The No. 2 Oregon women’s basketball team is traveling to the desert.
And packing an improved defense.
The Ducks (12-1, 2-0) lead the nation in scoring, averaging 89.3 points per game, entering Friday’s game against Arizona State at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Ariz. (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks.
Sabrina Ionescu, despite watching the fourth quarter of last weekend’s blowout wins over Colorado (104-46) and Utah (88-51) from the bench, leads the NCAA in assists (8.8 per game).
Oregon ranks second as a team in field-goal percentage (50.3%), and Ruthy Hebard ranks second individually (69.7%).
Coach Kelly Graves is even more pleased about his team ranking 17th defensively (54.9 points allowed per game).
“We can go on the road and play really good defense,” Graves said. “Our last five games, we’re only giving up about 46, 47 (points) a game. So we’ve gotten better in that area. …
“I think we’re realizing when we play good defense it’s translating into easier baskets.”
Senior guard Minyon Moore has been the catalyst for the improvement on the defensive end. The tenacious graduate transfer has helped the coaching staff ratchet up the intensity in practice leading in to Pac-12 play.
“We’ve had some defensive liabilities, and I won’t say their names, but I don’t think we actually have a weak link anymore defensively,” Graves said. “We’re still not the world’s best defensive team, but I think we’re adequate and we’re getting better.
“I think (Moore) has elevated a few of our players.”
The Sun Devils (11-4, 1-2) have relied on defense and depth throughout Charli Turner Thorne’s long tenure as coach.
Arizona State is 20th in points allowed (55.2 per game) and has 10 players averaging between 11.5 and 4.8 points.
“When know what they can do,” Graves said. “They’re physical, they’re tough, really defensive oriented. I’ll tell you what, it is a grind when you play them.”
Arizona State is 0-2 against ranked opponents with losses to No. 18 Arizona (58-53) and No. 8 UCLA (68-66).
Oregon has won six consecutive games since its 72-62 loss to No. 6 Louisville on Nov. 30. The Ducks have allowed 55.3 points per game during the span.
“We had goals coming into conference play of progressing as a team defensively, being more efficient on offense,” sophomore guard Taylor Chavez said. “I feel like we did a good job showcasing that.”
Oregon has won the last four meetings with Arizona State to even the all-time series 34-34.
The Ducks play at No. 18 Arizona on Sunday. The Wildcats (13-1, 2-1) host No. 3 Oregon State on Friday.
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