(The Register-Guard) Paul Westhead is back on the market.
“I need to find a team that wants to run,” the 75-year-old fast-break savant said with a smile on the way out the door. The run is officially over for Westhead at Oregon.
The Ducks soared early and then crashed hard down the stretch of a 93-85 loss to Pac-12 nemesis Washington in the second round of the Women’s NIT on Monday night at Matthew Knight Arena.
The rival Huskies overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to end the Ducks’ season and the Westhead era.
The legendary coach’s up-tempo style made Loyola Marymount the darlings of the men’s NCAA Tournament in the early 1990s, but the Oregon women were 66-92 while running “The System” the last five seasons.
Now the returning players are in limbo until the athletic department names a new coach. Westhead’s contract, which paid him a $675,000 salary this year, will not be renewed after it expires on March 31.
“I thought the whole group of them and our staff and the managers and everyone, this is a first-class operation. We did everything the right way, and everyone did their jobs,” Westhead said. “I said, ‘You should walk out proud, not with your head down and disappointed.’ “
The Ducks had a 12-point lead at the intermission but were outscored 47-28 over the final 15 minutes. Oregon shot 29.3 percent from the field in the second half, including 2-for-15 (13.3 percent) from three-point distance.
“It’s definitely frustrating, it definitely hurts,” Ariel Thomas said after her team allowed the Huskies to shoot 50 percent from the field and outscore the Ducks 59-39 in the second half. “The loss, and to Washington at that.
“Credit to Washington, they played a good game.”
Jillian Alleyne (17 points, 25 rebounds) set a Pac-12 season record with her 29th double-double and became the fifth player in NCAA history to grab 500 rebounds in a season. Her 519 rebounds are school and Pac-12 season records.
However, the gifted sophomore forward missed several layups and six free throws, including the front end of two one-and-ones.
It was an emotional end to a roller-coaster 16-16 season for Oregon.
“(Westhead) has taught me ultimately to believe in myself and that I can be any kind of player I want to be,” Alleyne said. “And I shouldn’t settle for less. It has been a great honor and great pleasure.”
Thomas, one of four seniors on the roster, led the Ducks with 24 points in her final game at Oregon.
Classmate Daniel Love was 0-for-8 from the field and did not score in her farewell. Laura Stanulis and Chynna Miley did not play.
The leadership from the senior class, coupled with the young talent of Alleyne, Chrishae Rowe (17 points) and Lexi Petersen (13 points, five assists), helped the Ducks quadruple their win total from last season’s 4-27 nightmare.
“We had a very up-and-down four years,” Thomas noted. “We went from a season where we were the very worst Oregon women’s basketball team ever to a team that finally goes back and makes it to some kind of postseason, which is pretty cool.
“How we bonded on and off the court was amazing to me. To play for a legend like coach Westhead was a great opportunity for me.”
The Huskies opened the second half with a 10-2 spurt to get within 48-44. Oregon momentarily stemmed the tide by going 9-for-10 at the free throw line over a stretch of 1:09 as Washington was called for a series of fouls.
One of the whistles was for a technical foul on Husky coach Mike Neighbors. The adversity with the officials only sparked the visitors from Seattle, who went on a 12-0 run to take a 58-57 lead on a basket by freshman Kelsey Plum.
Thomas stopped the bleeding with a clutch three-pointer to give Oregon a brief 60-58 advantage, but Talia Walton scored seven points during the decisive run to give Washington a 76-67 lead with 6:19 remaining.
A deep three-pointer by Katelyn Loper cut the deficit to 82-78 with 1:10 left, but the Huskies went 15-for-16 at the line to ice the game.
The two rivals split the regular-season meetings with each team winning on its home court.
“We just didn’t make shots,” Westhead said. “We shot 13 percent from the three-point line, we missed some inside shots, we missed free throws.
“I think our kids played very hard, but at the end of the day you have to make some shots.”
Oregon led by as many as 14 points in the first half and took a 46-34 advantage into the locker room after outscoring the Huskies 21-6 in the paint and out-rebounding them 30-20.
In the end, Plum (31 points), Walton (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Jazmine Davis willed Washington to the win.
The Huskies will host San Diego, which won 60-57 at Montana on Monday, in the third round.
Westhead will polish up a lengthy résumé that includes an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and a WNBA title with the Phoenix Mercury.
“I really haven’t thought about it,” Westhead said of his future. “This is the coaching business. You practice between games and you play to execute and win. You don’t have many thoughts about, ‘Well, if this doesn’t happen, what am I doing next?’
“I’ll get up tomorrow and think about that and worry about that. It has been a good run here. What I said about our players and our staff I mean about this university, it’s a first-class operation. It was a nice experience.”