With an Elite Eight run of their own and a talented incoming class of recruits has the Oregon women scaling unprecedented heights as well.
The Ducks run through the NCAA tournament last year was a product of a team building throughout the season and then putting all the pieces together in time for the Pac-12 tournament. In the afterglow of the tourney run it is easily overlooked that the Ducks ended the conference season with three straight losses.
A win over Arizona to open the conference tournament set the stage for the upset win over the third seeded Washington Huskies in their hometown.
Ruthy Hebard’s put-back that lifted the Ducks past Temple in the opening round of the NCAA tournament gave Oregon a dose of belief that carried them through relatively comfortable victories over second seeded Duke and third seeded Maryland. The top-ranked UConn Huskies may have proven to be a bridge too far but despite a one-sided loss the Ducks came to understand they could compete with the best the nation has to offer.
So what do you do for an encore? Add a boatload more talent to your roster and enter the 2017-18 campaign with the highest preseason ranking in program history at #11. To wit:
Anneli Maley, a 6’ 2’ guard from Melbourne, Australia. A four-veteran of the underage national team program Down Under, Anneli averaged 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game in the 2014 Oceana FIBA U18 tournament.
Aina Ayuso, the 5’9” point guard at the same Barcelona, Spain high school as teammate Maite Cazorla and has been a fixture in Spanish national program since she was 13 years old. Aina averaged nine points and four assists in the 2016 FIBA U17 championships.
Satou Sabally, a 6’4” forward from Berlin. Averaged 17 points and seven rebounds a game leading her national team to the FIBA U20 European Div. B Championship before joining the Ducks this fall.
Adding to that star-studded talent, this year Graves will also have Erin Boley available. The 6’2” forward sat out last season as a transfer from Notre Dame. As a frosh Boley hit nearly 40% from behind the arc for the Irish.
Lydia Giomi will be another new wrinkle for the Ducks in 2017-18. The 6’6” center missed all but seven games of her freshman season with a wrist injury and ended up taking a red shirt. The Seattle Metro Valley Division Player of the Year in 2015 with 15 points and 12 rebounds per outing as a prep, Giomi gives the Ducks another threat in the paint.
Add the newcomers to the existing core of talent and suddenly the Ducks have one of the deepest, most athletic rosters in the nation. That it lists only one senior and two juniors just adds to the anticipation of the season to come.
With three year starter Lexi Bando (10.6 points per game) holding down one guard spot and two year starter Carzola (8.1 pts, 3.9 assists per game) running the point, last year’s freshmen could find the usual leap in progress between their first and second year given an extra jolt.
Freshman of the Year Sabrina Ionescu was nothing less than spectacular throughout the season but was particularly impressive under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament averaging 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
In addition to her game winner against the Owls, Hebard started 35 games shot .588 from the floor, averaged nearly 16 points per game and 8.5 rebounds.
Forward Mallory McGwire worked her way into the starting five as the Ducks opened conference play and paid immediate dividends for Graves with three double-double performances and a reliably accurate post up jumper from the free throw line.
Rounding out the newcomers Graves welcomed to campus last year is Sierra Campisano. Hampered by injuries early in the season that slowed her progress the 6’3” forward averaged 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
Both Morgan Yeager and Justine Hall gave Graves solid minutes at guard during the regular season as did Oti Guildon at forward. All will likely remain in limited roles but each has shown they are able to take advantage of their minutes on the court.
All of which leaves Graves with an enviable ability to tailor his lineup to most any situation the Ducks may face offensively or defensively.
If the mindset for Oregon’s success last year was “what could be” for the Ducks, this year takes on more of a “you can’t stop us” flavor. If that lightening can be harnessed, the Ducks expect to again advance to the late rounds of the NCAA tournament.
~ Rick Morgan