Everything changed for Oregon Women’s Basketball in 2017. After years of playing second fiddle to in-state powerhouse Oregon State, the Ducks suddenly shocked fans all over by storming to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, a place they seemingly had no business being. Even with Oregon Men’s Basketball making their most historic run in the tournament in 70 years, it was hard to overlook what the ladies of the hardwood were accomplishing.
So it was that for the following three seasons, Oregon WBB continued their meteoric rise and even though they didn’t get their shot at the national championship in 2020, confidence in head coach Kelly Graves’ ability to hang a banner in Matthew Knight Arena was still sky high, as he brought in the unquestioned #1 recruiting class in the country.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t panned out on the court the way it had on paper. The Oregon women are certainly not short on talent, they just lack the cohesion and chemistry the fabled team before them did.
Graves has proven he can be a great leader from the sidelines and in the locker room, but the Ducks are missing their leader on the floor, a role Sabrina Ionescu was firmly established in for the better part of four seasons in Eugene.
At this point it has become fairly clear that if there is one member of that unprecedented recruiting class that can step into that role, it is junior guard Te-Hina Paopao.
As a freshman Paopao instantly showed what she was capable of at the Division I level of the NCAA. She averaged 10.2 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds a game while shooting 43.3 percent from the floor and 39.5 percent from three-point range. Unfortunately, a late-season injury prevented her from competing in any postseason games, but that didn’t stop her from earning first team all Pac-12 and Pac-12 all-freshman selections.
Last season Paopao missed a handful of games early in the season due to recovering from injury, but once she was back on the floor, she picked up right where she left off. She earned all Pac-12 honors for the second consecutive year after averaging 13.6 points and 3.3 assists per game.
In the first and, unfortunately, only NCAA Tournament game of her career, Paopao scored 18 points and hit the game-tying three-pointer to force overtime against Belmont, a game Oregon would infamously lose.
The writing, however, is on the wall. This young woman can ball, and as long as the injury bug doesn’t come biting again, Paopao is poised for what could be a breakout campaign in 2023.
Now a junior, it’s time for her to assert herself more verbally and become the alpha on the court in pressure situations. If one thing is for certain, NCAA teams fair extremely well when they have that player on the court.
Since the departure of Ionescu, the Ducks haven’t been able to find that player, but the door is wide open for Paopao.
2023 will tell if she walks through it.