Erin Boley makes shooting a basketball look so easy, like something you can do with your eyes closed.
And she does.
Acutely observant fans of the No. 5 Oregon women’s team may have noticed the sophomore sharpshooter with her eyes wide shut as the ball is being released from her fingertips.
Photographers on the baseline at Matthew Knight Arena have captured images of the Boley Blink this season.
“I don’t really close them, it’s not like I can’t see when I shoot. I just blink,” Boley said of her quirky shooting style. “I sort of have a rhythm and I breathe when I shoot. It’s like that same thing over and over again, and I blink at the same time that I breathe out.”
Growing up in rural Kentucky, Boley said her high school coach and her father tried to get her to stop closing her eyes. But why fix what isn’t broken?
Local newspapers printed plenty of photos of Boley lighting up opposing defenses in the blink of an eye.
“People would send me pictures. My eyes are usually half-closed, so it looks a little freaky I guess in the photos,” Boley said after getting some extra shots up after a recent practice. “I get people telling me all the time, ‘You close your eyes when you shoot.’
“But I promise I can see the whole time.”
Boley could probably wear a Sandra Bullock Bird Box-style blindfold and shoot 40 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Through her first 14 games with the Ducks, the 6-foot-2 forward has knocked down 46 three-pointers, the most by any Pac-12 player, while shooting 41.8 percent from distance.
Boley erupted for a career-high 28 points and was 8-for-12 (66.7 percent) on three-pointers during Oregon’s 84-71 win over Washington in the conference opener.
“Instant offense, that’s for sure,” coach Kelly Graves said of the Notre Dame transfer’s impact on the defending Pac-12 champions. “On any given night, she can go off, and she did that against Washington. Thank goodness we had her that night. I’m not sure we get it done last Friday if it weren’t for her.”
Graves also noticed that Boley closes her eyes while shooting, but he didn’t mention anything out of fear of messing up the quickest catch-and-release of any player he’s ever coached.
“It’s funny on shooting, you always heard just follow through and just watch the ball all the way to the rim, like somehow it wills the ball in,” Graves said. “That’s bull. Once its gone, physics say it’s over.”
Boley, the Gatorade national player of the year coming out of Elizabethtown (Ky.) High in 2016, could have transferred to a program where she was the big fish in the pond.
Instead, she joined forces with Ionescu, the USA Today national player of the year in 2016, and the talented cast of stars that includes senior point guard Maite Cazorla and dynamic forwards Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally.
“That’s something we all really love about this team is we’re challenged every day by each other because we are all very high-level players,” Boley said. “I think that’s a challenge that we all like, and we know is going to make us better in the end.”
The Ducks (13-1, 2-0), who play their first Pac-12 road game of the season Friday against USC at the Galen Center in Los Angeles (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), lost Lexi Bando to graduation after back-to-back Elite Eight runs in the NCAA Tournament.
During a lengthy coaching career, Graves has been able to keep track of which players have been his most elite shooters by putting them through the “Star Drill,” during which they take five three-pointers from both corners, both wings and at the top of the key while being timed.
Bando, who finished her career with the Oregon record for made three-pointers (283) and the Pac-12 record for three-point field-goal percentage (45.7 percent), was the best Graves had ever seen.
And then Ionescu showed up. The competitive triple-double queen is currently third nationally in three-point field-goal percentage (50.7).
“I tell people all the time Sabrina is the best player I’ve ever played with,” Boley said. “It’s amazing to be able to play with her every day. To be on the same team as her, it makes all of us better. I think we’re all extremely grateful to have her on the team. She’s an extremely hard competitor.
“If you want to win, you want to be on Sabrina’s team.”
That doesn’t mean Boley shies away from challenging Ionescu’s dominance.
During a workout last year, Graves put the two former co-national high school players of the year through the drill as a group of boys waited to get on the court for a summer camp looked on.
Ionescu made 84 percent of her attempts with time to spare. Then it was Boley’s turn to put on a shooting clinic.
“Sabrina goes 21 of 25 and she’s talking smack, ‘Erin, I don’t think you can beat me,’” Graves recalled. “Erin goes 24-for-25. And the campers were like clapping and yelling, ‘Let’s go!’
“And I’m thinking, those two just took 50 threes in a timed manner, star-drill fashion, and went 45-for-50 in front of a crowd. That’s Steph Curry-like.”
Even more impressive, Boley did it with her eyes closed.