Michelle Smith WBB Notebook: Oregon and Arizona face off, VanDerveer approaches milestone
The view from Eugene is a pretty good one for the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks.
Following a weekend in which they beat Colorado and Utah by a combined-margin of 95 points, Oregon (12-1, 2-0) looks like a team that’s ready to take on the considerable challenge that lies ahead, beginning this weekend in Arizona.
The Ducks have been on the road only sparingly so far this season, a trip to Syracuse that preceded their participation in the Virgin Islands Thanksgiving tournament and a trip to Long Beach State.
And now this journey to the desert for games against the Sun Devils (11-4, 1-2) and Sunday’s showdown against No. 18 Arizona (13-1, 2-1), which lost its first game of the season at UCLA on Sunday.
“These guys are tough,” Graves said of the Arizona schools. “These are going to be knock-down, drag-out games. They both defend so well.”
Arizona leads the country in scoring defense, allowing 47.1 points a game. Arizona State is fourth in the Pac-12 at 55.2 ppg.
Graves thinks his team finally played well last weekend, perhaps for the first time all season.
“I don’t think we’ve been playing particularly well,” Graves said. “We’ve not been shooting the ball that well, we aren’t stroking it. We led the nation in three-point percentage last year and we are shooting five percentage points worse than that.”
Oregon is shooting 36.4 percent from beyond the arc, the second-best figure in the Pac-12. And the Ducks have hit more 3-pointers than anyone in the conference.
Oregon has gotten shooting boosts from the likes of freshmen Jaz Shelley (.443) and Holly Winterburn (.379) as Sabrina Ionescu (.333), Erin Boley (.382) and Satou Sabally (.238) have struggled - a bit - from beyond the arc. Each shot well above 40 percent last season.
“I know they can shoot well,” Graves said. “I assume that will come at some point. But we’ve had some lulls here and there, offensively. When we are good, we are really good. But then we hit a lull and we just relax sometimes.”
The one area that Graves feels best about has been his team’s ability to hold down opponents’ offensively. In the five games since the Ducks’ only loss of the season against Louisville, they have allowed opponents an average of 48.3 points a game.
“I like our defense and hopefully that’s the norm for our team,” Graves said.
The trip to Arizona opens up what can only be considered a challenging stretch that will last well into February. Two games in Arizona, followed by a trip to the Bay Area schools and a matchup against No. 5 Stanford, followed by Civil War games against Oregon State, followed closely by a Feb. 3 game at Connecticut, followed again by the Arizona schools, then UCLA and then up to the Bay Area.
“We’ve got quite a run coming up,” Graves said. “We have four games against teams ranked in the top five in the next four weeks. We’ve always done a really good job of compartmentalizing, our kids have done well at that. So, we will focus on Arizona State.
“But we know what’s ahead of us. Our kids have been around the block and we know what it’s going to take.”
This is less familiar ground for the Arizona Wildcats.
A tough loss at UCLA on Sunday, Arizona’s first loss of the season, hasn’t damaged Arizona’s confidence heading into what might be its biggest weekend of basketball in years.
“We are sticking to the details,” said Wildcats coach Adia Barnes, who talked extensively about a “brutal” third quarter against the Bruins in which they were outscored 28-13 that led to a loss.
“We had a chance to win that game,” Barnes said. “We went to a zone because we were in foul trouble, but we did not want to give people uncontested shots. We want to be aggressive and defend, but anyone in American is going to hit those shots if they are wide open.”
Barnes said her team’s lack of organization on offense and in transition defense was glaring. The physicality of the game made it difficult for the Wildcats to get into their offense. And she watched her team lose its poise in some critical moments.
“People were trying to make a play and make something happen, but we need more scoring and we need to play better defense,” Barnes said.
Barnes said her team has to be ready to play better in transition, particularly on the defensive end.
“You can’t play good defense for 25 minutes and beat a top 10 team, and you definitely can’t beat a top 3 team,” Barnes said. “We need to be disciplined and we need to hit shots.”
The Wildcats have already spent a significant amount of time watching film, addressing the things they did not do well.
“You can’t get too high or low in this conference,” said Barnes, who estimates big crowds at McKale Center this weekend against both the Beavers and the Ducks. “So, we lost. Everybody plays better at home. We have more confidence at home. We can be more physical at home. Our team is still confident.”
Following a weekend sweep of the Washington schools, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer improved to 499-78 in regular-season conference play. With her next victory - the Cardinal will play its home-and-home rivalry set with Cal this weekend - she will become the first women’s basketball coach to win 500 games in a single league.
Overall, she is 1080-248 in her Hall of Fame career and needs 18 wins to match Pat Summitt as the winningest coach in women’s basketball history. That record-tying win could come no sooner that the Pac-12 Tournament, and could well happen in the NCAA Tournament.