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While looking to establish chemistry, Oregon rolls past Westmont 71-32

It’s no secret that the bar is set high for No. 11 Oregon entering the 2017-18 season. On Sunday, the Ducks began their quest to meet those expectations, defeating Westmont 71-32 in an exhibition.

Even with the familiar faces from the 2017 Elite 8 leading the Ducks to an eventual blowout victory, there are still areas to improve. Overall, though, head coach Kelly Graves is happy with where the team stands early in the season.

“Got out of this what we wanted to,” Graves said. “We got a chance to get some of the rust off which is always a positive.”

The Ducks play was a bit choppy throughout, but the outcome of the game was never in doubt. Going up against Westmont — an NAIA school out of Santa Barbara — Oregon jumped out to an early lead and never trailed.

The Ducks’ defense was stifling, holding Westmont scoreless for over the first five minutes of the game. Oregon kept the pressure on throughout, forcing the Warriors to go deep into the shot clock consistently. In order to compete against some of the tougher competition coming its way this season, it’s the work on defense that may push Oregon into the elite status in the country.

“I was impressed defensively, how well we played, how hard we played and how we created a lot of disruption and turnovers,” said Graves.

Oregon’s work on the defensive end allowed the offense ample opportunities to find its rhythm throughout the game. An 11 point lead at the end of the first quarter worked its way up to a 39 point, no-doubt win for the Ducks.

Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard, Mallory McGwire, Lexi Bando and Justine Hall were the starters for the Ducks. However, Graves made sure to get all 11 active players on the floor.

“I think early on, I like to play a deep bench. I think it saves their legs for the spring, and we hope to have an extended spring,” Graves said. “Right now, we have a lot of players who can contribute in different ways.”

Albeit just an exhibition, the Ducks recognize the importance in getting the comfort level and chemistry back throughout the roster before the games start to count.

“Chemistry just comes with time,” Bando said. “The more games we play together, the more comfortable we’re going to feel.”

Ionescu, Hebard and McGwire will be relied upon to carry a big load throughout the season. On Sunday, though, the trio of sophomores combined for just 14 points.

It was the two seniors in the starting lineup, Bando and Hall, that led the way on the scoring end, combining for 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting.

“They’ve both given us great leadership on a day-to-day basis,” Graves said. “They’re doing the things that seniors are supposed to do.”

Hall averaged just 11.7 minutes for the Ducks last season after transferring from Purdue during the 2015-16 season. But if Sunday is any indication, a larger role is awaiting the Denver, Colorado, native who finished with 11 points.

“Just being able to contribute as much as possible, knowing my role, and just being a solid, consistent player,” Hall said. “Especially being a defensive stopper.”

Just as important as having the seniors ready to lead the way is getting the international freshmen feeling comfortable in a Ducks uniform. Satou Sabally looked the part on Sunday, finishing with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

It was a small crowd on hand at Matthew Knight Arena, but Sbally and the rest of her teammates shouldn’t get used to that. The spotlight will be shining bright on the Ducks, who enter the season ranked No. 11 in the AP preseason poll.

“I love it. I think we should embrace it. That means we’re obviously doing something well and people think we have a good basketball team,” Graves said. “The reality is you got to go out and prove it.”

The Ducks sneaked up on the college basketball world last season. Now they have a target on their back. Their season continues on Friday against Cal State Northridge in the Preseason Women’s NIT.

Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @ckundich

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Cole Kundich

Cole Kundich