Topic: went on a magical March run that included wins over Temple

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    Oregon women s basketball coach Kelly Graves tried to make the pitch that his team was young and still a bit inexperienced. Then Sabrina Ionescu took ahold of the microphone.

    Repeat after me, she instructed the media after being asked how to pronounce her last name. Yo. Nes. Coo. All together now, Yo. Nes. Coo.

    It was a jovial moment inside of the Pac 12 Network studios and one that seemingly betrayed Graves notion that these Ducks were still getting their feet wet. Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard were poised, confident and fun during their 20 minute press conference, acting as if they had been in this sort of situation a million times before.

    But despite the fact that the two helped spearhead the best season in Oregon women s basketball history last season, reaching the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight for the first time in program history, this was new territory for the two.

    Normally, the Pac 12 media days are reserved for upperclassmen and frankly, the Ducks don t have many a point Graves stressed as the Ducks look to improve upon last year s upstart success.

    This is a young team. One of the youngest in the country, Graves said. The ceiling is very high and we re still a work in progress.
    Graves is correct. The Ducks are young with only a pair of seniors and juniors on the entire roster. There are six sophomores and four freshmen.

    But while the roster may be lean on years, it s heavy with big game experience. The Ducks return all five starters from last season s team highlighted by the two at the podium in San Francisco.

    Ionescu was the Pac 12 and ESPN freshman of the year, having broken the NCAA record for most triple doubles by a freshman with four. Hebard was an all Pac 12 player who led the Ducks with 14.9 points per game and 8.5 rebounds.

    In short, the Ducks have plenty of talent returning, which is an exciting opportunity for Graves.

    I go to bed smiling almost every night, he said. I don t think I ve coached a group that is more fun and more competitive in my life.

    A year ago, the Ducks knew they would be young. They liked the talent they had, but expectations were tempered as they were picked to finish seventh in the Pac 12. They ended up 8 10 in conference play, earned a 10th seed at the NCAA Tournament and went on a magical March run that included wins over Temple, Duke and Maryland before ultimately falling to No. 1 Connecticut in the Elite Eight.

    A season later Dillon Brooks Jersey, the Ducks aren t sneaking up on anybody. Oregon was picked second in the Pac 12 coaches poll released Wednesday morning, falling just behind UCLA in the rankings.
    Expectations externally have changed. We re not flying under the radar now, Graves said. But we challenge our players all the time. We always set higher expectations on them than even those externally. We have the right mix of players who are all driven as well.

    Throughout Wednesday s press conference, Hebard and Ionescu had opportunities to look young , and each time they chose the route of veterans.

    When asked if the next step is the Final Four, they answered that they re just trying to take things one day at a time. When asked about playing for such a young team, they said they re working on stepping up and becoming vocal leaders.

    By the end of it, it even had Graves shaking his head.

    Did I mention they re just sophomores? Graves said. I mean, seriously. They re elite basketball players and competitors.

    They ve already figured this stuff out.

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