Oregon women’s basketball opens PKI against No. 8 North Carolina

Competition takes a meteoric jump for No. 18 Oregon this weekend at the PKI, where the Ducks open against No. 8 North Carolina.

Oregon (4-0) is coming off its least impressive outing of the season thus far, a 66-54 win over Southern Utah on Tuesday, and anything resembling that performance won’t be successful against the Tar Heels this afternoon (2 p.m., ESPNU) at the Chiles Center.

“We’re going to have to play a lot better, there’s no question about it,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “A lot more intensity. These were good tuneups I guess going into that tournament, but now it gets real. Hopefully our kids maybe learned a lesson (Tuesday) night. I as a coach did, that we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“North Carolina, I’ve seen them a couple of times and they’re really, really good. They’re long. They’re athletic. They’ve got play-makers. They’ve got size. They’re really the whole package. They’re a legitimate top 10 team.”

Alyssa Ustby (15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds) leads five players averaging in double-figures for North Carolina (4-0), which is also coming off an uninspired performance against James Madison, which led at halftime.

Oregon is looking to gain an early top 10 win, its first since defeating Arizona and UConn in back-to-back games last January.

“I’m super excited to see what our team can do versus a top 10 team,” guard Te-Hina Paopao said. “We got to put a whole game together and I know we’re going to be great.”

The Ducks are built to run through Paopao and Endyia Rogers and are getting significant contributions from freshmen Grace VanSlooten and Chance Gray as well as sophomore center Phillipina Kyei. It’s by far the biggest test yet for UO’s younger players.

“To prove ourselves on a big stage is going to be great for us,” Gray said. “We’ve been taking it one game at a time. Now we’re here so we’re ready to go and hoop.”

No. 5 Iowa State faces Michigan State in the other half of the bracket. The winners and losers of each of today’s games will play on Sunday.

“I think we’re ready for it,” Graves said. “I think it’s going to be good for us. It’s difficult — as much as everybody thinks that it’s fun to kind of blow teams out, it’s really not. When you get competitors they want to play against the best and starting on Thursday and then continuing after that and for the next month we might have the toughest one-month stretch of any team in the country.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us. I’m OK. I think we’re going to be fine. I think our freshmen will step up to the challenge and we have good experienced guards that are already used to that kind of competition.”

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