Michelle Smith: Freshman Grace VanSlooten making an immediate impact for No. 18 Oregon women's basketball
In the second quarter of Oregon’s game against Southern, Ducks freshman forward Grace VanSlooten struggled. Every time she touched the ball, she was being double-teamed. In her third college game.
“At halftime, I told her, ‘That’s quite the compliment,’” said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves.
One that she might do well to get used to.
VanSlooten, the 6-foot-3 wing from Toledo, Ohio, is the Ducks’ leading scorer in these early days of the season, averaging a team-best 13.3 points. She’s pulled down nine rebounds twice and has a team-leading six blocked shots. She was named the season's first Pac-12 Freshman of the Week last Monday.
“She is a complete player,” Graves said. “She can do so many things. She’s great in transition, she’s good on the offensive boards, she can score inside, defensively she does a nice job. And she is going to continue to get better and better.”
VanSlooten’s transition from high school star to college impact player is moving quickly, as part of a highly regarded freshman class that has seen significant minutes so far. Jenna Isai, the guard from Arizona, is averaging 11.0 points and 3.8 rebounds a game off the bench. Cincinnati guard Chance Gray, like VanSlooten, finds herself in the starting lineup, averaging 11.0 points a game with seven steals.
And this group of young standouts is about to face its biggest challenge yet as the 18th-ranked Ducks prepare for the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland. The Ducks will take on No. 8 North Carolina on Thursday, followed by a matchup against either No. 5 Iowa State or Michigan State on Sunday.
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” VanSlooten said. “I have teammates that are great at making sure the freshmen are in the loop and know what to do and I feel like we are getting to know everyone’s strengths. The chemistry is coming.”
VanSlooten said she knew the college game would be more physical, but feels so far that she’s held up to the additional physical play well after spending the summer in the weight room building strength. And she is still getting used to the tempo of the game.
“It’s obviously a lot quicker and I’m working on getting to my spot on the floor faster,” VanSlooten said. “I’ve never played with a shot clock before, so I’m getting used to it.”
Graves said VanSlooten is already playing like one of the best players — not just freshmen — in the Pac-12.
“The best thing is that you can’t tell whether she’s had a good day or a bad day because she’s so even-keeled,” Graves said. “She is figuring it out. It’s a process. When you have so many young players in key roles…it reminds me of when we had Sabrina (Ionescu) and that group as freshmen, and we took our lumps from time to time. But we played really well when it counted. That’s what I see from this group as well.”
And if the double teams come, just take it as a compliment.