Tournament Begins Monday For Ducks
The first postseason run for Oregon women's basketball under Kelly Graves ended against South Dakota. The Ducks hope their next extended postseason stay begins against those same Coyotes.
Five years after South Dakota beat visiting Oregon in the semifinals of the WNIT, the Ducks will face the Coyotes in the opening round of this year's NCAA Tournament in San Antonio. The UO women received a No. 6 seed Monday in the tournament's Alamo Region, and will face the 11th-seeded Coyotes next Monday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
"I'm really proud of this group," UO coach Kelly Graves said following the selection show. "What a crazy ride it's been. But they earned this, and now we've got to go down and do some work in San Antonio."
The Ducks followed their 2016 WNIT appearance by reaching the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight in both 2017 and 2018, then making it to the Final Four in 2019. It's been a roller-coaster ride since, given the loss of some generational players, not to mention the pandemic that canceled last year's tournament.
But Oregon has endured — two of that 2019 tournament's No. 1 seeds, Notre Dame and Mississippi State, aren't even in this year's field of 64, but the Ducks are.
"It's really special, especially for the upperclassmen," UO senior Erin Boley said. "For Lydia (Giomi) and I, this being our last go-round, to be able to do that with this new team and new group, it's very special."
The 2020-21 season has been defined by youth and injuries for the Ducks, not to mention adjustments to the schedule due to the pandemic. The team still figures to be without point guard Te-Hina Paopao as the tournament opens, Graves said, but there's been a chance to mentally reset since a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.
That defeat, at the hands of rival Oregon State, was the fifth in six games for Oregon. In the nearly two weeks since, the Ducks took a couple days off to clear their heads, then returned to practice reinvigorated, players said.
"Right after the tournament, we obviously went home a little defeated," freshman post Nyara Sabally said. "We decided to step away from it for a couple of days, and I think everyone needed that. But we knew when we got back in the gym it was go time.
"We've had a couple really good days of practice. Now it's time to go to San Antonio and do our thing."
The No. 6 seed is Oregon's lowest since 2017, when the Ducks were seeded 10th before upsetting Temple, Maryland and Duke on the way to the Elite Eight. This year's team hopes to conjure that same magic.
"Nothing else matters except for how well you're playing when the tournament starts," Boley said. "It's completely wide open, and it could be anyone depending on who's hot and who's playing well at the time.
"It feels like a new chapter. It's a new opportunity for us to go out and play together."
South Dakota enters the tournament at 19-5, having won the Horizon League tournament for their third straight NCAA Tournament berth. The Coyotes are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, averaging 75.3 points per game while committing an average of 11.2 turnovers, fifth-fewest in the country.
With a victory, Oregon could potentially face No. 3 seed Georgia in the second round, and then No. 2 seed Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. Pac-12 champion Stanford is the top seed in the Ducks' region.
The Ducks and Cardinal are two of six Pac-12 teams in the field. The Mercado Region includes No. 3 seed Arizona and No. 9 seed Washington State, and the Hemisfair Region includes No. 3 seed UCLA and No. 8 seed Oregon State.
"I don't think a lot of people expect us to do a lot," Graves said. "But a good team — and I do think we're a good team — with nothing to lose is a dangerous team. And we're going in with that attitude."