Michelle Smith Feature: Oregon's Hebard is becoming one of the top posts in the nation

DouglasTaylor.co

There is efficient. And then there’s Ruthy Hebard.

Oregon’s sophomore center is picking off where she left off a season ago, when she burst onto the Pac-12 scene out of Fairbanks, Alaska, quickly becoming one of the top posts in the conference.

Now it’s safe to say that Hebard is becoming one of the top post players in the nation.

“She’s a marked player this year,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “Nobody really knew her last year. I mean, at one point, we talked about redshirting her. But she is a more confident player this year all the way around.”

On Tuesday night, at home against Eastern Washington, Hebard played 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes, she went 7-for-7 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line for a team-leading 22 points.

Last week, in Oregon’s Nov. 16 win at Texas A&M, Hebard was 10-for-10 from the floor.

“I think the question is, why doesn’t her coach get her the ball more?” joked Graves. “Yeah, she’s been pretty efficient.”

Hebard is averaging 16.2 points a game, and shooting 72 percent from the floor. As a freshman, Hebard led the Ducks in scoring and rebounding and led the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage at 58.8 percent. She’s well ahead of that pace early. Hebard ranks in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage, but nobody on the list ahead of her has taken more shots to this point.

“I know there are a lot of eyes on us and I’m trying to do whatever I can to help us be successful,” Hebard said. “I’m definitely stronger this year, and I lost a little weight, so I feel better. I’ve worked on my outside shot – but I definitely still love to play down low – and I want to be a little more smart.”

Hebard spent part of her summer playing for USA Basketball’s Under-19 team, where she was named a team captain.

Graves has seen the difference in Hebard. She is more mature and more prepared for what’s coming this season.

“She’s just changed. Her body is stronger, she’s more aggressive when she gets the ball,” Graves said. “Last year, she would get pushed out of the block and she was still trying to score with her back ot the basket. This year, she’s squaring up and she’s been really good taking people off the dribble. They are subtle things, but they are very noticeable to me.”

Hebard is not only taking her cues from coaches, but her veteran teammates, who are pushing her to her potential in practice every day.

“Sabrina (Ionescu) is my best friend and she pushes me no matter what. She’s someone who you don’t want to disappoint," said Hebard. "Mallory (McGwire) pushes and shoves me and we work on each other. We have a good connection as teammates on and off the court. I’m just really trying to pick up where I left off last year.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.

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