despite having a shooting percentage below 40.

The inability of teams to win on the road. After a third of the season six teams are unbeaten in league games played at home and none are unbeaten on the road.

California's phenomenal freshmen (Phenomenal Phreshmen?) and the Golden Bears' new coach, Joanne Boyle, who are largely responsible for the team's rise to prominence with records of 4-2 and 12-4 going into a battle with Bay Area rival Stanford at Palo Alto.

The winner? How about the Boyle-led Cal freshmen, who in less than two months have established the Bears as a viable candidate for comeback team of the year nationally? A year ago Cal finished 4-14 (eighth) in the Pac-10, 11-18 overall and without its coach, Caren Horstmeyer, fired after five seasons.

Horstmeyer, however, left something good behind: a recruiting class the rating service, Blue Star Report, pegged as seventh best in the nation. Not bad pegging. The all-California quintet is headed by Devanei Hampton and Alexis Gray-Lawson, McDonald's All-Americans from Oakland Tech, Ashley Walker of Modesto, Shantrell Sneed of Fairfield and Jene Morris of San Francisco.

Collectively, the freshmen have scored 74.4 percent of Cal's points (766 of 1,029) and pulled down 54 percent of the team's rebounds (342 of 632).

Hampton, a 6-foot-3 post player, is averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. Gray-Lawson, 5-8, has averages of 13.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Walker's averages as a 6-0 forward are 12.9 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds.

According to Boyle, the success the athletic freshmen are having is the result of their backgrounds as winners and what they are being asked to respond to daily in practices.

'We really challenge them as a staff in practice,'' Boyle said. 'We make them go through things they're going to see in games. Some of our practices are brutal. We try to make every drill be competitive. We have to have a winner and loser of some sort ... against the clock or whatever. We're always putting them in situations like that.

'And then I just think some of these kids are just gamers.''

USC coach Mark Trakh, whose Women of Troy lost at California, 73-68, came away a Bear believer.

'They are very, very good,'' Trakh said. 'I thought they'd be good. But they're athletic. They're strong. They all jump really, really well, as we found out first hand. They're a great group of kids.

'Devanei Hampton is going to be really good. She is already. She's going to get better. Alexis Gray-Lawson is a really good point guard. They're not playing like freshmen.''

Trakh then expressed the ultimate comment in his assessment:

'I think it's a legitimate tournament team.''

By 'tournament,' Trakh was talking about the NCAA showdown, something California hasn't been a part of since 1993.

Home is where the wins are

Six Pac-10 teams have not lost a league game at home. No teams - zero - are unbeaten on the road.

First-place Stanford has one Pac-10 loss - on the road at Washington. Second-place Washington has one league loss - on the road at Arizona State. California, USC and UCLA and tied for third at 4-2 with all six of their losses on the road.

Arizona State was flying high atop the standings with a 3-0 record until the Sun Devils' journey to Los Angeles. They came home 3-2 and in sixth place.

USC coach Trakh, who is finding winning on the road more difficult in the Pac-10 than he did as head coach at Pepperdine of the West Coast Conference, said energy and competitive balance are key factors.

'It just seems like teams are more intense and have a lot more energy at home,'' Trakh said. 'We are definitely like that. We have a lot more energy at home. We've got to figure out how to transfer that energy to the road.'

Home-court advantage is enhanced when the teams involved are competitive.

'I think that in the Pac-10, especially this year, teams are so evenly matched that the home court becomes an advantage simply because you are at home,'' Trakh said.

Found: one point guard

Although there's nothing official about the club, the exclusive membership list includes some of the best players ever to compete in the Pac-10: Sonja Henning, Jennifer Azzi, Milena Flores, Jamila Wideman ...

All have one thing in common: they played point guard for Stanford and rank, one through four, on the Cardinal's career assist ladder.

Add to the membership list Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, a freshman from Rego Park, N.Y., who has become coach Tara VanDerveer's player of choice for the vital point-guard position.

'I think she's really improved a lot,'' VanDerveer said. 'She's come a long way quickly. We need her to keep improving but I think she's one of the main reasons we've been successful the last couple of games.''

Important, VanDerveer said, is Gold-Onwude gaining the team's and coaches' confidence in running the offense.

'She's getting a lot of assists and not turning it over,'' the coach said. 'I thought her defense was exceptional against Nikki Blue (UCLA). She's steady. She's showing great maturity.''

The emergence of Gold-Onwude at the point is important for another reason: All-American Candice Wiggins, who has had to play the position at times this season, now is free to find ways to score. With Gold-Onwude running the offense, Wiggins scored 37 points in a victory over Oregon.

Gold-Onwude leads the Cardinal in assists with 44. All she needs is 714 more to better Henning's career record of 757.

NOTES: Due to begin her college career this week is Arizona freshman Amina Njonkou, 6-1 forward who has been recovering from a stress fracture in her right foot. Due back is Stanford junior Kristen Newlin, 6-5 center who has been been recovering from a stress fracture of her left femur. ... Quote of the week: 'We come out and we don't execute our game plan and we just wait until we get punched in the face and then we start playing,' said Washington state coach Sherri Murrell, whose Cougars have lost seven straight games. ... And this from Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, whose Sun Devils lost road games to USC and UCLA after beginning the Pac-10 campaign 3-0: 'Sure, we would have liked to have gone undefeated, but I think we know what we didn't do. It's not rocket science.''



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