Mark Travis

Mark Travis has 113 articles published.

Detroit’s Dynamic Duo

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When the Detroit Pistons traded for Reggie Jackson in February, nobody thought they were uniting two players who would soon combine to form one of the league’s most lethal pick-and-roll combinations. At the time, Jackson was a somewhat maligned talent, someone who appeared to force his way out of Oklahoma City. Andre Drummond was held in higher esteem, but even after Detroit shed itself of Josh Smith, he was still sharing the frontcourt with a fellow low-post behemoth in Greg Monroe.

Fast forward nine months and Jackson and Drummond are running the show for one of the league’s most surprising upstarts: The 5-1 Detroit Pistons. With Monroe sopping up post touches in Milwaukee, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons are now free to play the spread pick-and-roll game SVG popularized during his tenure with the Orlando Magic, and Detroit is off to the franchise’s best start since 2007-2008.

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Grounded and Pounded

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The Memphis Grizzlies are a bit like your non-major course work in college. You pay a fair amount of attention to them and hope they will do well, but at the end of the day, when the assignments in classes that actually matter begin to pile up, your focus shifts to the more fulfilling subjects.

Everybody likes the Grizzlies. Some may be turned off by their glacial pace or their gladiator-themed offense in an era of fast-paced assaults in transition and from beyond the arc, but everyone respects what the Grizzlies have done while operating against the grain. They’ve pushed superstar-laden teams such as the Thunder and the Clippers in the playoffs, they had the lead on the Warriors after three games in the second round last season and they even managed to grind their way to the conference finals in 2013.

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Still On Top

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The Clippers nearly did the impossible. They nearly became the first team in what seems like forever to spot Golden State a 17-point, come back and live to talk about it. Nearly.

Instead, despite getting a 10-point lead of its own with five minutes to play, the Clippers fell short of the Warriors once again. It was the same old story for Golden State: Remove all of the constraints of traditional basketball – ie. a big man – and play free flowing basketball with offensive threats all over the flow. The Clippers are supposed to have one of the most capable frontlines in the league when it comes to countering Golden State’s futuristic lineup, but they were shut down on Wednesday night.

Draymond Green flew around the floor and made plays, and his teammates followed suit. Even when Andre Iguodala wound up switched on Blake Griffin, who is on a tear to start the season, Griffin couldn’t muster much when trying to back him down. As we saw when the chips were down last postseason, Golden State’s trump card changed the game, with its stops fueling its offense, and particularly Curry, who fired in threes from across the bay like it was nothing.

This game had a weird flow to it. Curry was taken out of the game after just three minutes due to foul trouble and didn’t return until the start of the second quarter. In the second half, the same thing happened to Paul, who picked up his fourth foul with eight minutes left in the third and sat almost an entire quarter until he returned. Even still, both teams managed to play tremendous offensive games, especially given the defensive prowess of its opposition.

Griffin was spectacular for most of the game, but his inability to muster a good look when the Warriors had smaller defenders on him down the stretch was worrisome. In a postseason matchup between these two teams, that would be a frequent occurrence, and if Green is going to switch onto Paul, then Griffin has to make Golden State pay. Curry (31 points, 5 boards, 7 threes) and Paul (24 points, 9 assists, 3 steals) were both fantastic, as always seems to be the case in one of the league’s most exhilarating point guard matchups. The same cannot be said for whatever Jamal Crawford was doing last night.

Despite the loss, I think this might be an early-season confidence boost for the Clippers. They got down big in the league’s toughest road environment, fought back with their reserves and got themselves in a position to win. Execute better, and smarter, when the Warriors hand you a size advantage and get out to Curry quicker on his pull-ups and perhaps this result is different. No other team has challenged the Warriors to this point and despite the somewhat deflating loss, I thought this was a good showing for Los Angeles overall.


In the blink of an eye, the Spurs were down 19-2. Then they went on a 21-3 run and took a 23-22 lead at the end of the first quarter. While it was a particularly impressive comeback in the moment, in hindsight it was illustrative of a larger issue that has troubled the Spurs through five games: The starting unit is far from a finished product.

The Spurs starting lineup, while elite defensively (96.1 defensive rating), is only scoring 91.2 points per 100 possessions in their 78 minutes together this season. But once Pop makes his first waves of substitutions – usually Manu Ginobili for Danny Green, Patty Mills for Tony Parker and Boris Diaw for Tim Duncan – the Spurs look like one of the best teams in basketball. The group of Mills, Manu, Kawhi, Diaw and Aldridge is scoring 106.5 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 88 points per 100 possessions on the other end.

Aldridge and Diaw have been the Spurs’ best big man pairing both statistically and aesthetically. Aldridge has shown better prowess as a rim protector than I thought he would, so when Diaw checks in for Duncan and provides his unique blend of passing, cutting and spacing, the Spurs get back to the beautiful game that they showcased in the 2014 Finals. With Duncan and Aldridge, things are more cramped, possessions develop slower and Aldridge really isn’t getting that many touches, which is surprising only because the slower pace seems to be a way to introduce Aldridge’s post-game into the Spurs’ vernacular.

