by Rob Moseley
The Oregon women's basketball team heads to Seattle for the Pac-12 Tournament this week looking to extend one run, and end another with a flourish.
The Ducks (15-14) will play Washington State in the first round of the conference tournament Thursday in KeyArena (6 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks). Oregon enters the postseason on a hot streak, having swept ASU and Arizona at home last week, and will try to send head coach Paul Westhead out on a successful note.
Westhead, who signed a five-year contract when he became UO coach in 2009, is nearing the end of the deal March 31. His contract will not be renewed beyond that date, it was announced Tuesday.
Westhead told players of his decision Tuesday afternoon. In asking them to show resiliency in the wake of the news, he reminded them of their experience in "The Program," a military-style leadership and team-building program they endured in the offseason.
"This is the time to step up," Westhead said he told the team. "This is not the time to feel, 'Well, this shouldn't have happened right now,' or whatever. You have to cope. And I think they're ready to do that."
The stage seems set for a strong final push by the Ducks under Westhead. All-conference forward Jillian Alleyne is playing at a level deserving of all-America consideration, as the nation's leader in rebounding and double-doubles. Wing Chrishae Rowe is the nation's top scoring freshman, and senior point guard Ariel Thomas is averaging 17.3 points per game since recovering from a midseason ankle injury.
Their combined efforts led Oregon to its first win since 2007 over a ranked opponent, the No. 20 Sun Devils last week. The Ducks followed that by beating Arizona on senior day in the regular-season finale.
"A weekend of winning and playing hard? Yeah, I'll take that," Westhead said. "I think we're going to be fine."
Oregon is looking for its first conference tournament win under Westhead, and the chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since his initial season with the Ducks. The UO women lost 108-88 at WSU on Feb. 23, breaking a streak of four straight wins in the series by Oregon.
"It would be fitting that it's going to be a very, very close game," Westhead said. "Hopefully it's going to be in the 100s; we've got a good shot at it then. If it's in the 50s, I won't feel so good."
Oregon enters the postseason as the nation's top scoring team at 93.3 points per game, a primary goal in Westhead's uptempo system. But the Ducks haven't always been so prolific during his tenure, which is marked by a 65-90 overall record, a 27-64 slate in conference play and one postseason appearance, the WNIT in 2010.
"We weathered the storm; some nice wins and some hard losses," Westhead said. "I don't think we have any disappointment like, 'Gee, we really messed up.' I'm very content with how we performed."
The athletic department announced that a committee led by senior women's administrator Lisa Peterson will conduct a national search for the Ducks' next women's basketball coach.
“We want to thank Paul for his service at the University of Oregon,” director of athletics Rob Mullens said. “He is an iconic figure in basketball and we wish him and (Westhead's wife) Cassie well in the future.”