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Laia Raventós imports flair into the 49er offense

While an early season, nagging knee injury holds Griffin Dempsey to the bench, Spanish freshman point guard Laia Raventós pulls the offensive strings for the 49ers. The uncertainty surrounding Raventós wasn’t whether or not she would succeed at the college level but instead how soon would fans witness the Catalan guard’s unique skill-set to the fullest.

Six games into the season, Raventós is answering that question.

The first international signee under 49ers head coach Cara Consuegra possesses experience beyond her years. Raventós, only 18 years old, is already a two-time FIBA world champion and has traveled across countless European countries playing basketball. Raventós ranked in the top 20 of eight statistical FIBA categories and guided Spain to gold, scoring 16 points against Russia in the FIBA U18 championship in 2015. Despite all of this, Raventós is one of the most level-headed, respectable student athletes around.

“One thing that I desire to accomplish in four years in Charlotte, is to grow both as a player, as a person and learn as much as I can,” Raventós said prior to a preseason training session when asked what she wanted to accomplish in her time at Charlotte.

Through just six games, the Spanish point guard is achieving just what she desired, highlighted by her growing comfortability on the court alongside her teammates.

Entrusted with the starting job since day one, Raventós currently averages 7.3 points, five assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.84 steals from her first six appearances. Even when including her uncharacteristic turnover average (3.1 per game) that often plagues first-year floor generals, it’s not hard to see a young woman with a bright future.

Some players shrink when confronted with the daunting task of directing a fairly new, fast paced basketball offense. Even with Raventós’s admirable basketball resume, pulling the strings of a college basketball offense in the United States is an unfamiliar experience. While she’s still figuring out the subtle variations within the American style of play, she’s beginning to shine on the court.

Last Thursday, Nov. 19, against Elon she exhibited the qualities that make her such an exciting young player. Raventós scored a career-best 11 points, five assists and shot 50 percent from the field. Despite playing only 21 minutes due to early foul trouble, Raventós made the most of her opportunities with the ball in her hands.

On Monday, Nov. 23 in Halton Arena against Miami, Raventós played 36 minutes, nearly doubling her minutes played against Elon. She was given the key to the 49ers offense in which she unlocked the Hurricanes’ defense on multiple occasions. After Charlotte eclipsed a double-digit lead in the third quarter, Raventós started a fast break off of Kira Gordon’s defensive rebound. Raventós threaded a one handed back door bounce pass to Alexis Alexander. Alexander caught the ball in stride and converted the layup flawlessly giving the 49ers their biggest lead of the night.

Her six assists on the night proved to be a talking point.

“I think Laia, this was one of her best games so far in her young career,” Consuegra said. “Laia’s definitely a pass first guard. A lot of that is just her experience playing on the Spanish national team.”

Most recently, in the Georgia State University Thanksgiving Classic held over the past weekend, Nov. 28 and 29, Raventós dished out 13 assists combined in the two games. Raventós’ superb facilitation helped crown Charlotte as tournament champions, capping off their week in Atlanta, Ga.

Her elegant passing was on display as she threaded the needle, delivering a pinpoint half-court bounce pass to Ciara Gregory against Mercer. She went on feed Alexis Alexander a behind-the-back no-look pass under the back board, securing the 49ers’ victory late in the fourth quarter.

“She has an uncanny ability to make plays,” Consuegra said. “She’s done a tremendous job finding players underneath the basket and it’s a lot of fun to watch. She’s only going to get better and better as she becomes more comfortable.”

Although Consuegra is pleased with Raventós’s ball distributing ability, she’s certain that Raventós will add another dimension to her game with scoring.

In the GSU Thanksgiving Classic, Raventós increased her points per game average with two double-digit scoring outings. Raventós scored 21 points combined against Mercer and Georgia State while shooting 62 percent.

Her growing confidence in her shot is highlighted by her first trifecta against Georgia State. Raventós pulled down a defensive rebound and walked the ball up the court in transition. Before her defender could close-out, Raventós elevated from straight away knocking down the three-pointer giving Charlotte a four point lead.

