Oregon Basketball: Analyzing the 5-year slide of the Duck women’s basketball team

Oregon women's basketball team comes together before their exhibition game against Southern Oregon.
Oregon women's basketball team comes together before their exhibition game against Southern Oregon. / Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard / USA

Kelly Graves’ Oregon Ducks are a far cry from the legacies left behind by players like Sabrina Ionescu, Maite Cazorla, and the Sabally sisters.

Oregon was in the mix with historic programs like UConn, South Carolina, and Baylor. So what has happened to the once-dominant Oregon Ducks?

So far in the 2023-24 season, the Ducks have landed themselves at 9-7 overall, and a dismal 0-3 in Pac-12 play. The team hasn’t seemed to be able to stop runs by its opponents when they get down in games.

Is head coach Graves to blame? Are the players lacking the baseline skillsets needed to find continued success?

“All we can do is do our best,” Graves said on GoDucks.TV. “We just gotta be better… Find a way each and every day.”

Here’s how they can get better at each position:

The guards

Ball handlers have to have a good grasp of the game. At times, the Duck guards have appeared a little lost on the court and it has led to confusion throughout offensive play.

Oregon has the necessary depth in the guard position. 

Chance Gray is a solid leader on the court despite being a sophomore. She leads the team in assists per game and averages 14.2 in her appearances. 

Gray is joined by Sofia Bell, a guard out of Portland, who leads the team in steals but contributes an average of just 7.6 points per game.

A big issue for the Ducks is that the team is averaging nearly 14 turnovers a game. Many of those TOs are coming from the guards; Gray and Bell as well as seniors Kennedi Williams and Peyton Scott.

In the 2018-19 season, which featured Cazorla and Ionescu as ball handlers, the Ducks averaged 10 turnovers a game throughout the entire season.

If Oregon can nail down its offensive schematics on the guard front, it would greatly reduce the number of points the team has to answer.

The centers

Graves’ team is lacking depth in the center position. 

The only true big on the team is junior Phillipina Kyei. She’s a 6’8” powerhouse of a player and is averaging a double-double with 12.4 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game.

Kyei also boasts 19 blocks this season adding to forward Kennedy Basham’s 20 blocks in 15 games.

Surprisingly, the 2018-19 roster didn’t feature any true centers. However, forwards Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally at 6 feet 4 inches a piece along with Lydia Giomi at 6’6”, the Ducks didn’t lack in height.

The ‘18-19 team averaged 2.8 blocks and 37.8 rebounds per game. The current team is averaging 4.8 blocks and 40.9 rebounds.

The bigs aren’t the issue but there is always room for improvement.

Kyei’s 12.4 points a game come from a 53.6 shot percentage in the field. With a smarter shot selection, the center could see a higher shooting percentage and a higher scoring average.

The forwards

Graves has done a good job building up the roster at the forward position. In fact, the Ducks’ leading scorer is a forward.

6’3” F Grace VanSlooten, a 5-star recruit out of Ohio, is currently averaging 15.8 points per game. She has seen a total of 548 minutes on the court while starting every game for Oregon.

One thing holding VanSlooten back is her 3-point shot percentage. Going 2/17 from beyond the arc has her 3-point percentage at an abysmal 11.8 percent, well below the team average of 30.7 percent.

As a sophomore, VanSlooten has time to grow, along with the other two forwards on the team Filippa Tilliander and Sarah Rambus.

All this to say, the current team is averaging 21.1 points per game less than the 2018-19 team was. I guess it may be hard to compete with a team that had the NCAA Women’s triple-double record (26) holder in Ionescu.

Ionescu is also #4 on the all-time assists list at 1,091 helping her hit the #5 spot for career points produced at 2,941.

The coach

Graves is in his 10th year as the Oregon head coach. Heading into the 2023-24 season, his record stood at 210-90 and he was named the Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year in both 2019 and 2020.

The increase in turnovers and decrease in point production can easily be attributed to coaching decisions. Why is Graves not leaning more heavily on his experienced guards? Why not feed the ball to Kyei under the basket every single time?

The Ducks have some work to do to get back to their former glory of a team competing in the Final Four. But, with the young talent on the roster and the winning resume of coach Graves, I’m confident we can see that success for Oregon again.