Last season, over 7,000 fans on average attended Oregon women’s basketball games at Matthew Knight Arena each night. This year, Oregon is bound to double that number. The fans are a testament to the team’s success over the past few years.
With a full roster and pressure on its shoulders, Oregon is seeking to make another run at a championship after reaching its third consecutive Elite Eight and first-ever Final Four appearance. They fell to eventual national champion Baylor last year in Tampa, Florida, and they know the road will not be easy to reach that point again this year.
“We know now that we belong there. We know now how amazing it is to play there, so I feel like it’s just motivating us to want to go there again,” junior Satou Sabally said. “In the end, we haven’t proven anything yet. I’m just trying to take it game by game, and we got to prove ourselves first.”
The team is seeking to top its best season in program history last year after reaching the Final Four. The Ducks will head into the season dubbed as No. 1 in espnW's preseason Top 25 and No. 1 for the first time in the AP poll rankings.
Playing as the Pac-12 favorites once again with Final Four expectations and the goal of winning it all, the Ducks have a target on their backs.
“I’ve told them to embrace those kind of expectations. Expect them, but at the same time, just ignore the noise,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “We’ve got to just grind it out each and every day. Keep our heads down, work hard each day. We know what we’re capable of doing.”
The dominant veteran trio of NCAA triple-double leader Sabrina Ionescu, versatile forward Satou Sabally and 2018 Katrina McClain Power Forward Award winner Ruthy Hebard are bound to cause trouble for defenses.
Sabally has the versatility of grabbing rebounds off the glass with her 6-foot-4 frame combined with her ability to shoot from the outside. Hebard, on the other hand, is a dominant presence in the post and shot a team high 67% from the field last season. With the experience those core players have, they are ready to tackle the various challenges of a potentially deep run into March.
Oregon expanded its team in the offseason after having only nine active players on the roster last year. It added USC graduate transfer Minyon Moore, who will most likely replace graduated Maite Cazorla in the backcourt.
Additionally, the Ducks added freshmen Jaz Shelley and Lucy Cochrane — both of whom are from Australia — and Holly Winterburn from Northampton, England, as well as redshirt freshman Sedona Prince. Prince is unable to play in the upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules, but Oregon is exploring options to waive that ineligibility.
“They’re really good, they play tough,” Sabally said. “Holly, Lucy and Jaz are doing a great job. Sedona’s getting back in and she’s looking really great, so they’re going to do a great job and help us out.”
Redshirt freshman Nyara Sabally was expected to play her first season for the Ducks, but will miss the entire season due to a torn right ACL. The Sabally sisters were on the verge of becoming a dominant duo down low in the post but will have to wait until the 2020-21 season.
The Ducks now have all-around depth on the floor at every position, which creates even more issues for opponents. Defense has to decide who and what to guard in multiple positions: Sabally and Hebard in the post, shooting guard Erin Boley out on the perimeter or Ionescu, who is always a threat with or without the ball in her hands.
“We got a long way to go,” Graves said. “We’re nowhere near any kind of a Final Four team now.
Graves, Ionescu and the rest of the Oregon squad will have to prove this season why they’ve been tabbed as the best team in the nation.