Selection Sunday arrives this weekend, and unlike the Oregon men, who will only need to pay attention if they win their conference tournament, the women have already locked in a spot in the Big Dance, and will wait to see where they are placed.
In a season where there have been few surprises, and everything has gone mostly to plan, it would be nice to see a little bit of the unexpected from this team. Namely, getting further into the tournament than people expect them to.
In 2017, after a lengthy absence from the NCAA Tournament, the Oregon women nabbed a 10 seed and headed to Durham, Carolina to square off with 7 seed Temple. The Ducks pulled off a 71-70 thriller and many thought that the win would be what Oregon would hang their hat on for the season. After all, they did finally make it to the dance, and had defeated a higher-seeded team.
But the Lady Ducks weren’t finished. Against 2 seed Duke, who was playing on their home court, Oregon showed up and showed out, winning 74-65 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
It was a shocking upset, but there was no way lightning would strike twice, right?
Against 3 seed Maryland, Oregon balled out, overwhelming the Terrapins in a 77-63 runaway that sent them to the Elite Eight.
Although they had no answer for top-seeded UConn, the run was exciting, unexpected, and it vaulted the women’s team to unprecedented heights the following two seasons, culminating in a Final Four run in 2019, and a 1 seed in 2020, when, just as it seemed Oregon was primed for a National Title run, the pandemic stole their chance.
I don’t believe, however, that the Oregon women won’t again compile a team that could bring home a “natty” under head coach Kelly Graves.
To really give fans that hope, they need to show that they are better than anticipated, and there is no better place to do that than the NCAA Tournament.
Twice this season, the Ducks have shown the ability to compete with the “big girls” in back-to-back wins over Top 10 opponents Arizona and UConn. If they can harness that same energy and discipline they displayed in those two wins and channel it into a postseason run, it could set them up beautifully for the coming seasons.
To get there, players need to step up across the board, but I’m going to single out two in particular who will have to take their game to the next level if the Ducks are going to truly contend; Forward/Center Sedona Prince and Guard Te-Hina PaoPao.
Though these two have been steadily good for the Ducks, they have to kick their game up to great. The Forward/Guard one-two punch is always lethal in basketball, and former greats Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard became somewhat of a Stockton and Malone weapon for Oregon during their four-year tenure.
If those two are able to raise their level of play and become a deadly force, I believe the rest of the team will find itself following suit.
There’s no time like the present, ladies. Let’s see how mighty Oregon really is.