The Oregon women’s basketball team traveled to the southwest last weekend to take on No. 18 Arizona and unranked Arizona State. The Lady Ducks came back with a 1-1 record after a surprising 66-72 upset at the hands of the Sun Devils. the Lady Devils then turned around and beat No.3 Oregon State for a pair of top three victories over the weekend. Maybe Arizona State was better than their 11-4 record heading into these games, or maybe something is in the water down there for Oregon teams.
Either way, this was a loss that came as a surprise for the Ducks. While I don’t think this loss will define their season, there are reasons to believe this team still has a lot of room to grow. The talent is obviously there, and while they returned the majority of minutes and production from last season, this is still a different team, and they need to learn to win in tough games.
The losses of Maite Cazorla and Oti Gildon have proven more significant than originally thought going into this season. Notably absent is Gildon, who was never a player to light up the stat sheet, but she always brought energy, effort, and most important, toughness.
This season the Ducks don’t have a player off the bench who can give them that kind of spark, let alone someone who can consistently take some pressure off Ruthy Hebard to increase her energy and effectiveness late in games. Oregon expected Nyara Sabally to take over that role, but unfortunately for the second year in a row she tore her ACL before the season began.
Now the Ducks are looking to Lydia Giomi and Lucy Cochrane for minutes off the bench, and while both players have good moments, it is quite a drop off in both skill and toughness from Hebard. The challenge for head coach Kelly Graves is finding minutes and opportunites for both these players to step in and contribute early on in games. If they are unable to figure out that rotation, look for the Ducks to play small, with more of Satou Sabally at center.
The Ducks knew Cazorla was a big loss; however, the expectation was that with grad transfer Minyon Moore joining the team, they wouldn’t miss a beat. Turns out, Moore and Cazorla are vastly different players, and it seems the Ducks are still trying to learn how to play consistently with this new group.
The biggest difference is how much Cazorla could stretch the floor with her ability to shoot the three. Teams had to respect her, which led to increased spacing for other players to make plays. Moore isn’t the same type of shooter, so defenders are able to help off her, making it harder for her teammates to attack.
Moore is however, a very good driver and passer, so for the Ducks to counteract her lack of shooting, they should have her initiating more pick and rolls with the shooters around her. Speaking of shooters, Erin Boley is a player that needs to get going for this team to fully reach its potential. She was so crucial to this teams success last year, shooting 43% from three, but is only connecting on 36% so far this season.
This has led to a decline in Boley’s minutes from 28 per game last season, to 23 this season. In addition to her three point shooting, Boley’s size at 6’2 and her ability to defend other post players is huge for the Ducks, especially given that they are overall an undersized team.
However, this has given younger players such as Taylor Chavez and Jaz Shelley a chance to play more minutes and get some valuable experience. These are two players that are not only going to continue to play this season, but will have to fill the shoes left by Sabrina Ionescu after this year.
There is no doubt this is still one of most talented teams in the nation, and should still be considered a favorite to compete for a national championship. But in order to get where they want to go, the Lady Ducks are going to have to get more contributions outside of their big three (Ionescu, Sabally, Hebard). If the other players around them can continue to develop and find their roles, the Ducks can beat any team in the nation on any given day.
The road isn’t going to get any easier in the Pac-12, as the Oregon women turn right around and host a top-five team in Stanford this Thursday. I would never count out the competitiveness of Ionescu, or the genius of Graves throughout the season, but there may be a few more bumps along the way than originally thought. I will be looking to see how this team plays through adversity as we descend into conference play. As every great team does, I have no doubt they will thrive.
Coach Alex Nordstrand
Eugene, Oregon Top photo from Twitter
Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches football at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, GA.
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