The Pac-10 had its first of three coaches’ conference calls this season and here’s some snippets from each of the coaches’ Q&A sessions. There’s no Stanford here because the Cardinal are in the throes of their big stretch and there’s no lacking for material there. Arizona State The 14th-ranked Sun Devils are about to embark on their toughest challenge of the season to date, back-to-back games against Texas A&M and Baylor in Las Vegas. “We’ve had a pretty good preseason schedule, but this is certainly going to show us exactly where we are,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said.
Turner Thorne has called this a “learning preseason” for her team, which has seven new players on the roster.
“I don’t have a lot of expectations,” Turner Thorne said. “We are having good growth as a team, but we had a long way to go. There’s a lot of newness and inexperience. We are kind of getting our identity, we are getting better at playing together. I don’t know that we could be further along. This team works hard, they work extra. They are doing the little things that pay off week-by-week.”
The Wildcats are coming off their second loss of the season, a 81-61 defeat at New Mexico. The finals break ends Sunday with a game at Georgia Tech.
“I certainly think we learned a hard lesson (from the New Mexico loss),” Wildcats coach Naya Butts said. “You can’t come out flat and remain that way for the duration. You have to be up for basketball, you can’t look forward to the Christmas break too early. I think we’ve learned, we had a long film session. We need to understand what it is going to take to compete night in and night out.”
Butts said the progress of forward Ify Ibekwe is “going OK.” Ibekwe is still overcoming a slow start to the season after sustaining a severe ankle sprain over the summer with USA Basketball. She’s third on the team in scoring at 11.7 ppg and is the leading rebounder at 12.7 per game.
“That’s slowed her a little,” Butts said. “She’s just working hard and she will get better and grow as a leader.”
The Cougars will be playing taking their show on the road Saturday against USF, playing a double-header with the men at Kennewick, Washington. Both games will be televised locally.
“We are going to showcase our team to our fans who can’t come all the way to Pullman, especially with the weather this time of year,” Washington State coach June Daugherty said. “Our students are gone this time of year. I feel like this is a great opportunity to take our team a little closer to our fans. From what I hear, the games are almost sold out.”
Daugherty said she likes the direction her young team is headed, even with a 4-5 mark.
“We’re working on it, when you have a team with 90 percent freshmen and sophomores,” Daugherty said.
Daugherty said consistency is the hardest thing to attain with a young team.
“It’s a work in progress. The players are very hungry to become consistent,” Daugherty said. “We just have to keep working at it and it’s not the end of the world when things don’t go the way you want.”
Add guard Sara Mosiman to the list of injured Huskies players. Mosiman has a shin injury that required surgery on Wednesday. She is expected to be out two to three months, which may well be the season.
That makes four season-ending injuries for Washington, including Liz Lay, Lydia Young and Amanda Johnson – the latter three with knee injuries.
“When we have a full roster, we are pretty good,” Washington coach Tia Jackson said. “We are learning now how to bounce back, how to gel as a unit with the players we currently have healthy.
Kristi Kingma will replace Mosiman in the starting lineup.
“We felt a lot more comfortable going into the year knowing we had a lot more and we love to have (our injured players), but this team has been hit with enough in the past that we can bounce back and continue to move forward.”
Michael Cooper’s team has a couple of big wins, a very close loss to Duke in Durham and still a lot of work to do.
Cooper is transitioning from his time in the WNBA.
“It’s been a big adjustment. The players are not quite as talented as at the next level, but these players are excited and eager to learn,” Cooper said. “At the next level, sometimes you have to tell players to play hard because they can turn it on and turn it off. At college, you don’t have to tell these young ladies to play hard.”
The hardest thing, Cooper said, has been dealing with injuries.
“You look around the league and see a lot of kids sitting with knee injuries,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of injuries at this level. That’s been the most surprising. You can’t just go get somebody off the waiver. You have to make it work with what you have.”
Cooper said that his staff inherited about 40 percent of the team’s non-conference schedule.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d add a couple more tough teams to put an edge to it,” Cooper said.
The Bruins had plenty of young talent when Nikki Caldwell arrived, but she’s got even more this year. Freshman Markel Walker, who is averaging 12 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
And Jasmine Dixon, the transfer from Rutgers, became eligible this week and started quickly out of the gate, with 19 points and 10 rebounds against Santa Barbara.
“Markel is consistently giving us a double-double every game, and I’m really pleased to have Jasmine on the roster,” Caldwell said. ”
Caldwell said that building team chemistry, mixing Walker and Dixon with returners such as Darxia Morris and Doreena Campbell has been the biggest challenge.
“It’s something we continue to build on and get better at,” Caldwell said.
UCLA is back in action on Friday against Texas Tech, the beginning of a three-game homestand leading into conference play.
The Beavers are sitting a 6-2 and coach LaVonda Wagner is happy with that, considering how much new is happening in Corvallis this season.
“This is a very different team than it was last year when we had a senior-laden team and I’m impressed with how the team has handled that,” Wagner said. “It’s no big secret that we are not big, we don’t have a lot of size. We want to use our speed, get up and down the floor, score in transition.”
The Ducks (8-2) have been putting up points and biding their time until the schedule improved. That happened Wednesday night in Atlanta against No. 25 Georgia Tech and the Ducks lost 87-69.
Oregon, playing its first ranked opponent of the season, was coming off a 10-day break. The Ducks were outrebounded 53-34.
“We played so many games in the two weeks going into the exam break,” Ducks coach Paul Westhead said. “I think the way the schedule is unfolding it was a good time for us to get back up again and play a high quality team”
Oregon had played all but one game at home headed into the trip to Atlanta. The Ducks close with three in a row on the road before conference play begins.
“I wouldn’t say we are experienced with the road quiet yet,” Westhead said.
The Bears are recovering from their embarrassing loss to San Jose State and trying to regroup in time for Monday’s game at Long Beach State.
Coach Joanne Boyle said her team was improving until the game against the Spartans, which represented a step backward.
“I felt like we grew a lot from Baylor to Ohio State to Texas A&M and we talked about what happened against San Jose State, going up by 16 or 17 and just totally relaxing.”
Boyle said the lapse was not a total function of youth.
“What we’ve been so good at is having a lot of heart and intensity. Teams who have come up against us in the past, it’s been a workhorse game and we don’t have that identity yet,” Boyle said. “We have at times, but it is not consistent. People have to compete every possession and we haven’t gotten to the point where we understand that yet.”