San Antonio looked good for most of this game after the first quarter, but once the starters returned in the final five minutes, the offense went in the tank and its turnovers fueled the Wizards’ transition attack. The Wizards, who were playing small with Jared Dudley at the four, were always going to trouble San Antonio’s twin towers lineup in transition, and the Spurs’ turnovers only made matters worse. Tony Parker nearly saved San Antonio with his game-tying three in the final seconds, but Bradley Beal returned the favor after the Spurs messed up a switch on a high screen designed to free Beal. Beal shook a hurried Aldridge, who was rushing to cover for Leonard, and buried the winner.

In May, I wrote about John Wall’s path to stardom, and he was unbelievable in this game. Shooting 6-of-16 isn’t great, but he orchestrated everything for Washington in this game, dishing out 13 assists with only one turnover while gobbling up four steal that got the Wizards on the break. His ability to read a defense continues to impress, and he caused several breakdowns by the Spurs in this game.

Meanwhile, I may end up writing a similar piece about the growth of Bradley Beal. Beal looks like a legitimate offensive superstar right now, and he’s a good defender as well. Beal scored 25 points on 50% shooting, grabbed give boards, dished out four assists and collected three steals against the Spurs, and he’s averaging 25 points with 48/46/75 shooting splits to start the season. It looks like Washington’s two budding stars are finally coming into their own. And if this team lands a certain local kid in the summer, the East might have a new king.


The Magic are the most entertaining, if not best, 1-4 team I can remember seeing in recent years. Their four losses have been by a combined 14 points (or six points less than the standard Rockets loss this season), two of which came in over time, and they’ve played the Wizards, Thunder, Bulls, Pelicans and Rockets. 1-4 against five playoff teams may be a solid indication that the Magic still have a ways to go before they are legitimate playoff team, but they’ve been right there in every game and Scott Skiles has done a nice job revamping this team on the fly.

Perhaps the Magic would have prevailed in this one had Nikola Vucevic not gone out with an injury in the second quarter. But Aaron Gordon came off the bench and gave the Magic 32 really good minutes. He scored 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds and playing really good one-on-one defense when matched up with James Harden on a couple of occasions. Evan Fournier was also quite good for the Magic, posting a 29-6-4 line while spending most of the game attacking Harden on the offensive end.

Harden had another awful shooting game – you know you’re shooting poorly when a 2-of-11 performance from three actually improves your 3-point percentage for the season – but in typical Harden fashion, he got to the line 17 times and helped seal the victory in the closing moments. Interestingly, Gordon’s emergence led to just 21 minutes for Tobias Harris, who played well for the most part. He had 16 points and five boards but didn’t see any time in the crucial moments of the game, save for the final possession. Harris seems like the kind of guy who you want to play as much as possible against the smallball Rockets, but I guess it will take some time for Harris to earn Skiles’ trust after their falling out in Milwaukee when they were both Bucks.


The Thunder had this game in the bag. They lead by six with two minutes to go, but the Raptors were the most aggressive team down the stretch. They scored eight points from the free throw line and their two crunchtime field goal came inside the paint while Westbrook and Durant couldn’t manage to put home any of their close-range attempts.

This game must have taken place in a parallel universe, because the Thunder, who own time shares at the free throw line, had only 14 free throw attempts while DeMar DeRozan had 15 by himself. As a team, the Raptors had 39 free throw attempts, which helped make up for the fact that Oklahoma city shot 48% from the field in this game. DeRozan put his head down and went at Andre Roberson and Serge Ibaka all game long, and I thought Jonas Valanciunas, off to a fine start this season, got the better of Steven Adams and Ibaka as well.

Russell Westbrook came out of the gates on fire – as a passer. He dished out 16 assists on the night, but he was off from the field, and Kevin Durant’s 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting wasn’t enough for the Thunder to overcome their excessive fouling and 19 turnovers. Oklahoma City is last in the league in turnovers per game at 20.2, more than two more than Philadelphia, who take as good of care of the ball as I do of my pencils. It’s early, but Billy Donovan still has some work to do with his team’s discipline on both ends.

Notebook from OKC’s Opening Night victory over the Spurs

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For more of my coverage of this game, visit the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. For my Spurs’ season preview, click here.


Dion Waiters is far from the first player who comes to mind when you think about Oklahoma City’s end-of-game options.

But Waiters stepped up in the final minutes against the Thunder’s 112-106 opening night victory against San Antonio, knocking down two jumpshots over Spurs’ guard Tony Parker to give OKC the lead.

With Kevin Durant struggling in his matchup with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, and with San Antonio putting defensive ace Danny Green on Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City went to Waiters, who had a size mismatch on Parker.

“A lot of point guards like to guard our (shooting guard),” Westbrook said. “I think it’s my job to be able to find the mismatch. Dion did a good job of knocking down some big shots.”

Waiters’ first shot was a pull-up jumper late in the clock with 2:11 to play, which tied the game at 103. On the next possession, the Thunder ran a mid-post isolation for Waiters, who faced up Parker and drilled a stepback jumper to put OKC ahead by two.

