Feature: Stepping Up For The U.S.

May 18, 2007

By Jeffrey Dransfeldt
Oregon Daily Emerald

May 18, 2007

Eugene, OR (CSTV U-WIRE) -- For Taylor Lilley, her freshman status may have been misleading.

When most freshmen were finding their way, the 5-foot-6 shooting guard showed poise. While others struggled for playing time, Lilley filled a void. She gave the Oregon women's basketball team a consistent three-point threat, averaging 8.3 points on .479 shooting.

Maybe, then, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Lilley was selected to tryout for the United States' U-19 World Championship Team. Lilley flew out early Thursday and continues through Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Lilley is one of 37 players selected to participate.

Oregon coach Bev Smith called Lilley and gave her the news.

'She's like 'I have some really exciting news for you' and I still had no idea. What could be exciting right now? She was like 'you're getting invited to go tryout for the USA National Team.' I was kind of like 'what?' It really didn't sink in,' Lilley said. 'It took me a while to get 'OK, wow, this is Under-19 USA National Team,' so it's a pretty big deal and I was pretty excited about it.'

DePaul coach Doug Bruno is coaching the team and is being assisted by Cynthia Cooper and Carol Owens of Prairie View A&M and Northern Illinois University, respectively.

Lilley sees the tryout as another learning experience with the coaches and players from across the country. Notable tryout participants include Stanford's Jayne Appel, Tennessee recruits Vicki Baugh and Angie Bjorklund and California guard Natasha Vital.

'It's going to be one heck of an experience,' Lilley said. 'I'm just going to try and soak it all in when I'm there and just play my heart out and have fun, really.'

The freshman worked twice per week with Oregon coaches this spring. Spring offers players time to work on their game individually outside of the team-oriented regular season.

'She's going to really benefit this spring from conditioning and strength and becoming a little bit more tested in terms of that physicality,' Smith said. 'She never backed down from anyone this year and, as we help her get a little bit stronger, I think that's going to be even more so next year as she competes.'

Lilley earned Pacific-10 Conference All-Freshman honorable mention in a season that saw the heady guard make a team-leading 1.6 three-pointers. She shot 51 percent from long-distance, and, though she started just three games, she made her impact off the bench with 22.8 minutes per game. 'I think I held my own out there, and I think people noticed, especially with the three-point (shot), and I think that's really what they are looking for is more of a shooter on their team,' Lilley said. 'So I'm sure that's probably part of the reason I was asked to go.'

Lilley kicked off last season with 27 points in the season opener at UC-Santa Barbara and concluded it with three three-pointers in the second half at Wyoming in the Women's National Invitational Tournament.

Her second three-pointer of the second half with 29.9 seconds remaining brought Oregon within four points of Wyoming at 61-57, and she calmly tied the game at 62 on a three-pointer with 15.4 seconds left. The Ducks eventually lost the game, but the impression Lilley left was clear.

As Smith simply put it, 'It was Taylor Lilley.'

'I think that's what we know of her,' Smith said.

Lilley missed six games in December with a broken left hand and battled through a stress fracture in her right leg toward the end of the season. Add that to the normal wear and tear of a long college season, and Lilley knew she needed a break when Oregon's season ended in the third round of the WNIT.

She went back home to California for spring break, visited her mom and friends and relaxed.

Lilley took three weeks off in all, which allowed the guard time to recover, mostly mentally, she said.

'I never really realized how much it does take a toll on you,' Lilley said. 'We've been playing since September, really, so it was a long season but it was all worth it, for sure. But it does take a mental toll on you, but physically I thought I felt pretty good.'

Lilley is accustomed to putting in extra time before and after practice, but realized the long-term benefits of time away from the game she loves.

'I know it's smart because sometimes you have to be smart with your body and you have to treat it nicely because you haven't been too nice to it, so I needed to take that time off or else I wasn't going to feel as good as I needed to or wanted to,' Lilley said.

Smith too has noticed the time Lilley puts in and it has reflected in the Oregon coach's willingness to give the guard plenty of minutes and play her in pressure situations.

'We're so excited about both her and Micaela (Cocks) and what they've done for our program, not in terms of when the lights come on at 7 at Thursday night for a Pac-10 game, but they are in the gym,' Smith said. 'They've helped change our culture in terms of being gym rats, and you can see how that kind of work pays off with those two.'

(C) 2007 Oregon Daily Emerald via CSTV U-WIRE

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