Starting the season with one of the best undefeated records in UO women’s basketball history, the Lady Ducks are thrilling their fans with great three-point shooting and a return to fundamentals on defense. The UO women’s basketball team is currently No. 2 in the Pac-12, behind USC. Also, the team ranks third nationally in three-point shooting at 43.8 percent.
With five seniors, including returning 6-foot-1 forward/center Liz Brenner, this year the team is formidable. Brenner attributes this year’s successes to great team chemistry. Coach Kelly Graves said, “Every day I am more and more impressed with Liz.” Brenner, a multi-sport Duck athlete, is described as having a “high basketball IQ” by Graves. Brenner is a power defensively and offensively for the team.
Last season, 5-foot-9 guard Lexi Bando received a black eye playing against USC, but that didn’t deter her from her entertaining, scrappy style of play. She still had the black eye when the Ducks played UCLA. Bando still popped in three point shots with abandon with the rest of her team.
Bando, a local recruit from Willamette High School, recently scored a career-best 35 points in a 104-74 preseason win over San Jose State. Graves called her the Larry Bird of the Oregon program after that win, when she was 12-of-17 from the field and 6-for-7 in 3-point shots. Bando leads the Pac-12 in three-point shooting at 50 percent.
In one preseason game this season, the Ducks scored 15 three pointers. Kat Cooper is third in the Pac-12 for three-point shots at 48.1 percent and Lexi Petersen is tied for 12th in the league at 42.1 percent.
Duck forward/center Jacinta Vandenburg, at 6-foot-5, provides height for the Ducks. In addition, the Ducks have two 6-foot-3 players: forward Lauren Yearwood and forward Jillian Alleyne, who recently received Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for consistently getting double-doubles. Freshman point guard Maite Cazorla leads the Pac-12 in assists.
Coach Graves focuses on fundamentals such as minimizing turnovers, backdoor cuts, working on presses, shooting three-point shots and recognizing different defenses. Graves calls himself “all business” and “intense” during games. He wants to see more balance and fewer mental mistakes in games. In a recent team practice, Graves lauded a play he compared to “Ginobili to Duncan,” as a Duck player made an assist to a teammate for a layup.
Twenty-five percent of the women’s team roster are international players from Spain, Canada and Australia. Three players are enrolled in graduate programs to get their master’s degrees at UO.
The Lady Ducks will open the regular season on the road at UCLA and USC in January. Both will be televised on the regional Pac-12 Network. Then the Ducks will face No. 7-ranked Oregon State on the road in January.
Two years ago, the Ducks hired Oregon State assistant coach Mark Campbell, who was promoted from Duck assistant to associate head coach for the Ducks in December.
With just two home games remaining on the Lady Ducks’ preseason schedule, this year could be the year the UO women’s basketball team returns to the NCAA Tournament — its team goal.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove