by Rob Moseley
The brand of basketball being played at Matthew Knight Arena right now hasn't been seen around these parts in some time.
This — Oregon's 113-86 win Tuesday over Portland, on the heels of Saturday's record-setting opener — is "The System" as it was meant to be played under Paul Westhead. It took five seasons, but it appears the UO women's basketball team finally fits the mold envisioned for the Ducks when Westhead was hired.
To fifth-year senior Laura Stanulis, the only comparison is her true freshman year, when Taylor Lilley and Micaela Cocks shot the Ducks to their only winning season yet under Westhead. The next year, Ariel Thomas arrived. She's now a senior, too, and getting her first taste of what a deep, balanced team can do in Westhead's uptempo style.
"Better late than never," Thomas said with a wide smile Tuesday night.
The Ducks played the Pilots some 47 weeks after losing at Portland in the nonconference season last year. That night, Oregon had 49 points, 53 field-goal attempts and 10 shots from the free-throw line; on Tuesday, the Ducks had 51 points by halftime, finishing with 76 shots from the floor and 43 from the free-throw line.
Playing Westhead's "speed game" effectively is creating more possessions, more shots and more points.
It also means more stamina. Last season, the Ducks trailed to Portland 45-35 at the half, despite shooting 44.4 percent, but then scored just 14 points after halftime. On Tuesday, Oregon shot 40 percent and had 11 turnovers in the first half, then improved to 51.2-percent shooting with only four turnovers after halftime.
"Tonight was the perfect example of 'The System,'" Stanulis said. "It might be close at the beginning" — Portland led 19-14 at one point — "but we showed that if you keep running and running, in the last 10 minutes they're going to crack."
The fun part? Westhead said his own team's conditioning isn't yet up to par, though it was better than Portland's on Tuesday.
"The good news is, they were tired and didn't crack," Westhead said of his team. "And that has happened in the past — we're trying to run teams out, and all of a sudden we're the ones getting run out."
The Ducks played so fast, they were able to survive foul trouble for four of five starters. And they won despite allowing 20 offensive rebounds, a number that would have been crushing for Westhead's teams of the last few years.
"They got what they got," sophomore Jillian Alleyne said, "and we still came out with the win."
Alleyne's development was huge in that. Oregon's most productive player as a freshman last season, Alleyne has raised her game as a sophomore. It's not just that she accumulates points and rebounds now, it's that she does it in a timely fashion — Alleyne scored eight straight to give the Ducks the lead for good at 25-21, and she scored in the second half after the Pilots closed within 10 at 74-64, their smallest deficit after halftime.
And unlike last season, the Ducks have perimeter scorers — notably newcomers Katelyn Loper and Chrishae Rowe — to complement Alleyne. Oregon shot 26.5 percent from three-point range in 2012-13, and is at 41.7 percent through two games this season; the Ducks' 30 three-pointers are one-sixth of last season's total, in just two games.
"There's that outside-inside yin and yang that's really hard to defend," Westhead said.
There are just plain more bodies, too. Injuries have crippled the Ducks the past three seasons, particularly at point guard, given Nia Jackson's knee problems two and three years ago, and knee injuries to Lexi Petersen and Stanulis last year. In 2012-13, Oregon had just six healthy scholarship players during one stretch of games.
Now, the Ducks are three deep at the point with Thomas, Stanulis and freshman Drea Toler. And they've scored 244 points in two games with Petersen still on the bench, arguably their best offensive player still a few games away from returning from last year's knee surgery.
Thus, when Westhead exhorts his team to play faster, Thomas said, "we can actually look at him and go, 'You're right, it's not fast enough.' Compared with last year, when we'd be like, 'We're trying as hard as we can.'"
"It's exciting," Thomas continued. "I think the fans are going to enjoy it. I really do believe we're going to surprise a lot of people."
The improvements this year aren't just related to personnel though, Stanulis said. The veterans have learned from the frustrations of previous years, and aren't eager to repeat them.
"We've definitely started over and bought into the system," Stanulis said. "Everyone's running, everyone's buying in.
"It's very refreshing. I'm just excited to see where it takes us this season."