Ruthy Hebard’s short learning curve has produced quick results

Ruthy Hebard set a Division I record for number of consecutive shots made, with 33. Samuel Marshall/Eric Evans Photography.
Ruthy Hebard set a Division I record for number of consecutive shots made, with 33. Samuel Marshall/Eric Evans Photography.

A win against arch rival Oregon State last month was a boon for the No. 8 Oregon Ducks. But sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard wasn’t happy with her own performance.

Her 2-15 showing was just one bad night in the midst of many great games this season, including a perfect shooting night against Arizona State a week earlier. But the young star knew she could do better.

Hebard said she kept getting pushed out of position by Beaver defenders, and wasn’t able to finish shots. So the day of the next practice, she headed to the weight room and started putting in more time with the team’s strength and conditioning coach, to get stronger. She also began practicing individually with sophomore forward Mallory McGwire, which has helped Hebard develop the confidence to know she can go up against other posts in the Pac-12 and move them.

The extra work yielded quick dividends.

Hebard played two back-to-back perfect games against Washington State and USC, going 12 for 12 in each. She scored 33 consecutive shots over a span of games and set a new Division I NCAA record for both men and women basketball before finally missing a shot against No. 10 UCLA last week.

Hebard said getting a record wasn’t even on her radar, and she didn’t realize she had done it until someone else told her. In her last four games, Hebard has made 44 of 50, shooting 88 percent from the field.

“It was a really great streak. It’s always great to make your shots,” she said. “I’m really happy I could make that record, and I’m ready to start a new one now.”

Hebard, who has started all but her first two games for Oregon, also eclipsed the 1,000-point career mark in the first half of her perfect game against the Cougars – only the second Duck to achieve that in just her sophomore year. She follows Jillian Alleyne, who graduated in 2016 and averaged 17.9 points a game. Later that same game against Washington State, sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu joined Alleyne and Hebard in the 1,000-point club. Senior guard Lexi Bando and junior guard Maite Cazorla also both have 1,000 career points, which they each achieved in their junior seasons.

Oregon coach Kelly Graves has not only been working with Hebard on getting in good position under the basket in practice, but also on driving to the hoop. Hebard said with strong post player competition like USC’s Kristen Simon and UCLA’s Monique Billings, it’s can be hard to get that deep low post position.

Heading into the matchup against the Bruins, Hebard was preparing both physically and mentally to go to work against senior Billings, who is averaging 14.3 shots on the season.

“Monique Billings is everything,” Hebard said.

Billings had a plan for Hebard going into the game.

“I was just trying to deny her touches early,” Billings said. “I know she likes to get deep in the paint and she likes that right hand and just denying that and not letting her have it.”

As the Ducks took the floor against UCLA with Hebard’s streak still intact, the pressure was on. With every shot she took, many of the 7,000-plus home court fans in collectively held their breath, until Hebard missed her first after 33 with two minutes left in the third. The crowd gave her a standing ovation as she ran back down the court on defense.

Hebard made seven of her 11 attempted shots, scoring a total of 14 points, while Billings scored a game high of 26 on 11-15 shooting. Oregon went on to win the nationally-televised showdown in overtime.

Her approach to the game was framed by her father.

“My dad always tells me, ‘Just have fun and everything good will come,'” Hebard said. “That’s what I’m doing.”

Hebard’s parents who live in Fairbanks, Alaska, make it down to watch her play in person frequently and never miss a game when they’re home, she said.

“Family’s everything to me,” she said.

The Hebard family knows what it takes to compete. Younger brother Isaiah, 16, also plays basketball and both Jacob, Hebard’s 21-year-old brother, and her father, John Hebard, played hockey. John Hebard played for the University of Alaska Fairbanks in college.

Hebard also knows how to play hockey. Growing up, she and her family would set up a hockey net in their driveway and play. They also went ice skating to shoot on ice together.

Hebard’s grandparents, who live in Keizer, Oregon, and her uncle are season ticket holders and come to every home game. Her mother was at her record-breaking game against USC, and at their home win over the Bruins.

The team’s family atmosphere at Oregon, and Hebard’s own family living so close to Eugene, ultimately played a major role in her decision to play for the Ducks. She said the coaching staff and teammates are like family, and that Graves and his wife regularly open their home to players.

Hebard, who played for West Valley High School in Fairbanks, said was worried she wouldn’t be recruited much since she was playing so far north. But through travel ball she got plenty of looks from recruiters, and was ultimately No. 40 in the 2016 class.

The three-time Alaska Gatorade State Player of the Year caught the eye of Duck associate head coach Mark Campbell, and the courtship between Hebard and the school was short but sweet.

Last year she played for USA Basketball’s U19 team and started every game in their summer tournament to help the team finish with a silver medal. Hebard also played in the 3×3 tournament with Bando and Duck teammates Oti Gildon and Justine Hall. They lost to the Washington Huskies 20-17 in the championship.

With their win against Arizona State Friday, Oregon clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title. Results from today – and an undetermined game between second-place Stanford and Washington State, which was cancelled today – will set the top four seeds in the conference tournament, which begins Thursday.