Women's Basketball Ready to Roll in 2002-03

Oct. 11, 2002

EUGENE, Ore. - With one year under her belt-including a WNIT championship-Oregon coach Bev Smith is ready for the next step.

Improving on a 22-win season is no cake-walk, however. The Ducks, faced with a formidable schedule, will have their work cut out for them in 2002-03.

'Simply, we want to be better than last year,' Smith said. 'Specifically, we would like to be fitter, stronger and more dynamic athletically up and down the floor.

'Most important, our goal is to be the hardest working team-so that our defensive intensity and grittiness fuel our transition and offensive game-allowing our defensive efforts to become a trademark for us. If we look after these specifics, our long-term goal to play for the Pac-10 Championship will be achieved.'

Oregon's conference record last year, 10-8, was nothing to brag about. The team showed competitiveness and desire, but often searched for the right combinations on the floor. Better late than never, though, as the right combination was found in March. The Ducks won seven of eight games that month, losing by a small margin only in the Pac-10 Tournament to eventual champion Arizona State.

Oregon has lost WNBA draftee Edniesha Curry and three-point queen Jamie Craighead in the back court as well as front-court players Ndidi Unaka and Alyssa Fredrick. But the Ducks return eight players, including two-time All-American guard Shaquala Williams (Portland, Ore.). Plus, the emergence of 6-foot-4 junior forward Cathrine Kraayeveld (Kirkland, Wash.) and 6-foot-3 sophomore post player Andrea Bills (Moreno Valley, Calif.) last season gives Oregon a reason to feel comfortable in the post.

All of this is culminated with the 25th anniversary of the women's basketball team playing at storied McArthur Court -- at 76 years old, the second-oldest on-campus gym in Division I.

'It is an honor and a lot of fun to play at Mac Court,' said Smith, who hustled on the hardwood there from 1978-81 as an All-American for the Ducks. 'Our fans fueled our drive to stay alive in the NIT last year and we are ready again to defend our home court. It's a great and inspiring atmosphere that our community of supporters create for us.'

At home, the Ducks have won 76 percent of their games the last 10 years, including a 14-6 record last season.

Oregon will have to continue its Mac Court dominance in order to advance to its ninth NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years. Equally as important are the Ducks' road dates. Six of Oregon's nine non-conference teams on its schedule were NCAA Tournament qualifiers last season.

The journey begins with 2002 NCAA Tournament-team Wisconsin-Green Bay on Nov. 26. From there, the Ducks go tropical, traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam (Nov. 28-29) as Boston College and South Carolina -- also NCAA tourney teams from a year ago -- will test the Ducks. There's also Brigham Young in the annual Pape' Jam (Dec. 7), Santa Clara at home (Dec. 15) followed by Montana (Dec. 19) and Texas Christian (Dec. 22) before Pac-10 play opens with UCLA (Dec. 27) -- games that could make or break their postseason.

'These are exciting teams on our schedule that we need to get out and compete with,' Smith said.'We need to be successful, particularly against non-conference teams, to have an opportunity for optimum seeding come NCAA Tournament time.'

Ah, the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Ducks' own Mac Court is one of 16 pre-determined sites to host two rounds of March Madness. Oregon's first goal, of course, is to reach the Big Dance. Once there, the Ducks could realistically have a home-court advantage until the Sweet 16 -- a round no Oregon team has ever reached.

How will it happen this year? It begins with determination and desire, Smith said.

'Our players have worked hard and worked together in the off-season,' she said. 'To have a championship season you need a championship off-season and that is what we accomplished in the spring.'

The 5-foot-6 Williams, the 2000 Pac-10 Player of the Year and three-time all-conference selection, will be expected to lead the offense. After starting out slowly a year ago, coming off a medical redshirt because of an ACL tear, she should be primed to go come November.

'Shaquala brings an unbelievable training and work ethic and a true and fiery competitive edge,' Smith said. 'She is a seasoned and accomplished veteran and will have a great senior year, and as such, so will our team.'

Williams (16.3 ppg, 3.9 apg in 2001-02) has led the team in scoring her freshman, sophomore and junior years, but Oregon will have to rely on others to help carry the load.

Kraayeveld (10.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg), the WNIT MVP, might be that player. Little used as a freshman, Kraayeveld bloomed into a force her sophomore year in the season's second half. Overall, she had 15 double-figure rebounding games, and 11 double-doubles, including all five WNIT games. She also led the team with 41 blocked shots and a 51 percent shooting mark from the field.

'Cathrine will play an important role as an outside-inside scoring threat and defensive stopper,' Smith said. 'Her rebounding ability also will be fundamental to our success.'

Helping down low will be Bills, a steady performer with great hands and a knack of willing the ball into the hoop. Last year she had the most rebounds (194) of any Oregon freshman in 12 seasons.

''Drea will be a very important post presence for us this year,' Smith said.

Others in the sophomore class -- 6-foot-2 forward Amy Parrish (Hanford, Calif.) and 6-foot wing player Kedzie Gunderson (Bellevue, Wash.) -- look to improve upon solid freshman seasons. 'Amy will continue to grow and add strength to our inside game while Kedzie will add power and better shooting range.'

Williams' back-court mates -- seniors Alissa Edwards (Hermiston, Ore.), and Kourtney Shreve (Albany, Ore.) along with sophomores Brandi Davis (La Habra, Calif.) and Amy Taylor (Shoreline, Wash.) -- will be battling for starting positions. Edwards (3.2 ppg, 1.8 apg) has been one of the most consistent players for the Ducks the last two years. She started seven games last season and had the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team.

Meanwhile, Shreve (2.0 ppg, 0.9 apg) is a bonafide play-maker who has ignited Oregon rallies in the past.

Taylor competed in 19 games last season and displayed her ball-handling and play-making ability in her limited time.

Finally, Davis is an unknown to many outside Eugene, especially after sitting out last year as a partial qualifier. However, people should take notice this season as she brings her dynamic offensive game to the Ducks. And, at 6-feet tall, she has potential to create matchup problems for teams with smaller back courts.

'Brandi will be a very exciting player to watch and will contribute immediately to our on-court success,' Smith said.

Five newcomers will join the team this year, although two of them -- transfer guards Chelsea Wagner (Springfield, Ore./Hawaii) and Corrie Mizusawa (Lafayette, Calif./Saint Mary's) -- will have to sit out. The others, junior Kayla Steen (Hillsboro, Ore./Clackamas CC) along with freshmen Carolyn Ganes (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) and Yadili Okwumabua (Winnipeg, Manitoba) will be expected to immediately contribute.

Ganes, picked as one of the top 21 'Freshmen of Impact' by womenscollegehoops.com, is a 6-foot-3 post player, and was the youngest member of the 2001 Canadian national team.'Carolyn will play an immediate role in complementing our post play of Cathrine and 'Drea,' Smith said. 'She will have a great impact on our team's success.'

Steen, meanwhile, will help ease the loss of Craighead, who made a school record 81 three-pointers in 2000-01. Steen, a 5-foot-8 guard, shot nearly 50 percent from long range at Clackamas (Ore.) CC last season.

'Kayla will add a seasoned and savvy element,' Smith said. 'She will look to contribute offensively with some great shooting range and defensive smarts.'

Smith said Okwumabua, a 6-foot-2 forward, will play an important role as a rebounder and defender. She earned 4A Player of the Year honors in Manitoba her final two years at Glenlawn Collegiate. With Okwumabua and Ganes, it's the first time since 1983-84 the Ducks have had two Canadian players on their roster.

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