Recap: Ducks Roll Past WOU, 103-58, in Exhibition Opener

by Rob Moseley
Editor, GoDucks.com

As a two-year veteran of the major college ranks, Katelyn Loper recognized the ace UO coach Paul Westhead was keeping up his sleeve.

The pair of aces, make that.

With the exhibition opener approaching for his Oregon women's basketball team, Westhead had talked much about veterans like Ariel Thomas, players coming off injury such as Lexi Petersen, and of course last year's fabulous freshman, Jillian Alleyne.

What he hadn't done much was hype the new class of first-year Ducks  point guard Drea Toler and wing Chrishae Rowe.

"This whole time I've been like, 'People have no idea,'" Loper said. "They're great. Chrishae is amazing, and Drea is so fast. He did well picking people that fit the system."

"The System" would be Westhead's trademark brand of uptempo basketball. It never got up and running in 2012-13, when the Ducks were ravaged by injury. But with Toler and Rowe newly in the mix, and three-point gunner Loper now eligible after sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules, the engine that runs "The System" got an impressive retrofit.

Of course, it won't take much to improve on last season's 4-27 finish. But the newcomers showed in Wednesday's 103-58 exhibition win over Western Oregon that — if healthy — this should be a much more entertaining team to watch, and a more consistently competitive one, too.

"Our two freshmen showed very good promise," Westhead said. "… As we roll into the season, the competition will get stronger. But I don't have any (concerns) either one of them will weaken because of the competition. I think they'll be on the job."

Western Oregon was an overmatched opponent Wednesday; the Ducks had a 63-43 rebounding advantage, and it should have been at least that given their advantages in size and athleticism. Still, it was a first chance for Rowe and Toler to test themselves again opposing collegiate players, and for Loper to knock any rust off after her transfer from Hofstra.

Loper came out gunning, making 3-of-9 three-pointers in the first half. Rowe made 7-of-8 shots in the first 20 minutes, as each finished with a game-high 17 points. Toler found her touch in the lane in the second half, and added another 15 points.

They led Oregon's cracking of the century mark on the scoreboard, something that's supposed to be frequent under Westhead. And they looked like potentially some of the Ducks' best offensive weapons in the upcoming season.

"I think that's part of the reason I'm here," said Rowe, who averaged 19.9 points as a high school senior, with a season-high 41 in one game.

Rowe wore down in the second half, making 1-of-6 field goals. But over the course of this season, Westhead predicted, "she's going to be able to step up and make shots in big situations."

Toler stands just 5-foot-5, but is so quick that the best comparison Thomas could come up with was Johnathan Loyd, from the UO men's team.

As Oregon's two healthy point guards, Toler and Thomas go head-to-head in practices. Thus, Toler said, she had some idea of what to expect in her debut Wednesday.

"It makes me a better player, and I think it helps her too," Toler said of sparring with Thomas. "Because it's very competitive."

The addition of Toler, Rowe and Loper allowed Westhead to use 12 players Wednesday — 10 for at least 13 minutes. That was despite the season-ending knee injury to Jordan Loera, the ongoing recoveries of Petersen and Laura Stanulis from surgery last year, and Amanda Delgado's lingering knee issues.

All that depth helped on the defensive end, where Westhead turned up the heat Wednesday in ways he couldn't due to numbers last winter, when he was down to seven healthy bodies at one point.

"We might not have pressed that much the whole season," Westhead said.

Continued production will determine the size of the regular rotation later in the season, and which players comprise it. One way for them to help themselves is with a better nose for offensive rebounding; Westhead hopes the rest of the roster can mimic Thomas' tenacity in that facet of the game.

The Ducks also won Wednesday with limited production from Alleyne. The super sophomore had seven points and 11 rebounds, not to be taken for granted but nothing extraordinary given her marvelous debut season.

Oregon could get by without Alleyne because of the contributions from the newcomers. And that includes Loper, who, like the freshmen, has been somewhat overlooked as the Ducks' prospects for this season have been assessed.

She wasn't to be ignored once the game started, however, hitting a three-pointer on the Ducks' first possession, and shooting 10 more over the course of the game. Oregon could sorely use some production from behind the arc after shooting 26.5 percent as a team last season, so nobody was complaining with Loper's shot selection.

"They said it was fine, and I was happy with them myself — I'm my biggest critic, and today I was actually happy with it," she said.

What a relief, then, for Loper and her new freshman teammates, to have come away satisfied with their Duck debuts.

"To come back and play well was really nice," Loper said. "It was nice to just kind of get my feet wet and get back into it. First game's over with, so now I'm OK."