Women's hoop could use a Fire in Portland

With Oregon teams drawing big crowds, the WNBA seems a perfect fit
By Cliff Pfenning, Publisher

An election year is a good time to debate about women's issues.

Especially, when it's an Olympic year, too (that's always the General Election).

In the sports world, over here in Portland, women's sports actually have it pretty good these days, starting with the Portland Thorns. The Thorns, the ladies' side of the Portland Timbers franchise, regularly fill Providence Park, and can fill it up on some occasions.

The women's soccer team at the University of Portland still has one of the proudest histories in the nation, and also can fill up Merlo Field when the right opponent shows up. Investing in women's soccer was one of the great moves the school made in the '90s with coach Clive Charles.

But, it's basketball I'm looking at these days, and that's not a part of the landscape here. It was at one time, but not today. Maybe it's time for a looksy again.

The WNBA has been around since 1997, and had the Portland Fire along for the ride from 2000-02. Team owner Paul Allen, was having trouble with hid men's team staying under the Luxury Tax - and by a lot - and couldn't seem to afford to lose any money on the women's team and tossed it.

These days, the women's game is making a big comeback ... in Oregon. In Eugene and Corvallis to be exact, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't get support in Portland again, especially with the same name and logo involved - they both fit the city pretty good.

Attendance for women's basketball in Eugene actually outpaces the men's team, which happens often in Corvallis as well. It figures because both women's teams are ranked in the Top 12 and have been all season.

Oregon, the nation's preseason No. 1, is going bonkers at the gate with more than 10,000 fans per game. That's up from 4,255 just two seasons ago. Enter Sabrina Ionescu and friends, and the MAT has been rocking. The Ducks get 12,000-plus for games these days heading toward the NCAA Tournament and a run towards the school's first title in a TV sport since, before it was on TV.

The Beavers were 16th in the nation in attendance last season with more than 5,400 fans per game.

So, what's with Portland?

Portland's got all kinds of fans who want to build a baseball stadium to LURE a team to the Rose City. All the town needs for a WNBA team is an owner and a marketing team to corral a fan base.

The Fire would step right into a hot situation with Northwest rival Seattle involved with the Storm. Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix are in as well, so there's easy road trips to be had.

Now is a perfect time for a local investor to look into this, and the league needs some new energy. It really needs some new energy for the 12 other teams. Average game attendance has fallen from 7,700 fans to 6,500 fans in just two years and things such as travelling conditions have been in the news beyond just simple salaries.

With Oregon's Ionescu figuring to be the top pick in the draft, the opportunity to begin a franchise may not be better, especially without the luxury tax on the men's team to hold it down.


Ionescu gets the top nod

Oregon senior goes first in WNBA Draft; Sabally, Hebard also first-round picks
Staff Report

Sabrina Ionescu hit the big-time Friday, as in New York City.

The University of Oregon senior and top college basketball player in the nation the past two years was selected No. 1 by the New York Liberty in the WNBA Draft on ESPN. The draft was held without attendees due to the COVID-19 sheltering guidelines.

Ionescu set numerous records at Oregon as well as the Pac-12, and is the only college player to finish her career with 2,000 combined points as well as 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

"I've been working for this for my entire basketball career and super excited to see that come to fruition,'' Ionescu said from her home in California. "I'm very humbled and excited for the opportunity.''

In an early sign of what is to come in terms of merchandising clout and popularity with Ionescu, her fans rushed to the team's website to snap up her new Liberty jersey, which sold out within an hour of her being drafted No. 1.

Later in the day, Ionescu and Nike announced they had reached a marketing deal for her to wear that companies shoes.

New York won the league's draft lottery in September, having the best odds from the four teams that did not reach the league playoffs. The WNBA Draft lottery uses combined team records from the two previous seasons as part of its equation. The Liberty was 17-51 the past two seasons.

Oregon truly hit the jackpot for draft picks as fellow Duck Sabrina Sabally was selected second by the Dallas Wings and Ruthy Hebard was taken eighth by the Chicago Sky.

The league's 12 teams drafted through three rounds.

Oregon State guard Mikayla Pivec was taken by the Atlanta Dream with the first pick of the third round.

The league schedule had been slated to start May 15, but that's on hold.


Returning for her senior season worked out pretty good for Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu record-wise.

Ionescu capped an unprecedented college career by entering an exclusive club Monday, March 23.

