Everyone knows about powerhouses like Connecticut, South Carolina, and the Stanford Cardinal closer to home on the West Coast. Under Kelly Graves, Oregon has asserted itself as a name square in the mix for the top program in the country.
After pulling off a three-peat and winning the Pac-12 for three straight seasons, the Ducks fielded three first round picks in the WNBA Draft, headlined by top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. Satou Sabally (No. 2) and Ruthy Hebard (No. 8) solidified Oregon's elite status.
That's all well and good, but a massive loss of production left Kelly Graves with the challenge of reloading ahead of the 2020 season. The Ducks exited the NCAA tournament Sunday after a 60-42 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16, ending the season with a (15-9, 10-7) record. Let's take a look back at the season and see what we learned.
The dominant duo of Sabally and Prince
Kelly Graves spent much of the season trying to figure out his team's identity, often shuffling starting lineups to try and find the best combination. He found a bonafide star in the making with freshman Te-Hina Paopao, but an injury sidelined her for the entire postseason.
The offense then shifted to All Pac-12 selection Nyara Sabally, a redshirt sophomore forward who dominated her first full season at Oregon. She went to work in the post alongside Sedona Prince, a transfer from Texas.
The two were an absolute force on both sides of the ball, and Sabally finished the year as the team's leading scorer with 297 points (12.9 PPG). She also led the team in rebounds with 7.3 RPG. She looks determined to follow in her sister Satou's footsteps, and will be a building block moving forward.
Sedona Prince came to Eugene battling injuries and was eased into a larger role throughout the year. She was an imposing defender and led the team with 29 total blocks to go with a productive offensive output of 10.4 points a game.
Her offensive arsenal is developing nicely, as she battled defenders in the post, hit turnaround jumpers, or step in to a spot-up jump shot. When both these players are healthy it's difficult to find a better post duo in the conference, and possibly the country. Add to that that they've just finished their first seasons playing college basketball and you're looking at a whole lot of talent in the Oregon front court.
What of the 5-star freshmen?
The Ducks pulled off an incredible feat in the 2020 class, signing five 5-stars to bolster the depth chart. Guard Te-Hina Paopao appears to be the best of the bunch so far, but it's early.
She put the Pac-12 on notice before getting injured, averaging 10.2 PPG and finished as the team's leader in steals despite playing only 19 games. Paopao's importance to this team was apparent after her injury, as her command of the offense helped build the confidence of a young squad. She'll be key to Oregon taking back its spot as the leaders of the Pac-12.
Maddie Scherr saw her role increase after Paopao's injury and proved to be a phenomenal defender. She was doing a great job against Louisville's Dana Evans before an injury ended her night. Graves credited her as being the best on ball defender on the squad and defense is often the foundation of great teams.
Sydney Parrish was a strong shooter, finishing third on the team in 3-pointers (22) and added significant value off the bench. She could be counted on to enter games and spark the offense when needed.
Angela Dugalic and Kylee Watson didn't see the court as much but will give Oregon solid depth in seasons to come. It's hard to replace proven production with youth, but it's a whole lot easier when you are working with elite talent that litters this Ducks roster.
Looking ahead to next season
One of the benefits of such a young team is that you don't lose many players when the season ends. This year's team featured only two seniors: Erin Boley and Lydia Giomi.
Boley was a more steady contributor (10.9 PPG), but Giomi was featured more frequently in the later part of the season. The seniors will be missed, but Graves will welcome 2021 signees Taylor Bigby, a 4-star from guard from Las Vegas, and 6-foot-8 center Phillipina Kyei from Canada. Expect the Ducks to be competitive in every game next season and give powers like Stanford, Arizona and UCLA a run for their money.
Graves has proven himself as one of the top coaches in the country, and a regular offseason and season without program pauses could aid in developing the next elite group in Eugene.
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