A short-handed Arizona team used a furious comeback to beat Oregon State on Friday night to improve to 13-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play. Now, the No. 15 Wildcats’ attention turns to No. 18 Oregon.
The Ducks are 12-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12. They are coming off a dominant 20-point win over Arizona State on Friday. UO went into Tempe and walked out with the 82-62 win.
To get an idea of what the Wildcats will face when the Ducks come to town on Sunday afternoon, we turned to Carl Blackwell of SB Nation sister site Addicted to Quack. Here are his evergreen answers to our stale questions.
Arizona Desert Swarm’s question: Although Stanford’s Lauren Betts came in as ESPN’s No. 1 freshman and UCLA’s Kiki Rice came in with more hype, Grace VanSlooten has probably been the most productive freshman in the Pac-12 so far this season. What makes her so effective and why has she been so important to Oregon this season?
Addicted to Quack’s answer: The Oregon Ducks are a young squad, and it’s not just GVS that is contributing. Chance Gray, Jennah Isai, and Kennedy Basham were all part of an outstanding freshman class (we’ll get to Isai next question). This is a group that, while quite different, is not unlike the freshmen that coach Graves brought on board in 2016 with Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard. Mind you, I’m not making any direct correlations to that class; I’m saying that coach Graves brought in four very talented freshmen that have tremendous upside.
Kennedy Basham suffered a knee injury and is only now getting back into some limited minutes, but when healthy she’ll be showing some amazing skills for a 6-7 big. Chance Gray is an outstanding guard that is excellent on defense - keep an eye on what she is doing during this game. She and Alise Hurst might be the best defenders on a team that is stepping up defensively.
Ah, yes. Grace VanSlooten. She’s the entire package in big form. If the Ducks go small, she’s the big post, but Grace can dribble, do point, shoot the three, and control the paint like no one’s business. When Oregon has their bigs in, the guards and forwards that have to cover GVS are in a no-win proposition. If you double-up on her to limit her production, other parts of the team will step up and kill you. She’s a matchup nightmare for most any team. And she’s a true freshman. She will be like Ionescu, but for different reasons.
Q: Freshman Jennah Isai, who is from the Phoenix area and was once a target of Arizona, transferred from Oregon to BYU last week. From an outsider perspective, it was a surprise because she was averaging 19.1 minutes, 7.0 points, and 1.9 assists per game in 10 games. Was it a surprise for fans of the program? She cited “personal reasons.” Does anyone know what those reasons might be? What kind of impact does the loss of Isai have on the Ducks?
A: As much as I dislike entering the area of subjective reasoning, I can’t answer this question without doing so. So here goes...from the beginning of the season, Isai has been a bench player. Extremely talented, excellent contributor, but not a starter. She was a highly recruited, top star talent, and that talent showed. But in this age of the transfer portal and instant gratification, my take on this is that she was not happy being a high recruit that found herself just outside of the starting rotation on an admittedly talented team. Some players will have patience and work the system. Others are dissatisfied, having grown up being all that and more only to find themselves in a secondary role. My opinion is that Isai is the latter. Her move was not a surprise to me. Hopefully, she gets the development and minutes at BYU that she presumably did not feel she was getting at Oregon. She is a wonderful talent. My only wish for her is that she finds the rewarding collegiate career that she is looking for at BYU.
Q: So far this season, Endyia Rogers is averaging more points, a higher FG%, a dramatically higher 3pt%, more assists, more steals, and fewer turnovers. Since UO plays a pretty challenging non-conference slate, it doesn’t appear to be because of competition level. What do you think is happening with her play, her team’s play, or both that is allowing such a dramatic improvement?
A: In answering your question, I’m going to back up a bit to last season. Last season, the Ducks were loaded with talent and simply could not put it together. There were head-scratching performances that ended the season in a most lackluster way. We lost a bunch of highly regarded players whom, in all honesty, did not play up to the hype. But the spark plug that carried the team, good and bad? Endiya Rogers. What Rogers is doing now is an extension of how she was carrying the team late last season. She is probably the most underrated guard in the Pac-12 right now...and it helps that she doesn’t have to be everything. Grace VanSlooten can take over a game. Phillipina Kyei gets better every game, and at 6-8 is a force that can’t be stopped when she’s in a groove. And Kyei is a sophomore who is just finding her game - after all, Sedona Prince was supposed to be the primary big before she went out with season-ending surgery. If you look at a typical Oregon game, Rogers carries the load until the youngsters catch up - if that’s what needs to happen. Rogers has been clutch in closing minutes. Any team is going to have a tough time with a fearless, confident senior that know exactly what she needs to do and can act on it.
Q: If there’s one thing Arizona needs to shut down to be successful against Oregon, what is it and why?
A: Oregon’s height will be a problem for Arizona. What the Wildcats need to do to be successful is: 1) Be accurate on the perimeter in order to open up the game in the paint, and 2) Work the paint and draw fouls from Oregon. If AZ lets Oregon have its way inside, then the perimeter game becomes more difficult. It’s not an impossible task for the Wildcats, but my guess is that if Arizona is having trouble with Oregon, it’s because we’re giving them fits inside.
Q: Prediction time. How do you think the game will go and do you have a final score prediction?
A: Gee, thanks here. What a loaded question. I say that because these are two, NCAA bound, teams that on paper match up well. Anything could happen. I’m going to say that height and experience favors Oregon; however, I’m not going to be surprised if the Ducks falter. This is going to be a close contest, regardless. My guess is Oregon, 71-64. I would not be surprised if the score is reversed; we’re in for a great game.