Oregon’s star guard was the unanimous choice as The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year, receiving all 30 votes from the national media panel that selects the Top 25 each week during the season.

Since the award was first given in 1995, the only other player to receive all the votes was Breanna Stewart of Connecticut (2016).

“That’s pretty crazy - someone I look up to and have a good relationship with,” Ionescu told the AP Monday. “To be in that class with her is an honor.”

Ionescu, who was only the eighth player to earn AP All-America honors three times, shattered the NCAA career triple-double mark and became the first player in college history to have 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

Ionescu averaged 17.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds this season as well as having eight of her 26 career triple-doubles.

She helped the Ducks, who started the season ranked No. 1, win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles. The native of Walnut Creek, California, was honored as the conference’s most outstanding player of the tournament and regular season.

Oregon had a 31-2 record and was headed toward playing host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, as well as a likely spot in the Portland Regional set for the Moda Center when the season abruptly ended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


Thorns fans should get CBS action first

NWSL announces landmark media coverage deal
By Cliff Pfenning,

The progress the U.S. Women's National Soccer team made last year in terms of gaining public attention and interest, turned into another source of legitimacy for any professional sports league - negotiated media coverage.

The NWSL announced a partnership with CBS and accompanying services to cover all of its games this season, beginning April 18 with the Washington Mystics playing host to the newly-renamed OL Reign of Seattle.

Washington finished third in the league in attendance last season at 6,105 fans per game. Portland led the league at 20,098 with Utah in second at 10,774.

Terms for the media deal were not announced other than it is for three years. CBS will broadcast the opener and then the championship game. CBS All-Access, CBS Sports and Twitch will televise or stream the remainder of the games.

The league secured a deal with Budweiser shortly after the US Women won the World Cup in summer for its other big deal prior to this season.



The Portland Thorns are certain to be fully game ready when the league schedule opens.

That's even though their preseason workouts began only this week at Providence Park.

Half or the team regulars are on national team duty, or returning from overseas franchises as preparations for the season opener, April 18, are underway.

Among the players with the national team are forward Tobin Heath, midfielder Lindsey Horan, goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and the team's biggest off-season acquisition defender Becky Sauerbrunn. They'll all be headed to Portland following today's final match of the SheBelieves Cup, set for Frisco, Texas against Japan.

Miodfielder Christine Sinclair is away with the Canadian national team, and defender Ellie Carpenter is with the Australian national team.

That leaves Meghan Klingenberg and Katherine Reynolds as the top veterans in camp - both returning for their fifth season with the franchise, which is headed for its eighth season in the eight-year-old league.

Portland will be seeking its third league title in the nine-team league.


Blazers gain some momentum

A 121-105 win over Phoenix leads right to key Memphis contest
Staff Report

The NBA playoffs might not be so far off after all for the Portland Trail Blazers.

After a 121-105 win over Phoenix at the Moda Center Tuesday night, the team moved up a full game in its race to catch Memphis for the eighth playoff spot with the Grizzlies losing at home to Orlando Tuesday.

The win/loss moved Portland to within 3.5 games of Memphis, and the Grizzlies will be in town Thursday. A win would pull te Blazers to within 2.5 games with 15 games left in the regular season. And the Blazers will still have three home games in a row following Thursday's game.

Damial Lillard led the Blazers with 25 points, and C.J. McCollum and Trevor Ariza added 22 points each as the team snapped a two-game losing streak.

The win avenged a 127-117 loss in Phoenix Friday night in which 6-foot-10 forward Aaron Baynes hit a Suns team record nine three-point shots. Baynes made just one of seven three-pointers Tuesday and finished with seven points and two rebounds. Devin Booker led the Suns with 29 points.

Portland improved to 29-37 with its third win in its last five games.

Phoenix dropped to 26-39.



The Blazers season of headaches gets worse

SPORTSLAND: Bad timing for a homestand or is it?
By Cliff Pfenning,

In one of the most frustrating seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers and their fans, it's hard to think of a way for things to get more frustrating. And, yet they are about to get that way.

And, it's really bad timing, too - at the start of a homestand.

Portland plays its second game of a six-game homestand tonight against the Phoenix Suns with the issue of the coronavirus hanging right over the Moda Center. The prospect of 20,000 fans/citizens congregating in one place while an international pandemic works its way through every part of the world, seemingly one nation, one state, one town at a time. And, Portland appears right in the line of being next, since the virus has already shut down one school in Lake Oswego for a couple days.

