Oregon women’s basketball “hungrier” than ever
Pac-12 Media Day
College basketball season is upon us and Eugene, Oregon can feel the hype already. After finishing with back-to-back Elite 8 appearances and a Pac-12 Championship title, No. 5 preseason rank Oregon women’s basketball is back and hungrier than ever.
Scroll through for the best quotes from head coach Kelly Graves, junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, and junior forward Ruthy Hebard from Pac-12 Media Day on Wednesday, October 10 in San Fransisco, California.
Time to break the Elite 8 curse
Well, maybe we shouldn’t say “curse” because making it to the NCAA Elite 8, or rather back-to-back Elite 8 appearances, is still quite an accomplishment, but with the roster that the Ducks had last season and are bringing in this season, the bar is raised high for this season and going further than ever before.
“I think last year our exit from the NCAA Tournament got us even hungrier for success this year, and what I’ve seen is great focus and intensity and nothing but positive things from these guys since - and the rest of the Ducks since that day we lost in Spokane [WA],” said Graves.
Junior Sabrina Ionescu also weighed in, “… I think this year we know what it takes to get there and practices have been great. I’ve been telling everyone this. I think our practices this year have been the most competitive and the most dialed-in since I’ve gotten to Oregon, which is inspiring to see.”
Graves on smaller roster
The Ducks come into this season with a smaller roster, in terms of number of players, than usual. 10 total to be exact. With concerns of depth, especially with fatigue towards the end of the season and making a deep tourney run, Oregon may have less in numbers, but the experience factor is there. Both Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard return for their junior seasons, alongside two other starters in senior Matie Cazorla and sophomore Satou Sabally.
“Feel really good about our group and the cohesion that we’ve built over the last couple years, and we don’t have a big roster, but I think every player that we have on it is capable of having big nights for us, and like I said, we’re just kind of thrilled to get this thing rolling,” said head coach Kelly Graves.
The emergence of Erin Boley
Boley, a 6’2” redshirt sophomore who transferred at the beginning of last season from Notre Dame and had to sit out one year, finally makes her debut in an Oregon uniform this season. She is highly anticipated as a potential starter and impact player for Graves’ squad this season. The duo of Boley and Hebard should be exciting to watch for the Ducks down low this season.
“I love her versatility,” says Graves. “We can put her down low. She’s a strong player, so she can play around the basket. It’s going to be a match-up advantage for us on many nights and then she is a big-time elite shooter, and she’s the kind of player that can get on a roll at any time. We lost a really great shooter in Lexi Bando… and Erin gives us that same kind of game, and she’s also 6’ 2” and really strong.”
The secret to success: Maite Cazorla
The player that is probably in the shadows the most, but senior guard Maite Cazorla is just as important as anyone on Graves’ team. She is the glue that keeps everyone together, not just with her handles and controlling the ball at point, but her leadership, seniority, and championship experience is necessary for post-season runs.
“I always say Maite is our most important player. Sabrina may be our best player and Ruthy is our most dominant player, but Maite is our most important player,” says Graves. “She is kind of fine with kind of flying under the radar, so to speak, but Sabrina said it, there’s no guard in the country better in the pick-and-roll than Maite Cazorla.”
He continues, “One of the things people don’t realize, Maite has won five gold medals for Spain. She may be the most decorated player in the world right now, certainly in college basketball. So that’s just kind of who she is. She’s a winner.”
Barely an “off-season” for Ionescu, Hebard
Most athletes use the offseason to take a break, rest the body, but not for Ionescu and Hebard. Following NCAA March Madness, this duo got right back on the court with the USA 3x3 basketball squad (along with Erin Boley and Oti Gildon) and then onto Team USA for the World Cup.
Ionescu reflects on her World Cup experience: “I wasn’t sure to expect going in, but I was just eager to learn from everyone that was there, players that had walked in my shoes and had played in college already and now were playing professionally… The intensity was a lot different, and they really helped me get better in a lot of ways.”
“You walk into the gym and you see WNBA players, gold medalists, and it’s just great to be able to see how they talk on and off the court, and just learning more about your game, watching you get better,” says Hebard.