ERIN BOLEY HAS THE EYE OF A SHARP SHOOTING SNIPER – For the Ducks to Advance to Sunday’s Championship Game, Boley Will Need to be the X-Factor

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey summed it up best when talking about Oregon.

“It all starts with Sabrina.

“What a talent.   She’s certainly not the only great player on that team, but it starts and stops with her.”

In order for No. 1 Baylor to advance through the weekend and compete for their third national title, the Bears’ defense has to begin by concentrating on Oregon’s All-American.

Sabrina Ionescu, the two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year averages 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game.   She holds the NCAA record, ( for both men and women ), with 18 career triple-doubles.

She might be the best, men’s or women’s, Oregon basketball player ever.

But Ionescu’s not alone.    Not by a long shot.

Mulkey can’t afford to ignore All-Americans Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally.

She also can’t ignore the point guard from Spain, Maite Cazorla, who tends to not only hit big shots, but the kind of big shots that can end all hope and a teams season.

Ask Mississippi State about that.

One name that isn’t talked about as much is redshirt sophomore Erin Boley.   If the Ducks are to shock the world and win it all, the 6’2 transfer from Notre Dame must be on her game especially from beyond the arc.

Last year Kelly Graves said on numerous occasions Boley was sometimes the best player on the floor, and that was while she played alongside Ionescu.

When Kelly was speaking about her being the best player on the floor last season, it was in practice only.

Boley came to Eugene via South Bend and had to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Before Oregon and even before Notre Dame, Boley was named the 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year following her senior season at Elizabethtown High in Kentucky where she averaged 20.7 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists and one block per game.

And although she went to South Bend and played in all 37 of the Irish’s games that year, seeing limited time on the floor was a huge adjustment.  Then she went from seeing limited playing time to no playing time, which was even more of an adjustment.

“I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, Boley said.

“I had a really tough year my freshman year and leaving was not easy.   So when I got to Oregon, it took the whole year and maybe longer for me to change my mentality on the court.  My main goal in coming here was to be able to find a place where I felt supported and loved so I could feel that freedom of playing and having fun again.”

Boley became eligible at the perfect time for the Ducks and she’s having a lot of fun now.  She’s one of many reasons why Oregon is making its first ever appearance in the Final Four.

“It’s amazing,” she said.

“I had to sit and watch and waited and just observed at what I could do to help this team.   It’s crazy to know that all the work and all the time we spent together is paying off now. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to do it with.”

Boley was named the 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year following her senior season at Elizabethtown High in Kentucky where she averaged 20.7 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three assists and one block per game.

It’s been an up and down season for Boley, but that’s to be expected for a player who had not seen real game competition for over a year.  But when Boley was playing at her best and hitting threes, she showed that if a defense ignores her, they do it at their own peril.

Oregon forward Erin Boley drills a three point shot against Mississippi State last weekend in the Portland Regional. ( Photo Courtesy of Rick Morgan )

Oregon forward Erin Boley drills a three point shot against Mississippi State last weekend in the Portland Regional. ( Photo Courtesy of Rick Morgan )

“Whenever I, or Maite ( Cazorla ) or Satou ( Sabally ) get an open shot, it’s definitely a credit to Sabrina or Ruthy,” Boley said.

“Sometimes it’s Ruthy demanding a lot of attention on the inside and it opens it up on the perimeter.”

That perimeter was wide open in the home and home series with Washington this season.  In those two games against the Huskies the 6-2 wing drilled a total of 17 three-pointers – eight in Eugene and nine in Seattle.

“What I love about Erin is she’s an efficient player” Graves said.

“The night she scored 31 points at Washington, she did so on four dribbles,….kind of Klay Thompson-like.    She took seven total dribbles.   She had three rebounds where she took one dribble out.  That’s what we need.”

But in the NCAA tournament so far, Boley’s hit a bit of a cold spell.

Boley was just 2-of-11 on three-pointers in the two games in Portland and she was 1-of-6 in the Ducks’ first round game with Portland State. She did however make 4-of-8 from downtown to take down Indiana.

In Tampa this weekend, the Ducks need one additional perimeter player to knock down shots and force Baylor to decide where to spend their defensive resources.  Either inside on Hebard or defend the outside shot against Ionescu, Cazorla, Sabally and Boley.   That’s a decision each opposing coach is forced to make when they play the Ducks.

And it’s even more frustrating for opposing teams when Boley is able to hit shots.

When she is accurate from long range, it makes the Duck offense almost unstoppable.

“She stretches all the defenses” say’s Graves.

“It allows Ruthy some opportunity to roam inside one-on-one.   As our players said, they allow Satou, Maite and Sabrina some driving lanes.  We need that because we’re not the quickest team.  The more space we can create for ourselves in the half-court, the better.”

Defensively, Boley adds size and length, as does the 6-4 Sabally.    Their size on the defensive end of the floor forces opposing teams to search out passing lanes which isn’t always the easiest.

While both are offensive threats, they’re also extremely effective defensively especially on the glass.

“A lot of my role is to knock down the open shot, but I try to focus as much as I can on the defensive end,” Boley said.

“I try to get as many rebounds as I can, just the little things that we do, depending on the scout of the team. Even things like picking up my teammates when they’re down or helping people out in different areas.”

Mulkey could very well choose to ignore Boley and defend Oregon’s other offensive threats.   But in doing so, she’ll be taking a gamble that could certainly fail and play into the Ducks favor.

“She has turned into a complete player” say’s Hebard.

“Her defense is really great, helps us a lot, too.   For the post players, she gets us open a lot, spreads the floor, hits the threes.  Overall, she’s just a great person, a great teammate.”

~ Don Smalley

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