EUGENE — It would be interesting to see where a team comprised of players sitting on the Ducks’ bench would finish in the Pac-12 basketball standings this season.
The list of talented non-starters getting limited minutes for the No. 9 Oregon women includes touted international imports Aina Ayuso and Anneli Maley, reliable upperclassmen Justine Hall and Oti Gildon, and former top-15 national recruit Sierra Campisano.
Morgan Yaeger, a top-100 recruit from the program-changing 2016 class, hasn’t played this season because of a back injury. Erin Boley, the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2016, is redshirting after transferring from Notre Dame.
“It’s amazing,” sophomore forward Mallory McGwire said. “We have such a deep bench. No matter what — any game, any outcome — we always have people on the bench ready to play.”
Now McGwire, a key contributor to the Oregon’s historic NCAA Tournament run last March as a true freshman, is among the players adjusting to a reserve role.
After starting 24 games last season and the first 10 games this season, McGwire was replaced in the starting lineup by dynamic freshman forward Satou Sabally.
“It’s not as hard as I feel people would think,” McGwire said. “Satou’s doing amazing, and I’ve got to keep working harder because I know there are bigger girls coming now that we’re getting into Pac-12 play. Cal and Stanford and all these teams have big girls, so I’m just getting stronger and working harder.”
McGwire, a 6-foot-5 forward, is averaging 5.9 points and 3.2 rebounds after averaging 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds last year. She is also playing three fewer minutes per game.
It didn’t take Sabally long to make an impact on an Oregon team that returned all five starters and the top scorers from last season when the program reached the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight for the first time.
The versatile 6-4 wing from Germany is averaging 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds. Sabally earned her third Pac-12 freshman of the week award after averaging 13.5 points and 2.5 rebounds with eight assists and seven steals during the sweep of the Washington schools.
“The reason we made the switch is, number one, Satou is playing so great,” coach Kelly Graves said. “Number two, we were playing so many teams that were small at the four spot. It was tough for us to always match up … so we just made the switch, spread people out and it’s been a good move for us.
“But ultimately when you play a lot of the big dogs you’ve got to have that double big.”
When Oregon faces taller teams, Graves expects McGwire to play more minutes alongside classmate Ruthy Hebard in the post, which proved to be a problem for Temple, Duke and Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
Hebard is averaging 17.1 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. The 6-4 sophomore forward ranks fifth in the NCAA in field-goal percentage (66.4 percent).
McGwire had season highs in points (11) and rebounds (7) against No. 5 Louisville.
“I think Mallory is playing well. She’s accepted the role, she’s a really good kid and does whatever the team needs,” Graves said. “I keep telling her, ‘We’re going to need you, you’re going to win some games for us that are really critical.’
“She’s kept a great attitude and work ethic. … She’s one of the best centers, certainly in the conference, and she’s coming off the bench for us. That’s quite a luxury.”
The Ducks (13-2, 2-0) play at USC on Friday in Los Angeles.
Oregon improved to 8-0 when Sabrina Ionescu notches a triple-double after the sophomore guard finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists last Sunday against Washington. Hebard had a double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds), senior guard Lexi Bando had 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting and Sabally had 13 points and seven assists during the 94-83 victory.
McGwire added four points, two offensive rebounds, two blocks and an assist in only 11 minutes against the Huskies.