By Jim • 

Sports Fan: New Ducks women’s coach hopes to bring defense into mix

Nope, the Ducks will now slow the pace and focus on something called "defense," which was obviously lacking during Westhead's tenure. Newly hired coach Kelly Graves, 51, is already working on the all-important buy-in from his returning players in Eugene, and he's had a great deal of success selling his defensive philosophy in his former job at Gonzaga, and even prior to that 14-season stint, at St. Mary's, where he coached for three years, compiling a 66-26 record, before moving on to Spokane.

Graves, when he agreed to leave Gonzaga, said he was looking for a new challenge. In his 14 years at the Spokane-based Catholic school, his teams took 10 consecutive West Coast Conference titles while making the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once. He compiled a 317-136 overall record (136-12 WCC) in that timespan.

Let's face it: a coach could get complacent after 10 consecutive league titles.

Oregon, on the other hand, didn't qualify for the NCAA tournament in five seasons under the 75-year-old Westhead, who has experienced a "yo-yo" career as he jumped from college to the NBA and back as well as forays into the ABA and the WNBA.

While Westhead's teams were known for high-scoring productions, his teams often gave up more points than they scored. In fact, while coaching the Denver Nuggets in the early 1990s, his team gave up 107 points — in one half — which is still an NBA record. His Denver club was 44-120 during that two-year period as the Nuggets averaged 119.9 points per game while giving up 130.8 per outing.

At least at that stop, one of many in his career, Westhead's run-and-gun philosophy didn't pan out, although he earlier won an NBA title in 1980 while coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. He later coached the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury to a title in 2007 and had a number of good years as coach of Loyola Marymount from 1985-1990.

But in most cases, Westhead was fired after only a short stint (Denver, LA, Seattle/Oklahoma City — as an assistant). At Oregon, his teams never really got traction with his quick-paced, offense-focused philosophy. In fact, his overall record at U of O was 66-92 (27-64 conference).

So, Duck fans in 2014-15 will be excited to watch Graves' approach, an approach where defense is an integral part of the overall program, not an apparent after-thought, unfold. While scoring ninety points is exciting, giving up over ninety points and losing is not.

That's why the change was made, and now the ball is in Kelly Graves' court, and Oregon officials and fans are hopeful that the culture will change — and change quickly — in women's basketball at Oregon under the direction of the former Gonzaga coach who got his start as an assistant at the University of Portland.

If you have an idea for a column or feature story or comment, please contact me by email at or by phone at 503-687-1274.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS