Only three years ago, before Adia Barnes was hired to coach the struggling program at her alma mater Arizona, Oregon traveled to Vermillion, S.D., in its quest for a WNIT title. They were forced to play at South Dakota in the WNIT semifinals. The Ducks were routed 88-54.
That was 2016. This is 2019: The Ducks, under fifth-year coach Kelly Graves, are a game away from reaching the NCAA tournament’s Final Four. Oregon behind triple-double machine Sonia Ionescu and frontcourt standouts Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally face top-seed Mississippi State tomorrow in the Portland Regional Final.
Ionescu and Hebard, both juniors, came on board right after the humbling loss at South Dakota in the WNIT. Sabally is a sophomore. They are the reason why Oregon is 32-4 and in its third consecutive Elite Eight game since that loss at South Dakota.
Oregon played the first three games at home in the 2016 WNIT, similar to Arizona’s current run against Idaho State, Pacific and Idaho, heading into tomorrow’s quarterfinal game against Wyoming at McKale Center at 2 p.m.
The Ducks’ attendance figures in each round of the 2016 WNIT:
870 — Oregon beat Long Beach State in the first round.
1,142 — Oregon beat Fresno State in the second round.
1,165 — Oregon beat Utah in the third round.
The WNIT then shipped the Ducks to UTEP, where Oregon won, before scheduling them at South Dakota in that tournament’s version of the Final Four.
Arizona’s attendance figures in the 2019 WNIT so far:
3,265 — Arizona beat Idaho State in the first round.
3,534 — Arizona beat Pacific in the second round.
6,307 — Arizona beat Idaho in the third round.
The crowds are remarkably in Barnes’ favor when it comes to community involvement compared to Graves’ early years at Eugene.
The similarities: Sophomore Aari McDonald, by the time she is a senior, can be the equivalent of Ionescu. McDonald’s All-American forward Cate Reese, who is excelling as a freshman, can compare to Hebard over the long run. Sam Thomas, a sophomore forward, had 13 points and six steals with two emphatic blocked shots against Idaho. She had 16 points against UCLA, which took UConn to the limit yesterday in a Sweet 16 game. She can evolve into an all-Pac-12 performer.
Barnes’ team returns all its starters next season and is welcoming a four-player recruiting class of international talent that includes Latvian guard Mara Mote, Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga (who joined the team at the semester break in January and is redshirting), Turkish 6-foot-4 post player Sevval Gul and Icelandic 6-2 forward Birna Benonysdottir.
Mote and Benonysdottir competed in the European U18 Championship last summer.
Candrea still on cusp of most career wins in NCAA softball history
Maybe Mike Candrea will coach long enough to outlast Michigan’s Carol Huthcins.
Candrea, 63, is four wins shy of Hutchins, 61, for the most career wins in NCAA softball history. Candrea, who is in his 32nd year of coaching at Arizona, has won 1,588 games while Hutchins has 1,592 over 36 seasons of coaching.
The Wildcats (25-7, 7-0 Pac-12) are one win away from their fourth straight series win over ASU (25-8, 5-2 Pac-12) and are one win away from their sixth straight Pac-12 series win (dating back to last season). Arizona and ASU meet on Saturday in Game 2 of the series beginning at 5 p.m.
In case you are wondering, the 7-0 start is behind other unbeaten starts in the Pac-12. Only two years ago, the Wildcats started 13-0 in league play en route to a 52-9 season and falling one game short of returning to the Women’s College World Series.
All in the family for Dennys
Pusch Ridge standout pitcher Kyrie Denny’s grandfather, John Denny Sr., won the Cy Young in 1983. Her father, John Denny Jr., played football and baseball for Arizona and her mother, Lore Momaday Denny played basketball at Catalina Foothills alongside Julie Brase Hairgrove (Lute Olson’s granddaughter).
John Denny Sr., who was born in Prescott and attended Prescott High School, enjoyed the best season of his 13-year MLB career in 1983, going 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He topped the NL in wins and winning percentage and was second in ERA. He also led the Phillies to the NL championship. In that year’s Cy Young Award voting, he received 20 of 24 first-place votes to win going away.
York thriving on and off court in G League
Former Arizona guard Gabe York has earned the 2019 NBA G League Sportsmanship Award as voted on by all NBA G League players. The award honors the player who best represents the ideals of character and conduct on the court and in the community.
York played an integral role in the Lakeland (Fla.) Magic’s community events during the season. As part of his efforts, he helped build a home for a family in need and visited elementary school students throughout Polk County, Fla.
York is also averaging 16.4 points and 3.1 assists per game for the Magic, who are in the G League Playoffs. They play in the conference finals tomorrow against the Long Island Nets at 4 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
In last night’s 104-91 win over the Westchester Knicks, York struggled from the floor, making 3 of 11 shots but he had four steals.
Aldiva First Amphi College All-American Wrestler
Former Amphi wrestling standout Yarhoski Aldiva was part of the 2019 NJCAA Wrestling Central District Championship team at Iowa Central Junior College, which went on to place third at the NJCAA National Wrestling Championship earlier this month.
Aldiva placed eighth at the national event at 149 pounds, earning him All-American status. He is the first collegiate All-American wrestler to come out of Amphi.
Bravo-Young part of another dynasty
Roman Bravo-Young went from competing in the Sunnyside wrestling dynasty, that has won 32 titles in 40 years, to Penn State, which last week won their fourth straight NCAA title and eighth in the last nine years.
For Bravo-Young to start as a true freshman in Cael Sanderson’s program — even more dominating than the football juggernaut Nick Saban has at Alabama — is a testament to Bravo-Young’s ability.
These memories are dope but keep the dreams bigger than your memories. Thankful to be on this team, learned a lot this season from the ups and downs. pic.twitter.com/9P25J5Entw
Bravo-Young earned All-American status as a true freshman by placing eighth in the 133-pound class as a No. 10 seed. He plans on returning to Tucson after the school year to visit family and train here before heading back to Penn State for the Nittany Lions’ summer camp in late June and early July.
Pima’s Koehler visiting NAU this weekend
Kennedy Koehler, a sophomore forward who wrapped up his one-year Pima experience last weekend in the NJCAA Division II national tournament, has almost 30 scholarship offers including 10 from Division I schools. He is taking a visit to NAU this weekend.
His other Division I offers: Florida Gulf Coast, Nicholls State, New Hampshire, Incarnate Word, Fairfield, Idaho, Canisius, Hartford and North Carolina-Wilmington.
Congratulations @KennedyKoehler on receiving a scholarship to continue his education and basketball career to Florida Gulf Coast University. The Eagles are part of the Atlantic Sun Conference. pic.twitter.com/YrJvKc6HKX
Don’t listen to the talk that a performance in a national tournament does not matter when it comes to recruiting. You hear it all the time: Recruiters know the players by then. Not so. Koehler is reaping the benefits of averaging 26 points and 14 rebounds in his four games in the NJCAA tournament. After Pima lost its first game, it played in three consolation games, winning all the way to a seventh-place finish. How important were those consolation games for Koehler? Great that NJCAA does not make teams go home after a loss.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.