This 2020-2021 college basketball season is anything but normal.
What helps aid in the success of a team from November through March starts with a routine. For the Oregon women’s basketball team, that routine has been consistent: a few days of stretching, lifting and shooting; a ramped up practice; film study; game day; more film study; and another game day.
This year - due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic - through all your routines out the window.
On any given day, you don’t know what players are available or out due to COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing or whether you will be able to play against your upcoming scheduled opponent.
Just last week, for example, Oregon’s game hosting the Arizona Sun Devils was postponed and instead of having that day designated for practice, the Ducks scheduled a game with UC Davis.
But here we are and this is the life of college sports in a pandemic.
Despite all the uncertainty, this young Ducks squad has managed a 12-4 overall record and 9-4 though Pac-12 play. Those four losses have come to UCLA, Stanford and Arizona twice, all teams ranked ahead of Oregon.
Head coach Kelly Graves spoke local media on Thursday to describe what its like trying to coach in this challenging year as well as give his thoughts on the team after a couple of tough losses:
“I’ve learned that we’re not that far off you guys, we’re really not,” said Graves. “I know we’re 12-4 and haven’t had four losses here in a long time, I get it. We normally win our share of those top-10 teams but the four losses we’ve had, quite frankly, are all teams that are in the top-10 and are all very good…
“We’re still wrestling with that. It’s 16 games into the year. We only have about a month, two months left. We need to quickly figure this out.”
There’s one point that should stand out amongst the rest. This team is nothing like the previous four years with Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally on the court, nor should it be.
Graves’ system the past four years is different in this new era because the players bring different skillsets to the team. Offensively speaking, this year’s team should be putting up higher numbers than the previous year with shooters like Erin Boley, Taylor Chavez, Jaz Shelley and Taylor Mikesell on the court.
But it’s hard to establish and get into a rhythm this year with the chaos and uncertainty.
And then, the team has a new element that it hasn’t seen in awhile: Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally. Prince has the ability to take her defender down low while also having a smooth jumper around the paint. Sabally has been dominant all season long on both ends of the court, averaging 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
All in all, it’s okay to suffer a bit of growing pains this season. It will only pay dividends for the years to come. Especially with such a young team featuring five five-star freshmen who are all getting significant playing time this year. There really isn't a fighting chance to figure out a team's identity this season.
But watch the growth continue to trend upwards in Eugene, Oregon in the next couple years...