A full slate of basketball tips Friday with 123 games on the NCAA docket. Some matchups have already concluded, the ESPN networks debuting its broadcast season lineup of games at 2pm (PT) with UNC-Greensboro at Florida State on ESPN3.com. Seminoles coach Sue Semaru (Shorecrest HS) is entering her 17th season and only has three returning players on her roster.
Locally, No. 25 Gonzaga’s 6pm tip against Idaho at the McCarthey Athletic Center is the headliner. It’s the opener of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and will be aired online. The Vandals, led by senior F Alyssa Charlston (Eastlake HS), finished last season at 17-16, winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship.
Gonzaga’s preseason ranking is a first in program history. The Zags are eager to see how a veteran lineup with a talented transfer in F Lindsay Sherbert (Cal) helps the team rebound from a disappointing ending to the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga couldn’t get a signature win and lost at home in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Iowa State.
“Our strengths are going to be our defense and our speed this year,” said senior G Jazmine Redmon, who won the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year award.
New-look Washington is on the road at Saint Mary’s. The Gaels feature senior G Jackie Nared, who led the WCC in scoring (16.6 points) and rebounding (8.7). UW has two-time All-Pac-12 G Jazmine Davis and a top conference defender in F Aminah Williams (Kennedy HS), but is being coached by first-timer Mike Neighbors and leaning on high school All-Americans Katie Collier (Seattle Christian) and Kelsey Plum for immediate production.
“I’m excited. I (feel) like it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten an opportunity to play in a real game; where I’m a big part of it,” said Plum, a reserve on USA Basketball’s U19 team who didn’t get much court-time at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Lithuania last summer. Plum is expected to start in the backcourt with Davis, the Pac-12′s second-leading scorer (19.3 points) last season. F Talia Walton (hand) and incoming freshman Chantel Osahor (should) are out due to injuries.
UW defeated SMC 70-68 at Alaska Airlines Arena last season.
Eastern Washington is favored to win the Big Sky and plays at Portland for its season-opener. The Eagles won 19 games last season, including a school-record 14 Big Sky games. EWU made a second-ever trip to the WNIT, losing to UW in double-overtime.
Seattle U will raise the WAC regular-season championship banner on Friday at Connolly Center. It faces Pepperdine at 7pm with a squad featuring 10 underclassmen. PG Kaylee Best will be in the spotlight. The preseason pick for WAC freshman of the year, she’ll handle the big role of running the team.
Best, who starred at Lakeside HS, does have backup in returning WAC player of the year Kacie Sowell. And flanking Best will be G Sylvia Shephard, the reigning defensive player of the year, and F Ashley Ward, a preseason pick for All-WAC first-team.
“She’s confident without being cocky,” SU coach Joan Bonvicini said of Best’s demeanor at practice. “It’s a big thing to manage your team and what they need. We’re trying to help her with that without overwhelming her. It is hard, but honestly, I’d take talent over experience any day.”
Washington State opens its season on Sunday. The Cougs host Syracuse with hopes of returning to postseason play for the first time since 1991. It lost in the opening round of the NCAA tournament that season.