“(I) got a chance to do what I do,” Waiters said. “We went to the mismatch and I made big shots.”


Hip-hop is the music genre of choice in most NBA lockerrooms.

However, anyone who hasn’t been in the San Antonio Spurs’ lockerroom might assume coach Gregg Popovich has Bethoven’s 5th Symphony playing on an endless loop instead of Rich Homie Quan’s latest single.

In reality, the Spurs are rarely jamming out to anything before games, but that didn’t stop Spurs’ guard Manu Ginobili from learning his name was a lyric in Drake’s hit new song “Jumpman.”

“It’s kind of hard not to be find out about those things nowadays,” Ginobili said.

Ironically, Oklahoma City’s entrance music on Wednesday night was “Jumpman.”

“I hit that Ginobili with my left hand up like woo,” Drake says in the first verse of the song, which is a collaboration with fellow rapper Future.

Although Ginobili, who hails from Argentina and likely has a musical taste more in line with his coach, didn’t seem overly impressed by the mention, one of his younger teammates, guard Ray McCallum, celebrated the achievement for him.

“It’s funny that you say that,” McCallum said, “because he hasn’t mentioned one word about it.

“The rest of us know about it. If that was me, I would embrace it, but that kind of stuff is not really important to him. You wouldn’t know he was on one of the hotest verses out there unless you brought it up to him.”


On Friday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was named the coach of Team USA for 2017-2020. When asked if Thunder star Kevin Durant is a player he’d like to coach with the national team, Popovich responded in a way only he can.

“I don’t know if he is good enough,” Popovich said.

When asked if he was pleased with the way LaMarcus Aldridge has fit in with the Spurs offense, Pop offered up another sarcastic reply.

“Sure, I am,” Popovich said. “And if I wasn’t I wouldn’t say that. I would just lie to you. So, silly question.”

After the game, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it was special to go up against Popovich in his NBA debut, detailing how Popovich had welcomed him to be around the Spurs last year so he could pick the collective brain of San Antonio’s coaching staff.

This was surprising to hear, for three hours earlier, Popovich had a one-word response when asked if he had ever spoken to Donovan about anything basketball related or otherwise.

“No,” Popovich said.

NBA Preview Podcast With Zach Lee

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Zach Lee, a Sports Media major at Oklahoma State and a writer for House of Houston, joined me for a preview of the 2015-16 NBA season.

Mercado Marks Emotional Senior Day With Goal In OSU’s 2-0 Win

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Madison Mercado began her last game at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex in storybook fashion Sunday afternoon.

One minute into Oklahoma State’s Big 12 matchup with Kansas, forward Courtney Dike slid a ball to Mercado at the top of the box, where she kicked off Senior Day with an early goal. The Cowgirls added a second goal in the 44th minute, bookending the first half with goals in their 2-0 victory.

“It was a great feeling,” Mercado said. “On Senior Day, (it was) very emotional, especially with everything that’s been going on. It was very rewarding.”

Mercado’s goal was her fourth of the season and the 17th of her career, and it provided OSU with the spark it needed at the beginning of the game.

“It was awesome,” Cowgirl coach Colin Carmichael said. “It was a great goal. We knew that was going to be a tight game. They are good; they are in a very similar situation as we are. They needed wins in the Big 12. So (the win) was big for us, and Maddie’s goal got us going.”

The emotional lift the Cowgirls got from Mercado’s early goal was extremely important, especially after the accident Saturday morning when a vehicle plowed through a crowd of spectators at OSU’s Homecoming Parade, killing four and injuring 44.

“We talked to our team (about it) this morning,” Carmichael said. “It’s tragic. You can just feel the vibe in Stillwater is just sad right now. And our team is no different.”

The Cowgirls (9-7-2 overall, 2-3-3 in Big 12) said they were motivated to do whatever they could to honor the victims.

“We wanted to win not only for ourselves, but we wanted to honor all the families,” sophomore forward Niki McKnight said. “If we were in their shoes we wouldn’t know what to do, so all we can do is hope and pray for the best.”

McKnight scored the game’s second goal when Kansas’ keeper Maddie Dobyns mishandled the ball in the box, spilling it to the feet of McKnight for an open goal just before halftime.

“It’s nice,” McKnight said. “We’ve been looking for that game-changer that can get us back on a roll. We’ve been deserving (wins), we’ve been working hard and playing well, things just haven’t been in our favor.”

McKnight’s goal was her second of the weekend, for she scored the tying goal against West Virginia on Friday night before the Mountaineers earned a 2-1 victory in overtime. Oklahoma State wasn’t sure whether McKnight would be able to play this season due to offseason surgery on her right knee, but since returning to action on Oct. 7, she has given the team a valuable offensive threat off the bench.

“We knew, when healthy, that kid is just a good player,” Carmichael said. “Whether she’s up front, in the back, in the midfield, it doesn’t matter. She’s a very good soccer player…When we got her back and played her up front, we thought it might add some goals, and certainly that has been the case.”

