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Oregon Women's Basketball

Ducks look to regain identity against resilient Cougars

January 20, 2021

No. 13 Oregon (9-3) is coming off an embarrassing 57-41 loss at the hands of No.10 Arizona (10-2) in Tucson last week. The team didn’t resemble what we’ve come to expect from the Ducks, looking scared and impatient, forcing shots and winging errant passes to the tune of 23 turnovers and a mere 5 third-quarter points.

Turning the page from a tough loss is a challenge for many teams, especially an inexperienced one such as Oregon. Head Coach Kelly Graves said Wednesday that Erin Boley and Taylor Chavez have been leading the charge in practice trying to get this team back on track for its next matchup, against Washington State (7-3) on Friday.

The game is at 5 p.m. Pacific and will be telecast on Pac-12 Networks.

Despite losing three of their last four games, there are a number of positives to glean from the Ducks’ recent hot-and-cold stretch.

Nyara Sabally has been on a tear, leading Oregon in points per game (12.5), rebounds per game (8.0) and total blocked shots (14). She is one of just two players in the conference to post those numbers.

Perhaps most impressive about Sabally's high level of play is that it comes despite her inexperience. She's played only 12 games over her 2 1/2 years in Eugene, but she’s very coachable on what it takes to win -- which suggests her best is yet to come.

Graves said Sabally has become the team's go-to player, and she certainly will need to play well if the Ducks want to make a splash in the NCAA Tournament.

Speaking of long-injured bigs, Sedona Prince returned to action last week for the first time since late December. Her 12 minutes yielded just 1 point, but it’s important to ease a player back into the action when they aren’t 100 percent.

“You could tell she was still a bit rusty,” Graves said earlier this week of the 6-7 post, who continues to battle back from complications after an apparent ankle sprain. The Oregon head coach said the towering Texas transfer should be closer to full-go by tip-off.

As for Washington State, the Ducks know a little more of what to expect from the Cougs than before their first game this season.

Washington State is a hard-nosed group that is still finding its groove halfway through the season. Consistency has been an issue for the Cougars, as they’ve fallen behind by double digits in multiple contests.

As the record suggests, however, the team is no pushover and refuses to quit. It battled back to force overtime in each of its past three games.

Most recently, the Cougars trailed No. 6 UCLA by 13 points entering the fourth quarter – then promptly went on a 13-0 run to draw back even with 2:00 remaining. That run was led by the Leger-Walker sisters, who have been the heart and soul of Kamie Ethridge’s team.

Krystal, the elder of the guard duo from New Zealand, finished with 13 points against UCLA, pouring in 3 three-pointers. Her sister Charlisse, just a freshman, paced all scorers with 18 points, adding 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in a complete performance that had her team in contention until the final horn.

Another name to watch is Bella Murekatete. The 6-3 sophomore center from Rwanda has been a force down low for the Cougars, contributing 36 points and 27 rebounds in the last three games.

The Cougars have played well against the conference’s traditional powers, beating both Oregon State and Arizona. Washington State’s win over the Wildcats was particularly significant because it briefly vaulted the team into the AP top 25 rankings for the first time in program history.

Graves and Ethridge have a long-standing friendship; Graves tried to schedule Gonzaga games against Kansas State during her long tenure as an assistant in Manhattan. Given the tightness of Oregon’s come-from-behind 69-65 win over Washington State in December, the rematch should be interesting.

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