Rockne's Weekly Wrap-Up
Jan. 25, 2006
By Dick Rockne
Halfway through the Pac-10 Conference season it appears, at first glance, that all is normal.
Stanford is in its accustomed position (first place), Cardinal sophomore Candice Wiggins appears destined to earn her second player-of-the-year crown and the other preseason all-league choices (Nikki Blue and Noelle Quinn of UCLA, Brooke Smith of Stanford and Emily Westerberg of Arizona State) are representing themselves well.
But the women's basketball story lines for 2006 don't end there. Consider:
The rise to prominence of Washington and California. The Huskies, labeled a seventh-place team in the preseason poll of coaches, is in third place. The Golden Bears have soared into a tie for fourth on the wings of a bunch of freshmen after being picked to finish eighth.
The quality of the league's freshmen class. Cal's Devanei Hampton, Alexis Gray-Lawson, Ashley Walker and Jene Morris are playing far beyond a typical first-year level. So, too, are Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jillian Harmon for Stanford, Katie Appleton and Amanda DuRocher of Washington State, Nadia Parker of USC and Kirsten Thompson of Arizona State.
Upper-class newcomer? How about Joy Hollingsworth of Arizona. The junior transfer from Santa Clara is 10th in the league in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.4 per game).
There might not be a better story than the one being presented by USC junior Eshaya Murphy. The 5-11 forward from Canoga Park, Calif., has elevated herself from relative obscurity as a sophomore to stardom with a revived work ethic that surprised her coaches. She has doubled her scoring average from 8.3 points per game last season to 16.4. From making 25.7 percent of her three-point attempts last season, she is at 39.4 percent this season.
USC coach Mark Trakh said Murphy began taking her game more seriously after enjoying the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament in 2005. After not doing anything in the way of self-improvement the previous summer, she did about all she could last summer.
She told Trakh that she was going to work out every day; that she was going to lift, run and shoot 300 times a day.
'And the coaches were like, `yeah, sure, Shay,''' Trakh recalled.
'We gave them a couple weeks off and she said, `I'm not even going to take a couple weeks off. I'm going to start working now.' And she did after a couple of days and the coaches were betting about how long it would be before she stopped working.
'Son of a gun ... every day, 300 shots a day all summer. She really improved.''
Shay, said Trakh, became a `workout-a-holic' who is in the gym all the time and really doesn't take a day off.
'She's just made herself a really good basketball player. She's really improved. She's come a long way and we're really proud of her.''
Burt won't be forgotten
Kayla Burt never played on a championship team at Washington. She never was named all-Pac-10. But the legacy she leaves behind - an unquenchable desire to play the game of basketball at the highest level possible no matter the odds -- might be more important than either one.
Burt, thrust into the national spotlight on New Year's Eve, 2002, when she suffered a cardiac arrest and was kept alive by teammates until medical help arrived, attracted more attention when, 20 months later, she resumed her Husky career despite being tethered to a surgically implanted defibrillator. Her decision to return only was made after tests failed to confirm why she had nearly died.
Included in the deal Burt made that led to her return in August, 2004, was a stipulation that if the defibrillator ever did what it was built to do - respond to a heart malfunction with a jolt of battery powered electricity - she would accept the fact that her career would be over. During a home game against UCLA Jan. 12, while Burt was seated on the UW bench, her defibrillator went off twice.
'It felt like somebody threw a ball at me or someone punched me and then I realized I'd been shocked,'' Burt said. 'It happened very fast. I opened my eyes and said `I think my defibrillator went off.' That's when I got up and started crying and panicking a little bit and saying `where's my mom, where's my mom.'''
Not long after the first jolt, Burt received Jolt No. 2. After being rushed to the hospital, it was determined that the defibrillator had not malfunctioned; that it had done what it was supposed to do in responding the way it did to rapid heart beats.
Four days later Burt, 23, announced her retirement for good, a half season shy of exhausting her eligibility.
Burt leaves behind a legacy described by UW coach June Daugherty as 'unbelievable, for the impact she's had with our program, our university, with people across the country ... she's a great leader, a great inspirer.''
Burt said she is thankful for the second opportunity she had to play the game she loves and that the whole experience changed her attitude about life and sports.
'It wasn't as important for me to go out and score 20 points and be the all star,'' she said. 'It was amazing to me to just put my uniform on every night. Every single game was such a big deal for me because I couldn't believe I was stepping on the court again.
'Win or lose, we all hate to lose, but for me it was just such an amazing experience to be on the floor one more time.''
Coach Charli Turner Thorne of Arizona State called Burt's career 'an amazing success story, just being able to come back and play.
'She's an inspiration to us all. I'm sure she'll be successful in whatever she chooses to do,'' Turner Thorne said.
Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini, who called Burt, 'a great kid,'' added:
'I think everyone knows that and she has great support from her family and teammates and coaches. She appreciated every opportunity and every day she has been given and I think she'll continue to do that.''
Beginning in 2001, Burt played in 78 UW games. She averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds. As a reserve this season she averaged 6.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
Oregon vs. OSU: 2 games in 4 days
The scheduling pressure imposed on Pac-10 women's teams - this year they had little more than a month to play non-conference games before the league season began Dec. 20 - is being brought to a head this week in Oregon where the Ducks and Beavers are going to play each other four days apart.
Instead of playing each other the first week of the Conference season the two schools decided on this week's format - Oregon at OSU Wednesday night, OSU at Oregon Saturday afternoon - so they could complete their nine-game non-conference schedule in December. Oregon State played Cincinnati Dec. 29; Oregon played Colorado Dec. 30.
'We had a little more than a month to get in nine non-conference games,'' Oregon coach Bev Smith said. 'And if you take out a week for final exams when you can't play I think you can see where we were taxed for time and space to get those nine games in and still look out for the health and welfare of the athletes and not having them play every second or third day.''
Preparing to play the same team four days apart is unusual, Smith said.
'It's something we're just going to have to deal with,'' Smith said. 'The coaches and players have never been through it so it's a new thing for us. With all kinds of things like this you see it as a challenge and not a problem. Either way it's going to be interesting because our rivalry with Oregon State is pretty intense.''
Oregon State's first-year coach, LaVonda Wagner, never was part of the negotiations that led to this week's situation.
`We'd like to have this more spread out, but it is what it is,'' Wagner said. 'On the positive side is you've done your scouting and you don't have to prepare for another opponent two days later.
'But it will be hard because any time you go against a team that is your rival there is a lot of emotions and things that come into play. From a mental standpoint that can be a little stressful.''
In past seasons, Stanford and California have played each other twice in four days, also because of scheduling pressures.
'I don't think it's bad,'' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. 'It can bring some positive attention to (the rivalry). It allows you to schedule some other teams.
'It does make for a funny feeling when you play someone and turn around and play them right back. You are rivals. Anything can happen. I think it will be fun for them. I think it will kind of stoke up the rivalry. If it wasn't big enough already it will just get bigger.''