The Jayhawks (8-8-1, 3-4) caused Oklahoma State problems with their aggressive pressing, often switching to a three-at-the-back formation to outnumber OSU in the midfield. Kansas finished with 13 shots, four of which forced saves from Cowgirl goalie Michela Ongaro.

“Kansas put some pressure on us there in the first half,” Carmichael said. “We scored a little bit against the run of play to make it 2-0.”

The Cowgirls sat back and let the game come to them in the second half as they looked to maintain their two-goal advantage. Although Kansas threatened, OSU had the better of the chances on the counterattack, and it was able to hold for the victory, giving its six seniors a final home game worth remembering.

“At 2-0, we obviously went a little more defensive in the second half trying to hold that lead,” Carmichael said. “Overall, (I’m) just really pleased that we won, and really pleased for the seniors to end at home with a win. That was great.”


Hearts were heavy at the beginning of Oklahoma State’s Big 12 matchup against Kansas on Sunday afternoon, and the tears were flowing after the final whistle.

On Senior Day, the Cowgirls set out to honor the victims of the Homecoming Parade accident Saturday morning when four people were killed and 44 were injured.

“It was more than a soccer game today,” Mercado said. “It was big for Senior Day, and we wanted to honor those who lost their lives and the families affected in the tragedy yesterday.”

Oklahoma State wore black wristbands, some with the words “Stillwater Strong” written on them, to honor the victims and their families during its 2-0 victory against the Jayhawks.

“We wanted to honor all the families,” sophomore Niki McKnight said. “If we were in their shoes, we wouldn’t know what to do. All we can do is pray and hope for the best for those families.”

The team found out about the accident during its pregame walkthrough Saturday morning. Saturday night, sophomore midfielder Lana Duke texted her teammates about doing something in solidarity to show their support, and the entire team was on board.

“It was insane,” senior Madison Mercado said. “We were just all shocked and devastated. Our homecoming is America’s greatest homecoming. People come from everywhere just to come here and have a good weekend, and for that to happen, it’s just shocking and heartbreaking.”

The accident had a direct impact on the Cowgirl program, for two children who acted as ball kids Friday night were injured.

“OSU is such a tight knit family, and we were hurt by it as much as everybody else was,” Mercado said. “It was very emotional. We talked about it, and we wanted to come in and play our hearts out for everybody.”

Carmichael said he was not involved in any discussions regarding the status of Sunday’s game but agreed with the decision for both the soccer match and the football game Saturday afternoon to be played.

“You can kind of make people smile for the next 90 minutes, and use that emotion in a positive way,” Carmichael said. “As a coach, I think that is the right thing to do. The result is insignificant in relation to what happened. However, it does allow people to focus on something positive for a little while instead of the tragedy that happened.”

The Cowgirls did their best to lift the spirits of the Stillwater community, but by the end of the game, emotions were evident for a different reason.


For six seniors – Mercado, Allie Stephenson, Kelsey Bass, Delaney Kiely, Lauren Reyes and Madeline Wood, all of whom played Sunday – this was their final game at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex. Mercado marked the special day with a goal in the second minute, and all six players collected bouquets and hugs from the coaching staff after the game. Most held back tears while others couldn’t help it.

“I was just balling my eyes out a few seconds ago,” Mercado said. “It has hit me. It’s just crazy how fast it goes. You know, you come in as a freshman and everyone tells you that. My sister [former OSU player Melinda Mercado] told me. But you don’t realize it until you are at your last home game and you are at your last game. It’s very emotional.”

Mercado, whose favorite memory at OSU is making it to the Big 12 Tournament final and the NCAA Tournament in 2013, said she will miss being around her teammates.

“You form such a close bond with everybody,” Mercado said. “You’re with them 24 hours a day, basically. And they are such great girls. And we have formed such a close bond. I’m going to miss them the most.”

Above all else, Sunday’s game was about coming together as a family for the Cowgirls and the Stillwater community.

“We were playing for the seniors,” Carmichael said. “We were playing for ourselves. But we were also playing for the community and the OSU family.”

Sterling Soars, Klopp Debuts, Chelsea Stabilizes And McClaren Survives

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Manchester City continue to score goals for fun, Jurgen Klopp manages his first game for the Reds and the Blues end a three-match winless streak in all competitions.



Even without Sergio Aguero, who injured his hamstring while on international duty with Argentina, this was the kind of performance that we’ve come to expect from City this season. Against the new boys of Bournemouth, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were dominant in possession, fluid in their attacks and lively on the move. In the absence of Arguero and David Silva, City stuck Wilfried Bony up top and record-singing Raheem Sterling in the hole behind him. The result was five goals between the two of them, with Sterling netting his first hat trick in a baby blue shirt while Bony stuck a pair in the back of the net.

Jesus Navas was, surprisingly, not a determinant to his team’s 5-1 victory, as he was quite engaged and supportive on the right-hand side. Bournemouth were a promising bet to maintain in the Premier League beyond this season, but injuries to most of their key players, including their most expensive summer signings, have dampened the mood and their competitiveness. To be fair, they were always going to be smashed by City at the Etihad, injuries or not, but it’s a bit dispiriting to see one of the league’s more entertaining and positive sides have to live with a weakened cast in their first season in the top flight.


