Oregon Ducks starting point guard Te-Hina Paopao has missed the final two games of her freshman season heading into the NCAA Tournament and from the sound of it, she's doubtful to return at all this season.
"Paopao was first-team all-conference this year and she runs your point and on a team that doesn't have a lot of playmakers she is one," explained Kelly Graves after the Pac-12 quarterfinals.
"She just makes everybody else better. It hurts. But guess what? Nobody is crying for us and we're going to have to find a way to figure it out because I don't think we're going to have her for the rest of the year."
After the regular-season finale, head coach Kelly Graves said Paopao was "doubtful" to play in the Pac-12 Tournament and that he was hopeful she can return for the NCAA Tournament.
Now four days later, Graves seems a lot less optimistic.
The NCAA Tournament does not begin until March 21st in San Antonio, giving Paopao multiple weeks for her foot to heal enough she can suit up, but Graves made it sound like she can only return if Oregon can make a deep run. That seems unlikely given the Ducks have lost five of six games.
Before Sunday's home loss to Oregon State, she was the lone Duck to start every game for Oregon this season. She's also the first freshman Oregon guard to start a season-opener since Sabrina Ionescu in 2016.
Graves has relied on Paopao to play heavy minutes at point guard for the Ducks with eight games of 30 minutes or more and Oregon clearly missed her these last two games.
The offense appeared out of sorts for large stretches in the regular-season finale with Graves starting a three-guard lineup of Taylor Chavez, Jaz Shelley, and Taylor Mikesell. Chavez and Shelley both went scoreless missing a combined five field-goal attempts while Mikesell shot 7-16 from the field. Interestingly, Kelly Graves only played Shelley 10 minutes despite her being the backup point guard for the team last season.
Then in the quarterfinals rematch against Oregon State, Graves started freshman Maddie Scherr to defend Aleah Goodman but she also did not score a point. Paopao remains the last Ducks starting point guard to score despite missing the final two games.
Graves did say he liked how Scherr played overall, especially defensively, so perhaps expect her to see more run in the NCAA Tournament.
On the season, Paopao averages 10.2 points (43.3% from the floor, 39.5% from three) and 4.4 assists in 28.4 minutes per game. She was named to the All-Pac-12 team and All-Freshman team in the conference.