Pac-12 preview: University of Oregon

This is the eleventh in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Paul Westhead has been known as a “fast break” coach who prefers the running game. During his three years as the Oregon Ducks head coach, however, he has developed a reputation for producing “fast skid” teams.

In his second season, Oregon began 9-2 and fell apart once they began conference play. Last year the Ducks started 6-0 and then went 9-16 the rest of the way, for tenth in the Pac-12. The last two years, they’ve exited the conference tournament so fast that I wasn’t able to get to the arena in time to see them play.

It’s a sad situation for fans and season ticket holders, and for those like myself who grew up watching the Ducks. A program that built momentum in the 1980s and 1990s has stalled, with no apparent end in sight.

Oregon’s first, second and fourth-leading scorers – Amanda Johnson (18 ppg, 9.6 rpg), Jasmin Holliday (13.2 ppg) and Nia Jackson (8.6 ppg) – have graduated, leaving a gaping hole at the top of the roster.

Junior guard Ariel Thomas (8.9 ppg), junior guard/forward Deanna Weaver (6.7 ppg), junior forward Danielle Love (6.6 ppg), sophomore guard Jordan Loera (5.8 ppg), sophomore forward Liz Brenner (5.8 ppg) and sophomore guard/forward Lexi Petersen (4.2 ppg) are back. The question is, of course, will they step up this season?

A bright spot for the Ducks is the entry of redshirt freshman center Janitah Iamaleava, who had to sit out last year with a knee injury. The athletic center from California has a versatile game and can contribute on both ends of the floor, and Oregon needs a good under-the-bucket woman.

Other freshmen include 6-foot-3 forward Jillian Alleyne, from California and Devyn Galland, a 5-foot-8 guard from Washington state.

Westhead, who doesn’t exude much energy from the bench, and the University are doing good things. The Ducks traveled to Spain at the end of the summer and went 4-0 on their tour. Both team and coaches seem very comfortable in almost-two-year-old Matt Knight Arena – a state-of-the-art arena with all the amenities.

The fans inside MKA are discontent, however. When I went to Eugene last year and accompanied friends to a game, season ticket holders gave me many earfuls of complaints. They would like to see a full-time coach (Westhead only lives in Eugene during the season), and one who can truly develop the talent on the team.

This season should be telling as to whether Westhead stays or goes, as a coach’s fourth year usually is. The Ducks also have a preseason schedule that won’t leave much room for error. Most notably, they face Connecticut in a home game New Year’s Eve. Other pre-conference opponents include Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois and Fresno State.

We will see.