Everton had its moments in this game, and the Toffees came out strong after halftime looking to erase United’s 2-0 lead. But this was always a game for the Red Devils to take all three points from. Everton had a slight majority of possession and occasionally pieced together some good build-up, but United were more decisive and dangerous when they got the ball forward. Ander Herrera played a major part in that. The Spanish midfielder got the start behind Wayne Rooney while youngster Anthony Martial spent most of the game playing wide on the left.

Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, who scored the game’s opening goal, controlled things in the middle of the park for Louis van Gaal’s side, completing 95% of their 114 passes. Herrera also added a goal and an assist, giving him a strong case for more playing time, which may mean more substitute appearances for Dutchman Memphis Depay, who was not used in this game.


When your team is struggling to get results, then Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa is exactly what the doctor would order. The Lions haven’t won a game since defeating Bournemouth 1-0 in their season opener and they had lost four in a row heading into this game. Of course, even as the Blues got their first league win since defeating Arsenal a month ago, they only put one goal past the awful Brad Guzan (their second was an Alan Hutton own goal) and they even ceded possession to the 19th ranked team in the Premier League.

Managing with his job seemingly on the line, Steve McClaren’s men came out and delivered one of the more entertaining performances of the season. It helped that Norwich City were game in turning this into a wide-open contest with little attention paid to stopping the other team from scoring. Chances were created, opportunities were taken and breaks were frequent as Magpies put six past John Ruddy, matching the goal total that they had in their previous eight matches combined.

The Canaries were actually in this game for a half, as Dieumerci Mbokani provided an equalizer when Newcastle only had one goal and Nathan Redmond got one back before halftime to make the score 3-2. But fueled by summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle would blow the game open in the second half. Wijnaldum had one of the most impressive performances of the season in any league, scoring four goals and providing an assist. He scored with his head, on the break and with tremendous touch, showcasing the deft skills that made his $22 million price tag seem like a pretty nice bargain. Moussa Sissoko notched three assists in this contest, helping make sure that McClaren would have a job for at least another week.

Speaking of manager’s on the hot seat, Jürgen Klopp managed his first game at Liverpool since taking over for Brendan Rodgers. The performance didn’t match the energetic and entertaining reputation that his coaching style carries, but on such a short turnaround for both he and the players who had been on international break, a point away at White Hart Lane isn’t the worst debut result. Belgium international Divock Origi started up top for the Reds and hit the post, but chances were sparse other than that. Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele looked like the best player on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, bossing the midfield with nine tackles, six interceptions and three clearances, as well as 91% pass completion from his holding midfield spot.


For the first 45 minutes, Arsenal didn’t possess the same kind of precision and aggression that they showed in the opening 20 minutes of their victory of United, but Watford didn’t have enough to make them pay for it. The Hornets were game for a half, but their front two of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo wasn’t sharp enough when they had their chances, and Arsenal came out of the lockerroom with a strong intent to dominate the game. Alexis Sanchez, who cannot be stopped at the moment, got the scoring started in the 62nd minute, and within a 12-minute span, Arsenal would add two more. Olivier Giroud, who was subbed on in the 64th minute, scored in the 68th, and Aaron Ramsey ended his BPL goal drought with the Gunners’ third in the 74th.


In a matchup between two of the Premier League’s least exciting teams, the most enjoyable moment came when West Brom striker Salomon Rondon ended up catching Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin in midair before twirling him around like it was a part of a Dancing with the Stars routine. In terms of the result, Saido Berahino, who once proclaimed he would never play for West Brom ever again, scored the game’s only goal on a very poor piece of work by Black Cats’ keeper Costel Pantilimon. Sunderland still hasn’t won a game nine games into the season and I take any odds that Sam Allardyce becomes the second Black Cats manager to be fired this season at some point.


This was a pretty surprising result given that Palace has been in the kind of form where you’d expect them to defeat West Ham at home, but really it’s no surprise when the Irons go on the road and beat a good team this season. When you’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the road, then a 3-1 result at Selhurst Park doesn’t seem so miraculous. Things might have gone differently for Palace if it weren’t for some immature mistakes by young striker Dwight Gayle, who started this game up top for Alan Pardew. Not only did Gayle take off early on Yohan Cabaye’s 25th minute penalty, forcing Cabaye to beat Adrian a second time from the spot, but he also got two pretty clumsy yellow cards, leaving Palace with 10 men for the entire second half.

West Ham deserve credit, though, because their attacking play was quite good when Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini were invovled. Payet got himself a goal while playing out wide whilst Lanzini, who has now made his move to London permanent, played behind Diafra Sakho and collected a goal and an assist. The Irons now sit fourth in the league behind City, Arsenal and United. That’s some pretty familar company up top. But right behind them? In 5th and 6th sit Leicester and Crystal Palace, neither of whom are accostomed to fighting for Champions League spots. The beauty of this season is that West Ham, Leicester and Palace all look like they have an outside shot of staying in the European picture for the remainder of the season, even though Chelsea are a lock to get back into the mix at some point.


