Oregon’s 2021-22 Women’s basketball squad never quite jelled. The team certainly had a lot of promise, with solid ball-handling and outside shooting, along with some excellent size and skill around the basket. After some key players returned from early-season injuries, the team had some very successful stretches, including winning seven Conference games in a row in January and early February and beating national power Connecticut during the run (which also included a forfeit over UCLA). Also in early February, the Ducks ran Washington State off its own court, winning by 53 points in the Palouse when the Cougars simply could not hit a shot of any kind for most of the game. But the team faded late in the season, going 5-5 in the last 10 Conference games and 1-1 in the Pac-12 tournament, and then losing a first-round NCAA tournament game to Belmont in double overtime.
Oregon loses a number of key players going into the 2022-23 season. In addition to graduating Seniors, Nyara Sabally was drafted into the WNBA and Sydney Parrish, Kylee Watson and Maddie Scheer all entered the Transfer Portal at the end of March. Parrish landed at Indiana, Watson transferred to Notre Dame and Scheer returned home to Kentucky. Scheer was named Miss Kentucky Basketball out of Ryle High School in 2020. These four players take a lot of production with them. The foursome averaged over 32 points per game last season for Oregon, about 45 percent of the team’s scoring, and over 18 rebounds per game.
Graves Concerns, Portal Philosophy
After the season-ending loss to Belmont, Oregon Coach Kelly Graves expressed some frustration with what he described as an “entitled” mentality of some Ducks players and the lack of consistent leadership from the roster. While the Coach didn’t single out players, its possible the problems he refers to have solved themselves with the transfers. It won’t be lost on Duck fans that there was some grousing about “entitlement” during Mark Helfrich’s final season as Oregon’s Head Football Coach.
During the off-season, Coach Graves has also expressed his views on the ways he feels are best to build – or re-build – a team. There have been two titanic changes in college sports in the last several years. Not only were teams, players and programs disrupted by the Covid-19 Pandemic, but the NCAA opened the financial spigot to players through “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) rules and also gave players more freedom to easily move between programs without penalty through the Transfer Portal. Coaches now face the prospect of an annual parade of new players, and likely feel much more pressure to try and keep players happy with their program.
Graves, however, is not a fan of using the Transfer Portal for short-term solutions. As Erik Skopil of Duck Territory reported last month, Graves plans to stick with a smaller roster, and build his team primarily with recruiting. Utilizing the Portal, Graves noted, can cause recruits to become frustrated when players are brought in that change their perception of where they fit in the program. The Portal can create a self-stoking cycle, where young players become frustrated and leave, causing new Portal transfers to be sought, leading to more existing player frustration.
Oregon looks as though they will bring in only one transfer – Guard Taya Hanson, a graduate transfer who has played 4 seasons at Arizona State – and will face the 2022-23 season with 11 players on the roster. Among those 11, of course, the Ducks have a bunch of returning talent including Senior Forward Sedona Prince, Senior Guard Endyia Rogers and Junior Guard Te-Hina PaoPao. Prince was the 2nd leading rebounder for the Ducks last season and trailed only Watson in shooting percentage. Rogers and PaoPao combined for 29 points per game and dished out almost 150 assists over the course of the season. At 6’8”, Sophomore Phillipina Kyei is Oregon’s tallest returning player and her development should be fun to watch. She saw limited duty last season, averaging only 8 minutes per appearance but shot 52 percent from the field. Prince and Kyei may give Oregon the inside presence needed to free up Oregon’s outside shooters.
Graves had another great recruiting year, and four outstanding Freshmen will complete the 2022-23 roster. Point Guard Chance Gray, a 5-Star out of Ohio, 5-Star Forward Grace VanSlooten from Florida, and two 4-Star Arizonans - Wing Jennah Isai and 6’7” Post Kennedy Basham – start their college careers in Eugene this Fall.
Oregon carried 13 players in 2021-22, so the reduction in the roster will mean additional minutes to spread around the team. This appears to be part of Graves’ philosophy to help players remain satisfied with their basketball experience at Oregon. Fitting all the pieces together has been a Graves strength and Oregon’s core looks strong for next year. Oregon’s new players appear to bring additional toughness and high skill sets and if team chemistry is good the combination could propel the Ducks back into the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.