Eugene, Ore. -- Oregon women's basketball head coach Kelly Graves will smile any time he is asked about his team's defensive effort over the course of this season. Coming into the year, Graves wondered what his team would look like with the ball out of their hands, and hoped that USC transfer Minyon Moore would be a catalyst for some renewed focus on defense.
For the first time in the Kelly Graves era, the Ducks are ranked in the Top 25 nationally in scoring defense.
"It's an area we've really tried to focus on," says Graves. "I think we're getting better, I think our team is buying into it a little bit more and I think we're realizing that when we play good defense it actually translates to easier baskets and better offense."
The Ducks are still an offensive minded team, and will face two teams this weekend, Arizona and Arizona State, that hang their hat on grinding out defensive games. Last season, Oregon swept both schools at home and on the road, and hope that there won't be much of a need to make things any more interesting than they need to be.
There's also a hope that starters can be rested while the bench continues to develop in garbage time. In the opening weekend, the "Big Three" of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally only averaged roughly 25 minutes played in both games. Situations like that have helped get rotation pieces like freshmen Jaz Shelley and Holly Winterburn, as well as sophomore Taylor Chavez, time to get meaningful minutes in Pac-12 play.
"It's really beneficial. It's nice to have starters who can get you that momentum and that lead where you can come in and play in the 4th quarter," says Chavez. "It's valuable getting that experience-wise just learning how to play Pac-12 teams."
After the win over Colorado, Graves bristled at the notion of simply running out the clock, and opting to run his team the same way with his reserves as he would if they were the starters.
"He always says 'it's not our job to stop us. It's their job,'" Chavez continues. "That's something that I know us reserves all appreciate because it gives us the same opportunity to come in and compete with the same sense of urgency that we'll have for years to come when we're in bigger roles."
Oregon will take on Arizona State at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, followed by the final leg of the trip in Tucson against Arizona at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday.