Oregon figuring out life without Lexi Bando
With six games remaining, Oregon women’s basketball is having one of its most successful season’s in school history. Currently in a three-way tie with the Stanford Cardinal and UCLA Bruins for first place, it is within reach of the first conference championship in nearly two decades.
A big key to the team’s success has been the group of record-setting sophomores that have propelled the Ducks. But the part of their success that gets overlooked is having Lexi Bando, one of just two seniors on this team, as leader to help guide the young players.
However, Bando has missed the last six games due to a leg injury that still leaves her out indefinitely.
“We just want her for the stretch run, I think that’s what’s really critical,” head coach Kelly Graves said prior to the games against California and Stanford. “I leave that up to the doctors, but we’re hopeful. She’s been able to shoot around, she cant practice yet but that’s a start.”
Bando burst onto the scene during the 2014-15 season as a 3-point shooting specialist and has improved her shooting each season. Her freshman year, she shot a Pac-12 best 44 percent from 3-point range. Her sophomore season, she finished sixth in the NCAA with 45.3 percent. Last season, her 47.5 percent 3-point shooting was third-best in the nation. When she made her last appearance on Jan. 14, her 44.7 percent put her at 22nd in the nation.
For the six games without Bando, the Ducks have started Maite Cazorla, Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, Ruthy Hebard and Mallory McGwire.
McGwire started the first 10 games this season, but was benched in favor of Sabally. With Bando out, Graves elected to slide Sabally from the four spot to the three, and put McGwire at center to create a larger lineup that creates challenges for the defense.
“I think we’re adjusting to it. We’re a little different, no question,” Graves said prior to the Colorado game. “But different players have stepped up.”
By playing a bigger starting lineup, that means that the guards have more opportunities coming off the bench. Senior Justine Hall knocked down 2-of-3 key 3-point shots to help seal the win over the Buffaloes, and freshman Anneli Maley knocked down 3-of-4 3-pointers in the win against California.
“I think they’re really confident,” Cazorla said. “I think they’re always ready so they know that every time they’re going to be on the floor they’re going to give their best.”
Oregon lost to the Stanford, marking its first home loss of the season this past Sunday. The Ducks face four of their final six opponents on the road, and it’s still unknown if they’ll have Bando for any of them. One of the two home games is a game that could decide the regular season champion when UCLA comes to town on Feb. 19.
The longer Bando is out, the more of a challenge it becomes for the Ducks to win their first Pac-12 championship since the 1999-00 season.
“I’ve always felt that injuries in the short term don’t always hurt you,” Graves said. “But in the long term they do because you’re losing now a good player, and teams can adjust knowing that now you don’t have that player.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter @zlast3445
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