“She played [on the Spanish national team] with a loaded back court,” Consuegra said. “Her role on that team is very different than the role we want her here. She hasn’t had the ball in her hands as much as she has since she’s been here.”

Raventós’ growing comfortability facilitating the fast-paced offense will undoubtedly translate to the team’s success as whole as she continues to break down opposing defenses.

This is exactly what the 49ers want to see in the young woman they recruited from Spain. She’s confident with the ball in her hands. She has no fear when guarded by some of the countries’ best, valiantly crossing them up and driving to the basket. She’s a team player that wants to make others around her better. With only six games under her belt, she’s already on pace to tally 150 assists on the season, which would shatter the current freshman record of 130 assists set by former 49er Markita Aldridge.

Additionally, Raventós shines on the defensive end. She’s pick-pocketed the opposition 11 times thus-far creating 19 fast break points for the 49ers. Her impressive sleight of hand early on sets her up to break into the top-5 freshman single-season steals record. Currently, Raventós is set to reach 55 steals this season.

Her early season success isn’t entirely shocking but it is compelling. As the season rolls on, the young Spanish point guard is only going to improve, her hard work and dedication won’t accept anything less. And that’s a good sign for the 49ers.

The Kenya Olley Effect

Seven games into the season, the Charlotte 49ers sit comfortably near the top of the Conference-USA holding a 5-2 record. Many factors have contributed to Charlotte’s early season success thus-far but one aspect in particular is junior Kenya Olley. The 6-foot-3-inch forward is a defensive presence to say the least as she continues to prove why she’s one of the best rim protectors in the country.

The junior forward grew up and graduated from Dorman High School in Spartanburg, S.C. Basketball and blocking shots in particular came natural to Olley. Throughout her high school varsity basketball career, she averaged more than three blocks per game despite only playing in 10 games her senior year due to injury.

“My dad taught me how to block them [shots] when I was younger. He told me he wanted me to become a shot blocker so he showed me how to block shots,” Olley said.

After Olley’s freshman season in which she played in 16 games, she earned a consistent amount of playing time in her sophomore year, last season. Olley appeared in all 32 games and tallied 4o blocks, a personal career-best. It was obvious that Olley possessed potential but in order to make the most of her unteachable skill-set, she would have to work.

“Kenya made the decision this summer to change her work ethic,” 49ers head coach Cara Consuegra said. “Her first two years being an underclassman still trying to figure it out, she would come in to get through practice. This summer she made a decision to practice to get better. And her game grew tremendously because of it and she’s continued to have that mentality here throughout the season.”

The 49ers extended their win streak to three games defeating NC Central, Dec. 2. As presumed, Olley made her presence known impacting the game in a various amount of ways. The least startling of which was her defensive prowess. Charlotte outscored the Lady Eagles by 29 points when she was on the court, proof of her defensive performance. Olley continues to exemplify consistency defending on the low post. NC Central relished little to no joy in the paint while Olley was on the floor.

Olley began to irritate the Lady Eagles’ offense from the get-go but tallied her first blocked shot just over four minutes into the second quarter. Rodneysha Martin started a fast break for the Lady Eagles, drove the lane eyeing an open layup but Olley met her at the rim. The 49er forward denied Martin restarting the Charlotte offense as Mintrell McKoy hauled in the rebound.

Much of the second half was the same story as Olley rejected NC Central on three occasions in the third quarter alone. She was a stalwart in the paint and is the perfect insurance policy. Her defensive presence is assuring to teammates. Perimeter defenders can increase their on-ball pressure knowing that Olley is providing protection inside the arc. Any opposing undersized guard that penetrates Charlotte’s defense is challenged by Olley on each scoring attempt. Against NC Central, three of Olley’s blocks were on the Lady Eagle’s guards.

In addition to keeping the opponent from scoring, each battle Olley wins in the paint is a confidence-deflator for the opposition. This affects the game in more ways than one especially if opposing players become hesitant to drive the lane when Olley in on the court.