Washington has lost nearly a dozen residents to the virus, and it shut down the Northwest Athletic Conference basketball tournament this weekend in Everett, Wash.

Stadiums are being closed, events shuttered or cancelled/postponed across America. The San Jose Sharks of the NHL might play games before no fans at all. 

And, the Winterhawks are going to get stung by this dilemma, too, as they have a home game on Saturday.

Daily, we follow the world trying to control the spread of the virus by keeping people apart.

And, yet, it's ... so easy to just want to let it pass by - all that concern about thed dangers of bringing people together when you're an organization that survives on bringing people together because that's the source of your revenue.

No crowd, no money.

The Portland Timbers squeezed through this dilemma in the last 10 days with the first two games of their season and don't play at again Providence Park until the end of the month. The Blazers, though, have tonight and four more home games in what should have been a key point of their playoff drive - the way they looked at it when building the schedule in the offseason.

Now, that homestand is a big "what are we going to do?"

High school's final three state basketball tournaments are this weekend, but they are poised to squeeze through this dilemma by just hoping the state-by-state, town-by-town spread doesn't reach Portland or Corvallis or Forest Grove before Sunday.

All the event organizers are saying the same thing: "we're watching the situation, and will act accordingly." That's really all they can do until civic leaders tell them what to do, and they are definitely in touch with those leaders telling them be really sure what you tell us.

So, here's the real dilemma for those leaders, and one I have myself. How really dangerous is this virus, and is it so dangerous we have to cancel events?

The basic answer is yes it is enough to cancel an event like tonight's game with the Suns, or the state hoop tournaments this weekend due to the potential for the spread of the virus. We're reasoning about public health and the best way to keep the virus from spreading is to keep people apart at the start of the pandemic. Cancel or postpone stuff through this weekend, and that might stop it from spreading dramatically through Portland and the many parts of the state entirely. Let's just be extra cautious is likely right on the desk of Portland's City Council right now.

But, that's the really, really cautious way to address this issue - the spread of the virus. But, how much of our daily lives do we really have to change due to what just seems to be the flu, and not even close to the flu by the measurements available? Is the public just overreacting due to the media's need for drama?

The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, and there's a shot that's available to keep many more people from dying. The coronavirus? It might be infecting people by the thousands weekly, but the number of deaths is still not even close to 100. Tens of thousands of people infected, but only a couple dozen have died. 

As much as I'm not a fan of the President and how he talks or what he says because of ... so many reasons, he outlined what a lot of people probably did or have come to think during his press conference that interruped Galen Rupp winning the U.S. Marathon Trial, Feb. 29. If you're healthy, you're probably not going to die, but just get flu-like symptoms for a couple weeks, and then it'll be over.

Most of the people who have died were in failing health anyway, so this just sped up that process. Can you imagine a public leader even intimating that? And, yet, he did. But, it does seem to be the reality. Healthy people are dying in the U.S. seemingly at a rate of - it's hard to put a rate on it. By comparison, handfuls of people die everyday from auto accidents, but highways are not closed due to that. NBA games are not cancelled because of the flu, because people who think they have the flu generally just stay home. The coronavirus is different as far as we know because you probably won't know you've got it until several days after you get it, but then it's going to turn into ... the flu.

And when you've got the flu, you stay home, watch TV, eat a bunch of Ramen noodles, drink a bunch of water and get better.

If I had tickets for the Blazers tonight, I wouldn't have a problem attending, although for the next four games that might change to some degree because the virus might have infected people in this part of the world by then.

I'm actually more concerned about the state high school basketball tournaments scheduled for this weekend because there's going to be so many young people involved - those who've had less time to build up their immune system - on and off the court. So there's more potential for ... whatever the coronavirus is ... to infect them and spread to others.

And, yet, I'd hate to see those tournaments cancelled because of what could easily be termed media overreation due to a need for the drama that media needs to develop on an hourly basis so people with watch and read. What we seem to have here is the flu - or even diet flu - with a different name. Is that enough to cancel what is the conclusion of a glorious period in the lives of so many student/athletes of their playing careers, which might end up with a trophy or a ferocious celebration and cutting down of a net? It's definitely a lasting memory however it plays out and that's a good thing for education. That's an interesting call to make for tournament organizers. Civic officials. School officials.

