by Rob Moseley
For as encouraging as the first two games of this Oregon women's basketball season were, Sunday's 97-85 loss to Sacramento State tilted the scales back the other direction.
Not only did the Ducks lose to a team that runs "The System" favored by UO coach Paul Westhead, they were outshot and committed more turnovers. Not only did Oregon suffer its first defeat of 2013-14, sophomore star Jillian Alleyne played just 12 minutes after what appeared to be a significant leg injury.
So, which team is it? The Ducks who averaged 122 points in beating Cal State-Bakersfield and Portland? The ones outplayed by the Hornets on Sunday? And what to take from Wednesday's trip to face No. 1 Connecticut?
"It's discouraging if that's who you are," Westhead said in his postmortem Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena. "I've often said, and we'll stick to, that we'll know who we are around game six, seven. And then you begin to live with who you are."
The hope around the program will be that Oregon didn't show its true colors Sunday. The Ducks committed a season-high 23 turnovers, including 15 in the first half, one short of their total in the win over Portland.
Point guards Laura Stanulis and Drea Toler combined for nine turnovers, as the Hornets hounded that position and forced the Ducks to adjust by advancing the ball upcourt through forwards Alleyne and Chrishae Rowe.
"We haven't really been pressed like that by a team this year," said sophomore Lexi Petersen, who made her season debut Sunday, after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 2012-13 opener. "We're still pretty young and we're trying to figure it out."
Senior Ariel Thomas was more succint: "We played into their hands. We played into their press."
The game featured an NCAA record 86 combined three-point attempts, including 49 by Sacramento State. The Hornets were giving up size to the Ducks, and so were content to try and shoot over them instead of attack the paint, but for transition plays.
Despite all the turnovers, Oregon only had four fewer field-goal attempts — 93 to 89 — thanks to a massive advantage on the boards (67-49). But the Ducks shot just 33.7 percent, and were 7of-37 from three-point range after going 30-of-72 through two games.
Rowe scored 28 points, taking the lead on offense with Alleyne out in the second half. Three-point gunner Katelyn Loper was 3-of-13 for eight points, and the Ducks sorely missed the inside-outside balance Alleyne would have provided.
"I wouldn't want to be in many games without Jillian Alleyne," said Westhead, who offered no specifics on her status postgame. "But I wouldn't use that as an excuse why things didn't turn out right. She wasn't playing, and we had to compensate."
Thomas said the Ducks "definitely missed her."
"Jillian's a very big piece to our puzzle," Thomas said. "She's a double-double, easily. But if you worried about, 'Oh my gosh, Jillian,' you're not going to keep your head in the game."
Westhead said only that he was "hopeful that Jillian Alleyne will return soon." The Ducks also played without post Megan Carpenter — and will do so at UConn, Westhead said — plus guard Amanda Delgado, whose return may be more imminent.
Those injuries struck just as the Ducks have welcomed back Stanulis and Petersen, who were granted medical hardships after early injuries last season. Petersen said she's been "going pretty hard" in practices the last week, and feels "ready to take the next step" after easing into the lineup Sunday.
"We should have been able to play the game, win the game and let Lexi have a little run," Westhead said. "That was my only goal for Lexi. Her day is another two or three games from now."
Just one more reason defining this Oregon women's basketball team may have to wait a little longer.