“What we teach in our defense is that when we get beat baseline in particular we want to level off the drive but if we cant, Kenya always knows she’s allowed to rotate over and block the shot,” Consuegra said. “I think the kids know that and that gives them a lot more confidence when defending good perimeter players.”

Olley’s continued defensive success on the low block has her ranked nationally as she currently sits fifth in the NCAA averaging 3.43 blocks per game. In the C-USA, Olley ranks first by a wide margin. She’s tallied 24 blocks on the season, twice as much as the next player. As impressive as these statistics are, Olley’s uncanny ability to stay out of foul trouble while contesting so many shots is remarkable. Thus-far, Olley averages just 2.5 fouls per game which contributes to her stellar 1.33 blocks per foul average, a number on par with NBA veterans Pau Gasol and Anthony Davis.

“I go up straight and usually block shots with one hand,” Olley said. “I just let them drive by and I can read by their body to see if they’re about to go up for the shot.”

As if proving to be a remarkable defensive anchor isn’t enough, Olley is improving her offensive production game-by-game. Against NC Central, Olley logged 12 points while shooting 60 percent from the field. This point tally marked the second best scoring output she’s enjoyed in her 49er career. At the same time, her 12 points against the Lady Eagles, was her second double-digit scoring game and first game in which she led Charlotte in scoring.

“I think for her, she has a great touch,” Consuegra said. “She’s always had a great touch around the rim and from 15 feet. The biggest thing we work on with her is getting her to get squared all the way on her shot especially when she’s in the paint. Once she commits to getting all the way squared, using a double pivot, she has the capability of becoming a really good scorer.”

Olley’s offensive game is versatile. While she enjoys playing under the basket scoring with her left hand, the Spartanburg, S.C. native has shown off her shooting range on numerous occasions. The junior forward hasn’t hesitated to pull up from 15 feet away from the basket. Nearly a third of the way through the season, that mid-range jumper has served Olley well as she’s currently shooting 53 percent from the floor.

“She [Consuegra] wants me to score more, I know I don’t really score a lot,” Olley said. “I look to block shots. I rather be on defense than offense but I have to learn to play offense too. She told me she wants me to score more, I have to step up to it.”

As Olley’s offensive production continues to improve game-by-game, Charlotte’s offense as a whole will raise. As a team, Charlotte currently averages 77 points per game on average, second best in the C-USA. Olley is a tough player to guard simply based on height but add a smooth mid-range jump shot and fluid post moves to the package and she quickly becomes a nightmare for opposing coaches.

 

3 reasons Real Madrid shouldn't bring back José Mourinho

It's very difficult to argue against or reject the proposition that José Mourinho could manage your beloved football club. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ possesses a resume that speaks for itself. Mourinho has conquered Europe not once, but twice, with two different clubs. He’s hoisted the league title eight times in 12 years with four different top-level teams. Many players, coaches and commentators speak highly of the Portuguese’s talents but after a three-year stint in Madrid from 2010-2013, Florentino Perez should spend his time interviewing alternative candidates.

Why you may ask? Here’s our three reasons why Real Madrid should pass on the opportunity to bring back the Special One.

Mourinho's relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo

While many former players speak highly of Mourninho from their days playing under the Portuguese manager, it’s not a secret that the relationship between Cristiano and Mou is rocky to say the least. Much like Ronaldo, Mourinho is blessed with a journalist’s ideal fantasy: an enormous ego. The egotistical boss is well known for leaving reporters with journalism gold:

"Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one."

And one more:

"How do you say cheating in Catalan?" (Referring to Lionel Messi)

Unfortunately, the star studded ego Mourinho possesses tends to clash with players alike. During his three-year stint with the Spanish giants, Mourinho had a falling old with Madrid’s icon, Ronaldo. Their relationship reached a breaking point in 2013 following a match with Valencia in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. Mourinho reprimanded Real Madrid’s No. 7 for his lack of defensive effort and for hurriedly taking a throw-in that Mesut Özil was unable to control. Their tension boiled over in the locker room postgame in which reports claim that Ronaldo needed to be restrained by teammates. Their relationship would never be the same again. The connection between a club's star man and manager is important if not the most imperative.