Health officials have already said it's likely going to be 18 months before an antidote for this virus is readily available. There is, though, a shot for the flu that exists and it still doesn't work on everyone. I've never gotten a flu shot and don't plan to, either, because I think it's more likely to make me sick than not getting it. That's probably how I would react to a coronavirus shot - I'd pass.

And, that's how it works for my family, too - wife and two kids. We get sick all the time, but think it's more related to just cold weather, and lack of sleep that causes it. Or a desire not to go to school. Then, there's sleep, TV, ramen, water and back to business as usual. We probably get it from someone else, too, but that's just daily life, just like driving a car or riding a bike. There's always potential for danger. 

It would take a lot more bad news on infections and/or deaths to think we should be treating the coronavirus as being worse than the flu or anywhere near the Black Plague. Or even worse than an AR-15. But, I'm not dealing with worst-case scenario for tens of thousands of people. So, good luck with those upcoming decisions. I know how I'd react, but I also don't get a flu shot.







Timbers rebound with defense

An early score leads to 1-0 win over Nashville
Staff Report

Completely different game, completely different result - that's what the Portland Timbers gave their fans Sunday at Providence Park.

A week after dominating possession against Minnesota in a 3-1 loss to open the Major League Soccer season, the Timbers got an early goal and essentially played defense for three-fourths of the match. But, it ended 1-0 in favor of the home team against expansion Nashville.

Diego Valeri scored a highlight-reel goal in the 12th minute and the Timbers held Nashville to just four shots on goal, sending the visitors to their second loss in as many games.

Portland managed just two shots on goal and finished with no corner kicks, while Nashville had nine. The opener featured just two corner kicks for the host team.

The Timbers had a 57-43 edge in possession in their opener, but trailed 52-48 against Nashville.

Portland was charged with three yellow cards, including midfielder Diego Chara, who will miss Sunday's game at New England due to also picking one up against Minnesota.

And, yet, the win was the important part, moving the team to seventh in the 13-team Western Conference.

"Sometimes these games are not pretty," Portland coach Giovanni Savarese told media afterward. "The important thing for us was to make sure that we got a win to get three points."

Valeri's goal came after the visitors were unable to clear possession farther than the edge of the 18-yard box and Andy Polo found Portland's top scorer and he fired a shot from the left side to the top right of the goal for his second score of the season.

"I was so happy about it," Valeri told media. "You always want to see the ball in the net."

Valeri, with a penalty kick in the opener, has both of Portland's scores this season.

New England is 0-1-1, one point.



Nurkic returning in time for ... next season prep

Blazers just about out of playoff hunt for 2020
Staff Report

If there were a time for the Portland Trail Blazers to get hot during the 2019-20 NBA season, this would be just about the perfect time. 

Not only do the Blazers have their top two scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the court, but Carmelo Anthony has shown off his consistency and Hassan Whiteside is regularly a stud in the middle. So, what does the team need to get going? Jusef Nurkic - yes.

Nurkic has been recovering from surgery for nearly a year, but is expected to return this week, with the team 4.5 games from a playoff spot. At 28-37, they're nine games under .500 with just 17 games left in the season. As Memphis is 32-32 in eighth place in the Western Conference, it's likely the Blazers will need to finish at .500 to tie or edge the Grizzlies for that spot, needing to pass both New Orleans and Sacramento to achieve that. 

That's a 13-4 finish to accomplish that feat - reach .500. 

But, that would be the way to head into the playoffs - on fire. And, Memphis is a testament to that being possible as it won 11 consecutive games at one point this season to move into the eighth spot.

And the next five games are at home, beginning with Phoenix Tuesday. Thursday, the Blazers match-up with Memphis, the easiest way to make up ground on the Grizz.



March 10 vs. Phoenix, 26-38

March 12 vs. Memphis, 32-32

March 15 vs. Houston, 39-24

March 17 vs. Minnesota, 19-44

March 19 vs. Dallas, 39-26




Timbers show off to some degree

A frustrating 3-1 loss to Minnesota is plenty to talk about
Staff Report

The Portland Timbers opened the 2020 Major League Soccer season with a dazzling performance in front of their home fans at Providence Park - for a half.