Another 2-0 deficit, another two-goal comeback for Leicester City. For the third time this season, the Foxes erased a two-goal deficit, earning a draw for the second time in such matches. The Saints dominated the first half and notched two goals as both of their centerbacks – Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk – scored headers off of set pieces. But once Claudio Ranieri injected his most dangerous player to start the second half, the entire game changed.

Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Dyer came on together after the break and provided Leicester with pace and creativity which they lacked with Shinji Okazaki and Jeffrey Schlupp in their place. Mahrez and Dyer each collected an assist, with both feeding in-form striker Jamie Vardy, who currently leads the league in goals (9) by three over Wijnaldum and Sanchez. The Foxes nearly missed out on securing any points when Vardy just missed a chance to put away a gorgeous ground cross that Mahrez fired into him in the 82nd minute. Luckily for the Foxes, Vardy would make due one minute into stoppage time to earn the draw.


After starting off the season on fire, Swansea haven’t been quite as sharp over their past five games. They’re winless in the past five, dropping away matches to Watford and Southampton and this home tie against Stoke. You could argue that the Swans were the better team in this game, or at least that Stoke didn’t deserve all three points, but a penalty call in the fourth minute allowed Bojan to give Stoke the lead almost from kickoff, and the Potters would park the bus from there.

Swansea could have earned something from this game, but, like Stoke, they were incredibly sloppy with their passing in the midfield, and they didn’t often come close to connecting on final passes that would have created good chances. Then again, Swansea would have at least a point if Jonjo Shelvey’s brilliant effort from a tight angle inside the box had bounced in off the post instead of right back to him. Stoke has now won three games in a row, moving them a few spots above Swansea in the BPL table, which isn’t something I saw coming after the first few weeks.

Charged Up Dike, Mercado Make Headlines Against Drake

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Stillwater, OK – Madison Mercado and Courtney Dike might have been able to beat Drake University by themselves Wednesday night.

Mercado and Dike, who have played together since their high school days, combined to create all of Oklahoma State’s goals in its 3-0 nonconference win against the Bulldogs at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.

When Dike wasn’t scoring, she was creating chances for Mercado. When Mercado wasn’t scoring, she was returning the favor for Dike. Dike scored two goals, both assisted by Mercado, and Mercado scored off an assist from Dike.

“We just had an eye for each other this game,” Dike said. “We played together in club my junior year (of high school). It started from there. We’ve always had really good chemistry, and I think it came out again tonight.”

In the summer of 2012, Dike and Mercado partnered up on the OFC ’94 prep squad and won a state championship together. A year later, Dike joined up with Mercado again when she enrolled at Oklahoma State, and they’ve started 48 games alongside each other at OSU.

“We worked well together,” Mercado said. “We’ve played together since club, so we have that connection. And I feel like all season we’ve been trying to get that, and get it right. And this game we just did.”

The Cowgirls (6-6-2) worked on providing better service for Dike during practice on Tuesday, with Carmichael instructing his players on how to feed her the ball closer to the middle of the field. On Wednesday night, that work paid off.

“They played great,” Cowgirl coach Colin Carmichael said. “With Courtney, we talked this week about keeping her more central and not having her run as wide as much, and that seemed to help. Maddie was just buzzing around the field; she just looked full of energy tonight. It’s good to have those two on the scoresheet.”

Dike kicked off the scoring for the Cowgirls in the 10th minute with a tap-in from the edge of the 8-yard box. Dike received a throw-in inside the 18-yard box and held up play before turning her shoulder and finding Mercado, who played Dike through on goal with a flick that set up her former club teammate for an easy finish.

“It’s great for our confidence,” Mercado said. “We needed this game to get flowing. Everybody’s playing. People are scoring. It was good for us, especially with how tough our schedule has been.”

Dike went from scorer to provider two minutes after the start of the second half. After junior defender Christina Jean-Charles’ pressure forced a Drake giveaway on the edge of its box, Dike collected the ball and sent in a ground cross to Mercado, who turned and delivered a one-touch chip of the keeper with her right foot.

“We’ve been working on crossing and finishing and being clinical in the 18,” Mercado said. “(Courtney) gave me a great ball and I finished.”

Mercado came close to scoring the game’s final goal, but her 58th minute strike from 15 yards out was parried away by Drake keeper Brooke Dennis. But par for the course on Wednesday night, Dike was there to tap home the rebound.

The Cowgirls controlled the game, keeping the majority of possessions and getting off 22 shots. Dennis was forced to make nine saves and had to organize her defense against 12 OSU corners. Although Oklahoma State could have converted a couple more of its chances, the Cowgirls’ offensive performance was an improvement on their recent form.

“We were definitely the more dominant team today,” Dike said. “We finished not as much as we’d like, but it’s still a positive. Getting those three goals in the back of the net, regardless of the shots. We’re just going to build from here and hopefully be better next game.”

After starting off Big 12 play with two losses and two draws, Wednesday night’s nonconference matchup gave the Cowgirls a chance to rebound and to build confidence for the back half of their conference schedule.