Bringing back Mourinho would only open up an entire new can of worms.

Lack of trophies

While Mou has enjoyed lifting eight league titles throughout the course of his career, only one of those domestic crowns was with Real Madrid.

Any manager hired to lead Los Blancos has one job: win trophies. While Mourinho was incredibly successful with the likes of Chelsea, Inter Milan and Porto, his stint with Real Madrid was underwhelming to say the least. During a time in which Los Merengues yearned for La Décima, Mourinho failed to deliver on three separate occasions, exiting the EUFA Champions League in the semi-finals each year.

His unsuccessful trials in European competition coincided with Real Madrid’s domestic title chase each year. Despite lifting the La Liga trophy at the end of the 2012 season, Mourinho’s team finished runner-up the two other years under his leadership. Perez expects nothing but the best from his heralded club and under Mourinho’s leadership just a few years ago, the club failed to live up to the lofty expectations.

Conservative style of play

Real Madrid possess a few of the most talented, skillful attackers in the world. The names of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, James Rodríguez and Karim Benzema speak for themselves.

Rehiring Mourinho would propose an entirely new question to whether or not these players would be used to their full potential and ability. It’s no secret that Mou enjoys employing a more defensive style. In five months with Chelsea this season, the Blues scored three goals just once, against West Bromwich Albion, a consistent bottom-table team. Additionally, Chelsea averaged just over one goal per game in 16 appearances in the Barclay’s Premier League this season under the Portuguese boss.

The statistics don’t scream offensive powerhouse by any means. Furthermore, while Real Madrid supporters want their team to win first and foremost, goals are needed in order to do so. Mourinho’s track record proves that he doesn’t bring that luxury consistently.

The importance of own goals and Willian's free-kicks for Chelsea

In a season in which Chelsea have yearned for a hero, time and time again, Willian and opposing defenders have stepped to the forefront. It’s no secret that for the most part, the Blues have struggled to score from open play. However that doesn’t mean that Willian can’t contribute from dead ball situations and the opposition’s defenders can’t score for them. Thus far, Chelsea have tallied 12 goals from Willian’s free-kicks and own goals combined, each with six apiece. But just how important have those goals been? Well, we broke it down for you.

Own Goals

Premier League:

Federico Fernandez, Swansea. Final Score: 2-2.

Callum Chambers, Arsenal. Final Score: 2-0.

Allan Hutton, Aston Villa. Final Score: 2-0.

Gareth McAuley, West Brom. Final Score: 2-2.

Champions League:

Aleksander Dragovic, Dynamo Kiev. Final Score: 2-1.

Ivan Marcano, Porto. Final Score 2-0.

Willian’s Free-Kicks

Premier League:

Newcastle. Final Score: 2-2.

Southampton. Final Score 1-3.

Champions League:

Macabi Tel Aviv. Final Score: 4-0

Porto. Final Score: 1-2.

Dynamo Kiev. Final Score 2-1.

Macabi Tel Aviv. Final Score 4-0.

The Importance?

Firstly, Chelsea wouldn’t be in the position that they’re in right now and José Mourinho most likely wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did.

Beginning with the removal of own goals and Willian’s free-kicks in the Premier League, the Blues would’ve dropped three points from combined matches against Swansea, West Brom and Newcastle. Chelsea would sit two positions lower than they currently do and would possess three less points. This would have the almighty English club resting just one point above the relegation zone and above Swansea based on goal differential. It’s not exactly where anyone would expect a club with highest wage bill in the Premier League to be positioned.

Moving over the the Champions League, if the same parameters are applied, Chelsea wouldn’t be slated for a matchup with Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16 in three weeks time. In fact, Chelsea would’ve dropped three points forcing them down to third place within the group prompting a free trip to the Europa League.

Sounds dreadful, right?

