Blowout win gives Oregon’s bench players valuable experience
As one of the most unpredictable events in sports, pre-game preparation can only do so much to ready players for March Madness.
In Friday’s 88-45 beatdown of Seattle University, the Ducks didn’t just pick up a dominant first round win at home, the team was also able to give its bench players crucial experience in a tournament atmosphere.
Since March Madness comes at the end of the season, the wear and tear teams accumulate over the year can become a huge factor. Oftentimes, whether or not a squad has depth off the bench can make or break a title run.
“[It’s] invaluable,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “That’ll help us later on in this tournament at some point, having them already have had some game experience, and then obviously in the future.”
The most notable presence from the Oregon bench was junior Oti Gildon, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. Gildon turned in several big-time performances in last year’s run to the Elite Eight.
“I think my mindset is just to get the job done,” Gildon said. “Whenever I come in I just do the best I can, whether it’s rebounding or defense.”
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Graves pointed to Gildon’s breakout games in last year’s tournament and made it clear that he thinks any number of this team’s bench players are capable of such a performance.
While Gildon may be a postseason veteran, Oregon has several players who, though they play semi-regularly, have little-to-no tournament experience. Sophomore Sierra Campisano saw limited action in last year’s tournament, but made the most of her seven minutes on the floor against Seattle despite a broken finger, with six points (one shy of her season high) and a pair of boards.
Campisano said that she was thrilled to be on the floor, and her teammates clearly shared the sentiment. In one memorable moment, the sophomore drained a fade-away jumper while Sabrina Ionescu went crazy from the sideline.
While Campisano had at least some background, Aina Ayuso and Anneli Maley came into this year with no postseason experience to speak of. If either of them were rattled, it didn’t show. Maley chased loose balls with the same hustle she’s flashed all season, while Ayuso put two Seattle defenders on skates.
“It’s amazing,” Ayuso said. “It was a great environment, and a great experience. I don’t know how to explain it, I just play.”
Maley echoed her teammate’s sentiment, and credited the Ducks’ starters for creating the lead, and in turn opening up the opportunity for players like her to get into the game.
Recalling her first tournament experience, sophomore Ruthy Hebard was glad to see her younger teammates on the floor.
“They all came in and they all contributed tonight,” Hebard said. “They got to see the vibe, the pace, everything…I think they’ll be ready down the stretch.”
Follow Aaron on Twitter @aaronalter95
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