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Freshman Hebard brings inside scoring, but coach Kelly Graves says defense will be key to Ducks' season


When it comes to freshman firepower, the University of Oregon women's basketball team has its share.

And while fans in Portland didn't get to see dynamic guard Sabrina Ionescu, who was sidelined with a broken thumb on her shooting hand, freshman post Ruthy Hebard put on a show in Saturday's 90-46 win over Portland State at Moda Center.

Hebard leads the country in field-goal shooting, and showed why as she hit 12 of 13 shots (most from close range). She has made 66 of 81 shots this season (81.5 percent).

In Fairbanks, Alaska, the 6-4 Hebard towered over her competition. Playing against taller opponents has been her main adjustment with the Ducks (9-2 going into a noon Tuesday home game against Idaho).

"I didn't have to do all the little things like I have to do now," Hebard says. "I could just go up and get a rebound. Now I have to box out, and I've gotten stronger."

Her father played college hockey, and Hebard played some goalie and defense in her youth — along with volleyball and soccer — before basketball took over in middle school.

Hebard is part of a 2016 class ranked third in the nation by ESPN. Five of the seven freshmen were among ESPN's top 100 recruits. In addition to Ionescu — the top guard and No. 4 overall recruit — Oregon signed 6-3 forward Sierra Campisano (14th), Hebard (40th), guard Morgan Yaeger (92nd) and forward Mallory McGwire (98th). Freshman forward Lydia Giomi and freshman guard Jayde Woods joined Ionescu on the injured list Saturday. 

Hebard, who was adopted at birth, says the quality of the recruiting class helped her choose Oregon.

"I feel like we can do really big things if we work hard," she says. "I saw some of the girls play summer ball, and I wanted to be their teammate."

The offensive talent at Oregon is obvious — although Ionescu's loss would be a big one. She is second on the team in scoring (13.1 points per game; Hebard is at 14.5). The 5-10 Ionescu, from Walnut Creek, California, has a team-high 5.2 assists per game, is shooting .390 from 3-point range, is second in steals (one behind Maite Cazorla) and second in rebounding (6.5 to Hebard's 8.7).

Ducks coach Kelly Graves says defense will determine whether the Ducks are ready to compete with top Pac-12 teams such as UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon State. And, with nine new players this season, Graves says it will take time to learn to play the consistent team defense that is required of elite programs.

"By March, I really do think we're going to be so much better defensively," Graves says. "That's why we're going to be a tough out for anybody. But that's a culture-based product. Defense is something you learn and grow with and get better at over time.

"I'm pleased with where we're at. I think we're playing good basketball and our players are confident, which is nice."

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