Willian’s appetite for goals and Chelsea’s attackers’ ability to put the ball in dangerous areas is delightful but the Blues have relied on their opposition’s mistakes too much this season. Scouting Chelsea becomes simple. Don’t give away silly fouls on the edge of the box and Willian becomes a sub-par goalscorer considering the Brazilian has only found the back of the net twice this season from open play.

Also, stay behind the ball when in front of your own net. As of mid-October, own goals was Chelsea’s leading scorer as Diego Costa was performing worse than Ricky Van Wolfswinkel during his stint with Norwich City.

However, there is a silver lining within this mess. It seems as if Chelsea finally found a true set piece specialist, a role they’ve direly missed since the departure of Frank Lampard. Also, as along as Chelsea’s attacking midfield trio continues to cross the ball into the mixer, one of the Blues’ underperforming strikers are bound to get onto the end of it eventually.

REVIEW: CHVRCHES opens every eye at the Fillmore Charlotte

In front of a sell-out crowd Wednesday night, Scottish synth-pop trio CHVRCHES slowly emerged from the darkness. White lights glimmered as symphonic tunes graced the sound waves sending chills down the audience’s spine. The Fillmore Charlotte crowd drowned in the alluring melody as Glaswegian front-woman Lauren Mayberry appeared, shocking the crowd back to life from a nearly mesmeric state.

An array of oranges, reds and pinks flashed before the audience’s eyes as CHVRCHES opened their highly anticipated performance with the introductory track “Never Ending Circles” from their sophomore album “Every Open Eye.”

The European threesome consisting of Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty peeked out into the musical spotlight in 2013 with their auspicious demo “Lies” before kicking down the door with their single “The Mother We Share.” Their debut LP The Bones Of What You Believeshortly followed and surged to the top of the charts.

Returning to the Queen City, CHVRCHES made it known that they’re not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve. Their sincere and heartfelt lyrics resonate with their listeners and Mayberry’s expressive performance did just that.

The gold lighting effects illuminated the room and the gold strobe lights reflected off the rotating disco ball suspended from the ceiling. Mayberry’s sequins glistened in the gold ambience. The crowd belted the lyrics to recent release, “Make Them Gold.” The lyrics become dictations when they’re heard straight from Mayberry. The passion was exemplified when she sang, “We will take the best parts of ourselves and make them gold.”

The optimistic, cheery performance led them into an upbeat, melancholy presentation of hit track “Empty Threat.” The sapphire colored lights gleamed a bit less. Mayberry stood motionless, grasping the microphone with two hands as she peered out into the audience. Band members Cook and Doherty bobbed up and down behind her, flawlessly hitting the synth-chords as Mayberry continued the emotional rendition of the gloomy track.

It’s safe to say that over the years Mayberry has mastered her craft of entertaining and amusing the crowd effortlessly. When she wasn’t performing, her soft, lovable voice seized the audience’s attention as she chit-chatted, sharing her recent discovery of the true meaning of “Netflix and chill” and hinted at her upcoming Halloween costume.

“I have a plan for what I want to do but these guys are like, we’re old sensible synth-lords,” Mayberry said. “It’s a life goal of mine to do this particular costume. I’m excited. People ask why do you get so into it? Life is short and full of lots sad shit so you might as well dress up as stuff.”

It was gratifying as Mayberry and CHVRCHES connected with their admirers on not only a musical level but on a personal level as well.

The crowd cheered as CHVRCHES moved into what they claimed was they final song of the night, “Clearest Blue.” The audience clapped along knowing that the unforgettable night was coming to an end. The Glaswegian threesome bowed out behind the turquoise-colored illumination before reemerging to hammer home their grand-finale.

The audience’s applause and ovation could be heard on North Graham Street as CHVRCHES’ light spectacle and incredible music performance came to an end with the performance of the song that carried them into the limelight, “The Mother We Share.”

The crowd worshipped the Glaswegian icons even after the overheads turned on. CHVRCHES’ raw-emotion behind the melodious synth-pop beats puts them in a class of their own and like the rock stars they are, the show ended with a bang.