The Oregon Ducks women’s basketball joined the men’s team in advancing to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen with a 74-65 win over second seeded Duke Monday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, snapping the Blue Devils’ 17-game home winning streak.
Absent since the 2005 season, the Ducks are enjoying their deepest run into the NCAA tournament in program history and will look to continue their record setting season when they face 3rd-seeded Maryland at 8:30 am Saturday morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
As was the case in Oregon ‘s 71-70 opening win over Temple, Kelly Graves’ young squad played with poise and confidence in knocking out the host team but avoided the pressure of the game riding on the games’ last possession.
After playing mostly even through the first quarter and a half, Oregon’s Otti Gildon’s layup gave the Ducks a 21-20 lead that they would never relinquish.
Maite Cazorla and Lexi Bando combined to 8 for 20 from behind the arc with several of those buckets contributing to an eventual 15-point Oregon lead 59-44 two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils rallied to close the margin to five in final minute but Sabrina Ionescu sank six consecutive free throws down the stretch to cement a win that has to rank among the program’s most impressive.
Now the attention turns to Maryland. At 32-2 on the year and 15-1 in the Big Ten, the Terrapins certainly have an impressive resume. Averaging 90 points a game, Maryland hits better than 50% from the floor and will challenge the Ducks defensively with a balanced attack.
Briona Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are averaging right at 20 points per game with Walker-Kimbrough and Destiny Slocum doing most of their damage from three. Jones is the Terrapins best rebounder with nearly 11 per game and as a team Maryland has enjoyed a +14 margin on the glass against their opposition.
For the Ducks to advance they will clearly have to counter with defensive pressure on the three and a team effort at blocking out once the shot is released.
At Gonzaga, Graves’ teams advanced to the Sweet 16 on four previous occasions but this is his first foray into the NCAA tournament in his three years at Oregon. With three freshman, a sophomore and a junior as his starting lineup it is unlikely to be his last.
Should the Ducks dispense with Maryland the task grows more daunting with top ranked, three-time defensing national champion and winner of a remarkable 109 straight games Connecticut the likely opponent for a berth in the Final Four.
A “one step at a time” approach has served Graves and his young squad well to date and the next step for now is to play their best against the Terrapins. As Graves has often stated, at this point the Ducks are playing with house money. Might as well go all in.
~ Rick Morgan