EUGENE - She is having a career season ... more points, more assists, more steals, more three-pointers and more minutes.

"But," said Alissa Edwards, a blue-collar guard if there ever was one, "when this is over, I think it's time to go home."

Home to Hermiston, a small, northeastern Oregon town not far from the banks of the Columbia River that is as well-known for its watermelons as the military nerve gas buried nearby.

Recruited into the Oregon women's basketball program in 1999 after an all-everything career at Hermiston High, Edwards was a timid freshman when the Ducks won their first outright Pac-10 Conference championship.

She played in two NCAA Tournaments and played in all 35 games during the 2001-02 season that ended with Oregon winning the Women's National Invitation Tournament title.

Edwards has had two head coaches in her four seasons at Oregon - Jody Runge and Bev Smith.

"But the hardest part," said Edwards, whose quiet demeanor effectively conceals her intense will to win, "is the losing."

As the Ducks start flapping their wings for a fly at Oregon State on Saturday at McArthur Court, a Pac-10 game scheduled for noon and a Fox Sports Net telecast, they are saddled with a 9-13 record (5-8 in the conference).

With five regular-season games remaining and at least one Pac-10 tournament date to play, Oregon already has equaled last year's loss total - the most in a single season since the program lost 18 games in 1992-93.

"It's definitely been very tough," said Edwards, averaging 61/2 points a game, more than twice her career average when her senior season began.

"At the beginning, we had such high expectations. We had two players who were All-American types (senior guard Shaquala Williams and junior forward Cathrine Kraayeveld). Drea (Andrea Bills, a sophomore post) had an awesome freshman year. It was a young team (just three seniors) but a talented one."

But by the time the Pac-10 games were to begin in late December, the Ducks had been disarmed in a big way.

Williams was dismissed from the team. Kraayeveld -leading the team in scoring and rebounding - was sidelined with an infected knee. Reserve sophomore forward Amy Parrish left the team.

"We needed to lean on each other, be friends and respect each other," Edwards said. "When we went our individual ways was when we struggled the most. Everything got a little frustrating."

Then the proverbial ball landed in her hands. Edwards was moved to the point, replacing Williams, and essentially told to run the show. The only starting senior, she was dealt the accompanying leadership role, as well.

"And we've always given her the toughest defensive assignment," said Smith, the second-year UO coach.

Edwards delivered the best she could, which has not been bad. She leads the team in assists (72), steals (41), minutes (331/2 in each of those 40-minute games), is second in three-pointers (25) and is shooting 91 percent from the free-throw line (19-of-21).

Her assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.66 ranks among the top 15 in the Pac-10 this season. In 738 minutes of playing time, Edwards is averaging just one turnover every 17 minutes.

Last Saturday afternoon, at Berkeley, Calif., Edwards scored in the final seconds to supply Oregon a 54-52 win over California, the first game-winning shot of her college career.

"I know this has been a frustrating year for Alissa," Smith said, "but for me she's had a great season. She's a blue-collar kid who knows her strengths. Her resilience is unbelievable. At times, I don't think she gives herself enough credit."

Much of Edwards' take on basketball is the result of where she plants the game on her life's priority list. And it is not No. 1.

"Basketball is small part of my life," she said, noting that family and school rank higher. "After this year, I'm done, and I have a long time ahead of me."

Twelve credit hours will need to be completed this summer before Edwards will secure her bachelor's degree in family and human services. Ahead, it appears, is the acquisition of a teaching degree.

Marriage and family await.

"I've been dating Justin (Simmons, also from Hermiston) for four years," said Edwards, 22, one of seven children in the Edwards family. "I've known him since we were in the second grade."

Dan Muscatell, a UO assistant coach who joined the Ducks the same year Edwards arrived, has taken note of her abilities.

"She has gotten better and more appreciated with age. Because she is so well-grounded, her play is an exact parallel to her person," he said.

"She is not a kid who needs the limelight, wants it or plays a role in which the limelight is important. She has an incredible calming effect on everyone around her. She will be difficult to replace because of her steady nature."

Asked what she would like her legacy to be once her playing days with the Ducks have ended, Edwards had no answer.

"Never thought about it," she said. "I just tried to work hard, do the little, dirty things like making stops and setting screens ... the stuff you don't really see in the stats.

"When I'm done, I'll be satisfied. I'll just be ready to go back home."


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