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Oregon coach thinks he has one of his best teams despite loss

(Chris Pietsch-The Register Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Oregon basketball couldn’t manage to hang on in their 85-79 loss against No. 8 UNC, but head coach Kelly Graves remains optimistic about his team.

“I thought at times tonight we played really good basketball,” Graves said postgame. “There were times tonight we played as good as I’ve ever had a team play here at the University of Oregon. We just didn’t sustain it for 40 minutes unfortunately, we had some lulls.

“I love coaching these guys. I already gave them a hard time, I said ‘you guys are killing my sleep because I don’t sleep at night, I’m excited to get up and have practice,’” Graves continued, noting that previous years haven’t held similar excitement.

“I am having a lot more fun than I think I’ve ever had, at least for a while anyway, with this team.”

The Ducks led for the majority of the first half as players like Te-Hina Paopao contributed 18 points and Grace VanSlooten 17 points and 11 rebounds. But they couldn’t get a handle on the Tar Heels’ Eva Hodgson, who had 21 points. Alyssa Utsby added 19 points and eight rebounds for UNC.

Oregon out-rebounded UNC, 42-35, but committed 18 turnovers which led to 17 points for the Tar Heels.

Despite the loss, Graves said that the locker room had the “right tone,” something that was an issue in the past two seasons for Oregon. They’ll next play Michigan State on Sunday.

“I think we’ve got the right mentality, we’ve got the right players,” Graves said. “I’m interested now to see how we respond to it on Sunday. That’ll be telling.”