By Rob Moseley
Given his preferred up-tempo coaching style, Paul Westhead likes it when he and his team can hit the ground running. Because of an NCAA rule change, the Oregon women’s basketball team did just that this season.
New for this year, teams could practice two hours per week over the summer, as long as players were enrolled in classes. So Westhead and the Ducks got an eight-week head start on their preparations for the 2013-14 season.
“I thought it was terrific,” Westhead said. “It was the best summer I’ve had.”
The UO coach will see what sort of dividends the early start paid beginning Wednesday night. The Ducks kick off their season with a 7 p.m. exhibition against Western Oregon in Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon is looking to bounce back from an injury ravaged 4-27 season. With better luck, the Ducks will have enough depth to play at a much faster pace, both offensively and with a return to pressing defense.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how our players get out and go,” Westhead said. “How their speed game is.”
While that duo should be ready sooner rather than later, the Ducks will play this season without junior Jordan Loera. The 31-game starter from last season suffered an ACL tear in preseason practices; she’ll redshirt this season and return as a junior in 2014-15.
Loera’s injury leaves the Ducks with three returning starters: forwards Danielle Love and Jillian Alleyne, and guard Ariel Thomas. Alleyne will try to build on a freshman campaign in which she scored 13.0 points and grabbed 11.9 rebounds per game, earning honorable mention all-Pac-12 status.
“She will progress and get better and better,” Westhead said. “The only question is, how fast? Is she going to double her efficiency from one year to the next? We would like that. She’s on a good track, and I’m just anxious to see how she’ll become a significantly better player, which she can be.”
The exhibition schedule, Wednesday against Western Oregon and Monday against Oregon Tech, will also be the debuts for freshman guards Drea Toler and Chrishae Rowe. Toler figures to be in the mix for minutes behind Thomas at point guard, while Rowe’s scoring presence could lead to some early starting assignments on the wing.
“I know them – I saw them in the summer … and I’ve been practicing with them almost 30 days now. So I have a sense,” Westhead said. “But games are games. I’m excited. I think both are going to be productive players.”