It is a near certainty the Oregon Ducks will actually play the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament on their home court but Friday’s match-up with Washington State and Sunday’s tangle with Washington will be seen as the send off to the most successful group of athletes in the history of the women’s program.
Judy Runge built a powerhouse in the 90’s – tying for the conference title in 1998-99 with a 25-6 record, then claimed the title outright the following season with a 23-8 mark. In each of her eight years at the helm the Ducks qualified for the NCAA tournament but never advanced beyond the second round.
Bev Smith, in her eight seasons at the helm, took the Ducks to the Big Dance in 2004-05 but the Ducks were relegated to the bottom half of the standings for most of the next decade.
It is a new reality for the Ducks these days. Coming on the heels of a the first Final Four appearance in program history, Oregon has qualified for the NCAA tournament three straight seasons under current head coach Kelly Graves and is a lock to be selected for their fourth trip to the post season.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season the Ducks are ranked 3rd and sport a 26-2 mark thanks in no small part to the trio of athletes that have defined the Graves era so far; Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally and the incomparable Sabrina Ionescu.
Along with senior transfer Minyon Moore, Sunday’s regular season finale against Washington State will offer fans a chance to salute their careers as Ducks.
Adding to the festivities, a win against either the Cougars or the Huskies will give the Ducks a third straight Pac-12 title.
With a pair of NCAA opening round tournament games sure to be awarded and another Portland appearance if the Ducks advance to the Sweet 16, this weekend won’t be the final opportunity to witness this history, but it will be the one opportunity the community will have to recognize the contributions these four players have brought to the program.
An immediate consequence of this success is the demand for tickets has grown to the point both games this weekend are sold-out, leaving the Pac-12 Networks telecast as the only option for those without. Game time is 8:00 pm on Friday and then 12:00 pm on Sunday. The celebration of the senior players will take place at the conclusion of the Washington game.
~ Rick Morgan