Oregon WBB picked to finish first in Pac-12 conference

Led by Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, Ducks look to fly past last year's Elite Eight finish

Oregon received great news on Wednesday.

For the first time in program history, the Ducks were tabbed as the conference preseason favorites — picked to win the Pac-12 by media as announced by the conference during its annual media day.

“I think it's a great honor… and I think deserved. This is a really, really good group. We're not going to shy away from that,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “But at the same time, it doesn't mean anything. When we play the Washington schools opening weekend, we're all going to be 0-0 and competing for the same prize… and I think our players are smart enough to know that and realize that.”

Oregon received 121 votes (11 first-place votes) while Stanford was picked to finish second, coming in with 107 votes (and the final first-place vote). Oregon State was chosen to finish third in the Pac-12 while Cal and Arizona State were picked fourth and fifth, respectively.

This comes as no surprise to anyone considering what the Ducks have accomplished the past two years and who’s returning. Led by preseason all-American candidates Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, the Ducks return four of five starters for a team that went to the Elite Eight the past two seasons.

Ionescu is arguably the best player in the country entering her junior season. She had a phenomenal season last year that ended with her winning multiple accolades, including Pac-12 player of the year, the Nancy Lieberman National Point Guard of the Year and being named a consensus all-American.

She’s joined by Hebard — the junior power forward — to make up one of the most dynamic duos in college basketball. Hebard also received multiple accolades last year, none higher than receiving the Katrina McClain National Power Forward of the Year award and being named all-Pac-12.

Also returning for the Ducks is four-year starter Maite Cazorla at point guard, a member of the all-Pac-12 team last year and wing Satou Sabally, the reigning Pac-12 freshman of the year. Helping fill out the bench is reserve Otis Gildon, a player who showed great poise last year in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, earning the trust of Graves and teammates.

While the Ducks may seem short on reserves, two newcomers are Erin Boley and Taylor Chavez.

Boley — a transfer from Notre Dame — will bring size, physicality and shooting to the Ducks, a need after they lost sharpshooter Lexi Bando to graduation last year. Boley was also named the 2016 national Gatorade player of the year during her senior season of high school.

“She's really competitive and highly skilled…I love her versatility — it's going to be a match-up advantage for us on many nights,” Graves said of Boley. “Then she is a big-time elite shooter, and she's the kind of player that can get on a roll at any time.”

Chavez — who is the reigning Gatorade Arizona State player of the year — should contribute right away by backing up Cazorla and Ionescu at the guard positions.

“I mean, our freshmen coming in, Taylor Chavez, she's great,” Ionescu said. “She's one of the best freshmen, I think, in the Pac-12 this year… and she's been practicing like one.”

Pac-12 Conference Preseason Standings

1) Oregon — 121 (11)

2) Stanford — 107 (1)

3) Oregon State — 104

4) California — 82

5) Arizona State — 79

6) UCLA — 74

7) USC — 66

8) Utah — 50

9) Colorado — 44

10) Arizona — 28

11) Washington State — 19

12) Washington — 18