“I think we came out knowing we needed to win this game, just to get back to .500 and be back in everything,” Dike said. “I think we came out and did what we needed to do. And scoring a couple of goals builds confidence no matter who you are playing, so I think we needed that.”


If you were looking for America’s brightest orange Wednesday night, you wouldn’t have found it on the field at the Cowgirl Soccer Complex.

Oklahoma State traded its traditional black and orange jerseys for pink tops in support of breast cancer awareness during its 3-0 win over Drake University. game against Oral Roberts, with proceeds

The Cowgirls have been holding breast cancer awareness nights as frequently as possible since the 2009 season. Bridget Brown, then a senior defender on the team, brought up the idea of having a “Think Pink” night and did the legwork to help get the event started.

“She had seen it done at other places,” assistant head coach Karen Hancock said. “And she wondered if we could maybe do it. I looked into it and found out that we could.”

Brown, who is currently a registered nurse working in Tampa, Florida, said that nobody in her immediate family had been affected by breast cancer, but that her best friend’s mother battled with the disease. With her academic focus being the medical field, Brown was the perfect person to get an event like this off the ground.

“I had always seen other professional sports team wearing pink to raise awareness,” Brown said. “I figured the more awareness we could provide about breast cancer, maybe then the more hope and inspiration we could instill in those affected by the disease.”

October has been National Breast Cancer Awareness Month since 1985, and several sports leagues and teams across the country have taken a leading role in promoting the movement. The “Think Pink” jerseys the Cowgirls wore on Wednesday will be auctioned off Friday night during Oklahoma State’s game against Oral Roberts, with all proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen organization fund.

Hancock said that Brown’s work ethic and dedication to community service was what made this event possible.

“Bridget was a go-getter in many ways,” Hancock said. “Not only on the field, but off the field. She was a ‘Senior of Significance’ that year, not only for athletes, but for the whole student body. And part of that was her drive to get this going.”

Brown was one of 45 recipients of the Senior of Significance Award for the 2009-10 academic year, becoming the fourth Cowgirl to earn the award. The award is handed out annually to a small portion of the graduating class that “excels in scholarship, leadership and service for the OSU campus and Stillwater community.”

Brown was a team captain and played every game for the Cowgirls during her senior season, but it was her accomplishments off the field that have had a lasting effect on the program. Although she now lives over 1,000 miles away from Stillwater, Brown is excited to know that her legacy lives on.

“I think it is awesome that the coaches and players are motivated to continue to hold this event and continue to raise awareness,” Brown said. “Makes me feel proud to be a Cowgirl.”


After securing a 3-0 lead against the Bulldogs, Colin Carmichael and his staff began resting its starters and inserting sparsely-used reserves into the game. For those players, this was the reward for challenging the starters every day during practice.

“The reserve players deserved to play,” Dike said. “We’ve had a rough season so far, playing really good teams. Everyone’s been working really hard, and I’m glad everybody got a chance to play today.”

Several of the team’s veteran players said that it was fun to see some of their lesser known teammates get a chance to shine.

“It was awesome,” Mercado said. “They deserve it. Nobody gives them credit for how hard they work. They’re in practice working their butt off every single day, just like we are. They are so important to this team, just like everybody, and they deserved to play tonight.”

Carmichael said that he hoped to involve as many reserves as possible in the match whenever the situation called for it.

“Those kids work so hard all year, and they don’t get the reward of a Courtney Dike and an Allie Stephenson,” Carmichael said. “It’s the right thing to do. Those kids earn it, and they deserve it.”

Sophomore Katie Howard and junior Madeline Wood both saw their first official action as members of the Cowgirls. Backup goalkeeper Ashton Hierholzer made her second appearance of the season after replacing starter Michela Ongaro for the final 15 minutes of the game.


Senior defender Delaney Kiely sat out a game for the first time since her freshman season due to a minor injury.

“She took a little knock on Sunday against Texas,” Carmichael said. “It was more precautionary. We expect to have her back Friday.

Kiely was an active bystander on the OSU sideline, for she spent the whole game instructing her team from the bench.

“I can’t wait to get her back on the field, because I got tired of listening to her in the second half,” Carmichael said. “She actually said that before the game, that this was going to be a nightmare. She was real positive, and she was yelling encouragement all the time. That’s what you expect from one of your leaders.”


With Kiely out, sophomore Laurene Tresfield stepped into the starting lineup. Tresfield was active all game, frequently stepping up into the midfield to make challenges and clearing several balls from the backline.

“I thought she played great,” Carmichael said. “She really did. She didn’t miss a beat.”

It was Tresfield’s ninth start of the season, but only her fourth at her natural position of center back.

“She’s actually a defender, but when she came here, we had a need in the holding midfield,” Carmichael said. “We’ve played her as a defensive center mid. So she probably felt more comfortable tonight than she has for the whole season. She looked great.”

Photo courtesy of OSU Athletics.

Left At The Altar

in Futbol by

Manchester United started off the summer as one of the most active – and shrewd – clubs in the world. By the time the Reds crossed the pond and arrived in the United States for their Guiness-backed preseason tour in late July, the team had already signed Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich ($22 million), Memphis Depay from PSV ($31 million), Morgan Schneiderlain from Southamtpon ($38 million) and Matteo Darmian from Torino ($19 million).

