As far as sports weekends go, the ladies of the University of Oregon have seen better ones. On Saturday the Ducks volleyball team faced Nebraska in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, having narrowly dispatched Minnesota the day before in the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon was actually leading midway through the first two sets but ended up succumbing in three 25-22, 25-23, 25-17 in front of almost 5,000, majority of which were red-clad Nebraska fans. Ronika Stone, a Minneapolis Regional all-tournament team selection, led Oregon with nine kills.
Brooke Nuneviller, who notched 25 digs on Friday, followed up with 26 on Saturday. Stone and Nuneviller will be returning next season, but for star senior Lindsey Vander Weide, this was the final curtain call. Oregon’s 23-win season was an improvement over last season’s 18, and the Ducks advanced to the Elite Eight after failing to get out of the second round the prior two years.
The following day, Oregon’s women’s basketball suffered their first loss of a season filled with potential against the Michigan State Spartans. Down 11 in the 4th quarter, Oregon battled back to tie behind 29 points from Sabrina Ionescu’s 29 points and Erin Boley’s 24, but couldn’t hang on down the final stretch. The loss knocked the Oregon women from their no. 3 plinth down to no. 7.
Unlike volleyball, who can now begin to retool for what could be a Final Four run next season, basketball needs to work out some issues with majority of the schedule still ahead of them if they want to make their first-ever women’s Final Four, as many expected they would this year. Oregon has easily dispatched of its lesser opponents so far but was barely able to pull out a 2-point win at home against the only ranked team from a power 5 conference they’ve faced so far. Mississippi State, now sitting ahead of the Ducks at #5, comes to Eugene in another week. The Bulldogs defeated Oregon last year.
Oregon women’s basketball, as talented as they are, seems to have developed a problem playing against more physical, defensive-oriented teams. Their shot at the Final Four was stamped out last year by Notre Dame, a team that played just such a style, and on Saturday, the Spartans presented a similar style. This women’s team is as talented on paper as any Oregon has ever produced, but talent alone won’t get you to a Final Four, and it may be time for coach Kelly Graves to instill that into his squad as the schedule will only become more difficult. Oregon will face South Dakota State in what should be an easy tune-up game before squaring off with the Bulldogs. By the time that game tips, Oregon had better have figured out any remaining issues regarding heart or grittiness (two things that helped with their shocking rise two years ago). Otherwise, things could get ugly in a hurry.