But, the second half was a different story and without having scored in the first half, the Western Conference rival Loons took advantage of several defensive lapses and left town with a 3-1 victory in hand before another sold out crowd.

Portland got a score from Diego Valeri on a penalty kick, but Minnesota got a pair of goals from Kevin Molina and became the first road team to win in a season opener in Portland since the club joined MLS 10 years ago.

Luis Amarilla scored Minnesota's other goal in his first match since joining the team on loan from Argentinian squad Velez Sarsfield.

Portland put plent of pressure on the visitors and finished with 57 percent of possession, 14-10 edge in shots and passing advantage of 513-367. But Minnesota used an effective counterattack to score three times, finishing with a 22-18 edge in crosses and two thirds of their passes coming in the Timbers defensive half.

The match was the league opener for Portland forward Felipe Mora, who is on loan from Pumas in Liga MX, Yimmi Chara, who moved up from Athletico Miniero in Brazil and joined his brother Diego in midfield, and defender Dario Zuparic, who moved over from Croatian side HNK Rijeka.

Next up, the Timbers face expansion franchise FC Nashville, which opened its league existence with a 2-1 loss to Atlanta before a crowd of 59,069 fans at Nissan Stadium - home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.





Hawks ready for another playoff run

Portland tops WHL for wins, points
Staff Report

After two-thirds of the WHL season, the Portland Winterhawks are cruising along to another playoff berth, and perhaps home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

At least that's where they are currently.

Portland entered the week at 40-10-3-4, 87 points, and is three points ahead of Everett in the U.S. Division. But, the Silvertips are hot at 9-1 in their past 10 matches, which is four wins better than Portland. Everett has 40 wins and 84 points. Third-place Spokane is also on a 9-1 stretch and has 75 points.

The Hawks have a three-game road trip this weekend, playing at Tri-Cities Friday, Seattle Saturday, and Everett on Sunday.

Portland plays at Spokane, March 13, and then is host to Everett, March 14.

The regular season closes out March 22.

Portland lost to Everett in the first round of the league playoffs last season, and to the Silvertips in the second round in 2018, and first round in 2016.

The Winterhawks last won the WHL title and played in the Memorial Cup in 2013, and played in the league championship series in 2011, '12 and '14. They last missed the playoffs in 2009.



2019 - Lost Everett first round

2018 - Beat Spokane first round, lost Everett second round

2017 - Beat Prince George first round, lost Kelowna second round

2016 - Lost to Everett first round

2015 - Beat Seattle first round, beat Everett second round, lost Kelowna West Final

2014 - Beat Vancouver first round, beat Victoria second round, beat Kelowna West Final, lost to Edmonton WHL Final

2013 - Beat Everett first round, beat Spokane second round, beat Kamloops West Final, beat Edmonton WHL Final, lost to Halifax Memorial Cup Final

2012 - Beat Kelowna first round, beat Kamloops second round, beat Tri-Cities West Final, lost to Edmonton WHL Final

2011 - Beat Everett first round, beat Kelowna second round, beat Spokane West Final, lost to Kootenay WHL Final

2010 - Beat Spokane first round, lost Vancouver second round




Lillard dazzles on somber night for basketball

Portland beat the Lakers 127-119 in first post-Kobe game
Associated Press

It was a game that had to be played, and the Portland Trail Blazers came out on top.

In their first game since the death of legend Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers honored one of the franchises' most revered players led by an address to the crowd by Lebron James. 

Once the contest began, James and teammate Anthony Davis combined for 59 points, but Portland's Damian Lillard nearly matched that himself.

Lillard hit seven three-point shots and went off for 48 points, just missing his second career triple-double with 10 assists and nine rebounds. He notched his first triple-double earlier in the week.

Portland got an amazing performance from center Hasan Whiteside, who hit 13 of 14 field-goal attempts on the way to 30 points. He also grabbed 12 rebounds. C.J. McCollum added 19 points for Portland.

The Blazers overcame a 61-40 deficit in rebounds by creating a 17-5 edge in turnovers. The Lakers also missed 10 free throws.

In 40 minutes, Lillard hit 17 of 30 shots and had just one turnover. McCollum made 8 of 22 shots and did not have a turnover.

Portland, which improved to 22-27 and moved to with two games of Memphis, which lost to New Orleans Friday, in the race for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers return to action Saturday with a home game against Utah (32-16).



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