Refocused Ducks Return to Action
After the loss of three top-10 WNBA draft picks, and forging ahead with a team long on talent but short on experience, Kelly Graves knew the 2020-21 season could be a roller coaster.
The Ducks have enjoyed some peaks, including a 20-point win at rival Oregon State. And they've had some valleys, losing three of their last four, all to teams ranked No. 11 or higher.
Now, Graves will admit, he didn't think any of the Ducks' valleys would be as deep as last week's loss at Arizona, in which the number of times the ball went through the hoop — 23, on 15 field goals and eight free throws — matched the number of times they turned the ball over. But he knows the Oregon women are a talented team, with the will to bounce back.
"We've lost three of four; I get it," Graves said of concerns raised by the one-sided loss. "But I don't think the world's coming to an end."
Because of COVID-19 protocols, Oregon's first chance for a bounce-back game, last Sunday at ASU, had to be postponed. That not only denied the Ducks a chance to rebound, but also a couple extra days in the Arizona sun.
That said, it's been a beautiful week in Eugene since the UO women returned. And their spirits have been further lifted by the effort put forth in getting back on track for Friday's home game against Washington State (5 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
"We've had two really good practices this week," Graves said Wednesday. "Both Monday and Tuesday, we looked really good; we played really hard. They were competitive practices — the most competitive we've had in a while."
Graves said his few veterans are leading in their own various ways. Senior Erin Boley goes about her business with quiet determination, setting the tone with her work ethic. Junior Taylor Chavez is more outgoing, and plays with electric energy.
The Ducks have also welcomed back Sedona Prince, the sophomore post who missed time with an injury before returning to action for 14 minutes at Arizona.
"I was glad she got to play a little bit last week," Graves said. "You could tell she's a little rusty. She's still limited to some degree in what she can do in practice, but she should be ready to go this week."
Up until this week, Graves has looked in some ways like a hockey coach, constantly shuttling new players onto the floor. One change in the wake of recent losses could be a shift in that philosophy, though he didn't get too specific.
"We've set on a group (of starters) we hope will really work for us, and I think we'll play it by ear the rest of the game," he said. "I don't know if you'll see the same revolving door, but that remains to be seen."
When the Ducks take the floor Friday, Graves wants to see them play with more patience and poise than they showed offensively at Arizona. But he hopes they bring the same energy on defense, after limiting Arizona to 57 points.
"If you would have told me we would have held them to 57, I would have thought we'd have a double-digit win," he said. "And obviously that wasn't the case."
The Ducks will have to play well against a Washington State team that broke into the top 25 for the first time ever this season. The Cougars are off to a 7-3 start, making Oregon's 69-65 win in Pullman on Dec. 21 look all the more impressive.
"They just have a bunch of kids that know how to play," Graves said. "They don't make a ton of mistakes, they get good shots each time down, they have the ball in the right people's hands — they're a good team."
Those descriptors also have applied to Oregon for the most part in the last few seasons, including this one — until the flat performance at Arizona. For the Ducks, it's time for the roller coaster to get going back uphill.
"I'm confident we're going to play well," Graves said. "I really am."