Ten Schools in Ten Days: Oregon Women's Basketball Preview
Nov. 3, 2005
These Ducks may wear green and yellow uniforms, but their collars have a hint of blue. Looking to build on last year's success and make a second straight appearance at the NCAA tournament, this Oregon women's basketball squad is prepared with a hard-nosed mentality to get the job done.
Head coach Bev Smith's team tasted victory at the Big Dance a season ago, upsetting higher-seeded TCU before bowing out to eventual NCAA champion Baylor. For Smith, the recipe for success remains essentially the same.
'Defense wins games and rebounding wins championships,' she said. 'Offensively, sharing the ball is the name of our game.'
Indeed, defense is primarily what sparked the Ducks' rise to a tie for second place in the Pacific-10 conference and at-large selection in the NCAA field. Oregon's opponents shot a combined 37.8 percent from the field and averaged just 60.4 points per game, ranking the Ducks among the top three Pac-10 teams in both categories.
'Defensively, we must continue to be active, hard working and smart as a team,' Smith said. Our combined perimeter and post defense last year prevented teams from easy and open shots, and we will continue to defend with heart, desire and Duck defensive pride.'
Last season, Oregon held opposing teams to fewer than 50 points six times, including a defensive clinic at the Papé Jam when the Ducks limited George Washington to just 40. UO's improved rebounding had a lot to do with that and remains a focal point for the 2005-06 campaign.
'We finished on the plus side of the rebounding margin column last season for the first time in recent memory,' Smith said. 'That was a major goal for us, and rebounding must continue to be on the forefront of our playing minds. By pressuring the ball and challenging all shots, defensive rebounds will be the fuel to ignite our offensive transition.'
On offense, Oregon's 11 returning letterwinners and lone incoming freshman will all be counted on to contribute as the Ducks don't return a single player who averaged more than nine points per game at the collegiate level last season. That's not to say Smith expects a drop-off in scoring from the 65.5 points per game the Ducks averaged a year ago. In fact, the team's depth and versatility should open up more ways to score.
The Ducks return a majority of their backcourt players, including seniors Brandi Davis, Chelsea Wagner and Kedzie Gunderson; as well as the trio of Kaela Chapdelaine, Cicely Oaks and Tamika Nurse.
Chapdelaine, a redshirt sophomore, spent the summer with the Canadian National Team program and started at point guard for the student games squad at the World University Games in Izmir, Turkey. An alternate on the national team, Chapdelaine was activated to the main squad and saw her first action in September.
'The Ducks will have a very versatile point guard in charge when Kaela is running the show,' Smith said. 'Her experience internationally provided her with the experience she needs to hone her playing and leadership skills.'
Nurse, Oregon's lone incoming freshman, is a burner who could quickly become a Mac Court favorite.
'Tamika Nurse is first of all an incredible competitor, and secondly, an athlete with quickness and aggressiveness that is fundamental for us at the guard position,' Smith said. 'I watched her compete at the 19 and Under World Championships this summer, and her quickness to go by defenders was impressive.'
Junior guard Cicely Oaks returns after contributing productive minutes in a limited role for the Ducks last season. She made important contributions in key home wins against Oregon State and Washington.
'Cic has put in plenty of work over the spring and summer,' Smith said. 'She is an incredibly explosive player at both ends of the floor, yet has a very soft and accurate shooting touch.''Brandi showed extreme growth and maturity last year, giving our team productive minutes and consistent effort at both ends of the floor,' Smith said. 'Her expanding knowledge of the game and ability to fit her strengths into the ebb and flow of our offensive and defensive schemes has allowed her to become an impact player for our team.'
Davis' strengths are not limited to the basketball court. She earned fifth-year eligibility by graduating on time after beginning her Oregon career as a partial qualifier academically.The Ducks are embracing the return of Wagner, who suffered a season-ending injury midway through 2004-05. In 15 games, Wagner lit it up from beyond the three-point line, shooting better than 40 percent.
'Prior to her injury last year, Chelsea showed why she is an `X' factor for the Ducks,' Smith said. 'Not only is she an important weapon with her outside shooting, but she also brings grit, desire and determination at the defensive end.'
Gunderson, who like Wagner is a redshirt senior, looks to resume her role as a defensive presence at the small forward spot. She has 89 games under her belt at UO, including 47 starts.'In her three previous years, Kedzie has proven herself as one of the top defenders in the conference and takes great pride in bringing that aspect back to the Ducks for her final year,' Smith said.
Post play was critical in Oregon's march to a 21-10 record a year ago, and this season it will be of equal importance. The Ducks will rely on the inside and outside games of junior Carolyn Ganes and sophomore Gabrielle Richards.
'Games are won in the paint, and both Carolyn and Gabe have the ability to be a presence in the low post,' Smith said. 'What we like about both of them is their incredible versatility in being able to establish a low post and outside game, which is very difficult for opposing post players to defend.'
Ganes returns after a redshirt year that saw her improve in the areas of fitness, quickness and strength. The strides she made are undisputed, as evidenced by her selection to the Canadian National Team this past summer.
Richards, an Australian international, racked up plenty of valuable minutes as a freshman, playing alongside the likes of Bills and Kraayeveld. Her experience, gleaned from years with the Australian Junior National Team, was on display at critical junctures last season, most notably Oregon's huge first-round victory over TCU in the NCAA tournament.
'Gabe was only flying at half mast last year, due to a nagging foot injury that required extensive rest this summer,' Smith said. 'But she is back, and this young lady is a competitor and will be a key to our inside attack this year.'
Junior center Jessie Shetters could also factor into Oregon's scheme this season. At 6-6, Shetters is the tallest player in the Ducks' lineup and understands the potential she has to contribute to the program's success.
'Jessie has improved in all areas of her game,' Smith said. 'After playing the understudy to two great centers, she now has the opportunity to be on `center stage' for us.'
The Ducks have a pair of young, exciting forwards in Eleanor Haring and Kristin Forristall. Both players are skilled give Oregon a bright future at the position with their blend of athleticism and competitive fire. Forristall was an All-Pac-10 freshman choice last season and Haring, now a junior, also received that honor during her first year of college ball.
'Eleanor had a rough start last year due to injuries that prevented her from training during the preseason, but she was fundamental to our push through the last half of the Pac-10 season and race to earn an NCAA berth,' Smith said.
Forristall started 11 games as a freshman, including eight during conference play, and impressed everyone in the program with her ability and desire.
'Kristin has a tremendous desire to compete, and she has tools to be a major factor at both ends of the floor,' Smith said.
Jamie Hawkins, a senior transfer from Boise State, will put her work in during practices and familiarize herself with new teammates as she takes a mandatory redshirt year. Hawkins averaged double-digit points during her first two years with the Broncos and has an all-around post game suited to UO's style.
Yadili Okwumabua should also see her fair share of playing time as the senior's hard work has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. 'Yadili has been one of the most effective role players that a coach could ever ask for,' Smith said. 'Last year, she pushed our two All-Pac-10 post players - Cathrine Kraayeveld and Andrea Bills - everyday in practice, which created an incredibly healthy and competitive environment.'
Other Ducks that can expect to see time at forward this season include Carolyn Ganes, Brandi Davis, and Jessica Shetters.