But as the minutes tick by and we get closer and closer to the close of the summer transfer window, the grade on Louis Van Gaal’s report card continues to drop. Since Van Gaal sealed the aforementioned moves, which were all viewed as pretty good pieces of business, he’s had to sell Angel Di Maria to PSG ($67 million) at a $13 million loss after the Argentine spent just one season at Old Trafford, and the David De Gea situation has completely evaporated, with Van Gaal dropping the Spanish star for new-signing Sergio Romero while also refusing to sell De Gea to Madrid. Now it seems like Romero may be United’s first-choice keeper all season long while also not capitalizing on the sizable fee that they could have gotten from Los Blancos for the Spanish international.

What’s worse is that United have swung and missed on several top talents, the most damning of which was former Barcelona forward Pedro Rodríguez, who was instead scooped up by defending champion Chelsea because United, one of the world’s three richest clubs, haggled over a $30 million buyout fee that Barcelona were never going to budge on. On top of Pedro, whose presence would have added a perfect balance to the Red Devils’ attack, United have also been rebuffed on offers for Sergio Ramos, Thomas Muller, Gareth Bale and, most recently, Neymar.

While they seemed to have a real shot at snagging Ramos away from Madrid early on in the transfer for window, now it seems like United are making bids for untouchable players just so that nobody can accuse them of sitting on their hands as Pedro spurned them for the Blues and as bitter rivals Manchester City splurged for Wolfsburg talisman Kevin De Bruyne (this on top of their previous splurge for Raheem Sterling, England’s most expensive player ever, just over a month ago).

At the very least, United’s new signings have looked decent in the early portions of their respective United careers. Schneiderlin has been solid in midfield and has done a good job organizing play, Darmian has looked a capable Premier League defender and Romero has been excellent in goal, allowing just one goal in five matches between EPL and Champions League play. Memphis netted a brace and assisted on two in United’s 7-1 thumping of Club Brugge over two legs in the Champions League playoff round, although he’s still looked a bit shaky in league play as he attempts to adjust to life in the Premiership. Schweinsteiger has been less impressive as he attempts to finding his footing in a United shirt. The former Bayern man has yet to play more than an hour in any of his five appearances this season, and at his age you have to wonder if there will ever be a point where he will be a consistent member of Van Gaal’s Starting XI. 

Speaking of that Starting XI: If the start of the season is any indication, there’s little reason to believe that United will be a serious title challenger during this campaign. If the transfer window closed with the Premier League season kicked off, than maybe United would be closer to the the rest of the pack, but with Chelsea snagging Pedro and City adding De Bruyne, it would appear as if the top two finishers from last season have set themselves up for another mano-a-mano race for the title.

Through three league games, United have only mustered one goal – a decently taken finish by Adnan Januzaj, whom Van Gaal promptly criticized in the postmatch press conference, in the sides’ 1-0 win at Aston Villa. Their other two results were a 1-0 win at home against Tottenham opening day thanks to a Kyle Walker own goal and a scoreless draw against Newcastle last week despite finishing with a sizable gap in possession (66-34) and shot attempts (20-7). The flip side, of course, is that the Red Devils have yet to concede a goal in league play, which is a testament to the fine form of Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Darmian, Romero and Daley Blind, who has handled the switch to centerback quite well thus far.

rooneyBut with the creativity and talent that Van Gaal has in his lockerroom, as well as the amount of cash he has to spend to bring in some attackers that can get him goals, one goal out of three games is not an acceptable output. After experimenting with Depay as the #10 against Spurs and then surprising us all with the insertion of Januzaj into the line-up against Villa, it’s clear that Van Gaal isn’t 100% comfortable with his team selections. Pedro would have solved a lot of issues for LVG, as he would have instantly earned a starting spot on the right flank, allowing Mata to slide into the #10 role, where his lack of pace would be less of an issue and where his vision and passing would shine brightest, Depay to play on the left-hand side, which allows him to cut in on his right foot, and for Rooney to have a bit more support up the field.

But with Januzaj in the hole and Mata forced wide, Rooney hasn’t had much joy linking up with his midfielder partners, and the English international was struggling mightily to get off the mark as the lone striker before fetching a much-needed hat trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday. There were hopes of Rooney surpassing 20 league goals this season now that he’d have the lone striker spot all to himself, but based on current form, it seems like United will need a more creative and pacey player on the right to help Rooney reach that mark.

With the kind of money that he has at his disposable, it is entirely possible that Van Gaal has a blockbuster transfer up his sleeve as the deadline nears. If the Dutchman were able to swing a move for Schalke’s Julian Draxler or Southampton’s Sadio Mané before the final tick of the clock, then perhaps United’s season will be upswing by New Year’s.

But short of a major move in the coming days, United will be entering the fall portion of their schedule having been outshined in the transfer market by major rivals City and Chelsea. And with a lack of homegrown talents sprouting up, if the Red Devils want to return to the glory days they experienced under Sir Alex Ferguson, that has to change.

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