By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

First up

Westmont at Oregon (ex)

When: 2 p.m. Nov. 5 TV: None

EUGENE — Oregon women’s basketball practices are almost as entertaining for coach Kelly Graves as the team’s run to the Elite Eight in March.

Near the end of a recent scrimmage, all-Pac-12 forward Ruthy Hebard stole a pass, dribbled down the court and assisted all-America guard Sabrina Ionescu’s layup in traffic.

Mallory McGwire, a 6-foot-5 forward, is still knocking down 15-foot jumpers. Satou Sabally, a versatile 6-4 freshman, is stroking 3-pointers from the corner. Junior point guard Maite Cazorla is mentoring freshman point guard Aina Ayuso, a fellow Spaniard.

And when the Ducks line up on the baseline to run sprints, 6-6 redshirt freshman Lydia Giomi usually wins the race.

“It’s awesome to be back,” said sharpshooter Lexi Bando, one of only two seniors on a team loaded with talent. “The energy is just flowing through the gym. I feel like we’re right where we left off. We’re even better and we’re going to keep trying to improve.”

Oregon returns all five starters and the top seven scorers from last season. The Ducks, a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, finished 16th in the final USA Today coaches poll after upsetting No. 7 Temple, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland before losing to No. 1 UConn in the regional final.

Now Oregon (23-14), which has four freshmen and six sophomores on the roster, will have to handle great expectations.

“I think they’re hungry,” Graves said. “They realize we have a good team, they want to do more. We’re going to set our goals really high. We have high expectations of them, and I think they do of each other. I can’t wait to lace them up.”

The two sophomore superstars, Hebard (14.9 points, 8.5 rebounds per game last year) and Ionescu (14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists), played internationally with Team USA over the summer.

“If it’s possible, Sabrina’s even more confident,” Graves said of the 2016-17 national freshman of the year, who averaged 10.3 points on the gold medal-winning USA under-23 national team. “She believes in herself and her game. And she should. She’s really, really good. She’s an elite player in the country.”

Hebard, who led the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage (58.8) and hit the game-winning shot to start the March Madness against Temple, also continues to improve.

“Ruthy, I see as completely different than she was last year at this time,” Graves said. “Her body’s different, she’s in better shape, she’s stronger. You can tell she’s just playing with a lot of confidence and a lot more focus. She’s pretty good. I can’t wait to see how she competes this year.”

Bando averaged 10.2 points and ranked second in the NCAA in 3-point field-goal percentage (47.5) last season. Justine Hall, the team’s other senior, adds experience to the backcourt off the bench. Two Australian imports, sophomore Morgan Yaeger and freshman Anneli Maley, provide depth at guard, along with Ayuso.

The Ducks are still among the tallest teams in the nation with a frontcourt that has seven players between 6-1 and 6-6.

“There’s a positive vibe around us,” said Sabally, who helped lead Germany to the FIBA under-20 Division B gold medal in July while Cazorla won the Division A title with Spain. “We have pressure, but we also want to fulfill the next step. They learned a lot last year, they’re so smart, and I’m just really excited.”

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