With 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter of Oregon’s first Final Four appearance in program history, Baylor guard Chloe Jackson blew past Maite Cazorla and scored an uncontested layup. The Ducks failed to score on the next two possessions, and the Bears advanced to the National Championship game.
With heavy breaths and hands on her hips, Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu slowly walked to the bench, accepting the fact that she was so close to accomplishing her goal of competing for a championship. Ionescu never came off the floor, while Cazorla played all but one minute as minutes off the bench were hard to find.
Bench depth was a problem for the Ducks last season. All of Oregon’s starters averaged over 28 minutes per game, and just four other players registered minutes for the Ducks.
This season, the Ducks will have 12 eligible players, compared with just nine last year. Head coach Kelly Graves added three true freshmen to his roster in the offseason. Australians Lucy Cochrane and Jaz Shelley join Holly Winterburn in the hope of cracking a rotation filled with experienced teammates.
With new players coming into the Ducks’ system, experienced players will have their hands full trying to teach the younger players while also competing for their third straight Pac-12 Championship.
“[Ionescu] is really going out of her way to help me,” Shelley said.
But Shelley also has something that Ionescu doesn’t. She has played a year of professional basketball already.
Shelley is one of the more valuable recruits for the Ducks, as she already has experience playing professional basketball overseas — and has also spent time with the Austrailian National Team. She played for the Melbourne Boomers in the Women’s National Basketball League and was named the 2019 Rookie of the Year in the WNBL.
Ionescu is eager to see how Shelley can contribute to the title-hopeful Ducks, but also what impact the rest of the recruits will have.
“It will give us a chance to rest some people that might be injured or need some rest,” Ionescu said. “It will also give the newcomers a chance to get their feet under them.”
Injuries plagued the Ducks last season. During the Pac-12 Tournament, Cazorla battled the flu while Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally dealt with knee and elbow injuries, respectively. Despite the injuries, the Ducks were still able to win their second consecutive Pac-12 title.
As of now, a few Ducks are still recovering from injuries, but Graves is not worried as much as he was last year.
“I can sleep a little better knowing that I don't have to worry about who’s injured today,” Graves said.
Increased competition for playing time is something he looks forward to as well.
“It’s nice because we have competition at every spot. They have to battle each and every day,” Graves said.
He gave his team more time off this summer with players studying abroad, partaking in internships at Nike and playing for their respective national teams. As it is for every program across the country, Oregon must brush off the dust and get its continuity and chemistry back.
Oregon’s starting lineup will be very similar to that of last season. The departure of Cazorla will most likely be filled by senior graduate transfer Minyon Moore.
The offense will undoubtedly flow through Ionescu, Hebard and Sabally, with Erin Boley being a 3-point threat for the Ducks. Guards Morgan Yaeger and Shelley are two likely candidates to earn minutes off the bench.
Oregon opens its season as the preseason No. 1 team. With high rankings come high expectations. This season, Oregon will have more players to rely on as the road to the Final Four starts at Matthew Knight Arena.