Dominant Defense Fuels Ducks
SAN ANTONIO — A stunning display of defense Monday fueled the Oregon women's basketball team to a 67-47 victory over South Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Alamodome.
The Ducks (14-8) held the Coyotes without a field goal for a stretch of 14:44 that began midway through the first quarter and extended until the opening moments of the second half, during which South Dakota missed 25 straight field-goal attempts. The sixth-seeded UO women outscored South Dakota 9-1 in the second quarter, and moved on to face No. 3 seed Georgia on Wednesday (noon, ESPN2).
"We had to be the aggressive team," UO coach Kelly Graves said. "That's why we wanted to pick them up full-court. It got them out of rhythm early. I think we put together as good a half of defense as I've ever been a part of as a coach."
Oregon debuted a new starting five for the NCAA Tournament, with freshman Maddie Scherr guard as the catalyst to the defensive pressure, and twin towers Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince in the post. They helped create space for senior Erin Boley, who led the Ducks with 22 points, including four three-pointers.
"We just came out and played really hard together," Boley said. "When you're playing as hard as you can for the other people on the floor with you, it makes a big difference. It was a great start for us tonight, but we have to build on that."
How It Happened: After a couple of early turnovers, the Ducks were stabilized by their senior leader Boley, who got Oregon's first bucket and settled the team into rhythm. Two baskets by Prince and two by Sabally followed, and Boley made it six straight made field-goal attempts with a three-pointer for a 13-4 lead.
South Dakota scored with 4:15 left in the first half, after which the Coyotes wilted under Oregon's defensive pressure for nearly 15 minutes of game action. They managed only three free throws the rest of the first half, going scoreless in the second quarter until just 4 seconds remained until halftime. The Ducks didn't take complete advantage, shooting 3-of-9 in the second quarter with seven turnovers, but they still led 34-9 at the break.
The Coyotes finally hit another field goal 29 seconds into the second half, and to their credit they played with energy and enthusiasm despite trailing by as many as 27. That was at 44-17 after Oregon made its first five shots of the second half, including three baskets by Sabally and one each for Prince and Boley. South Dakota got within 16 a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but no closer.
Who Stood Out: Boley was 9-of-13 shooting overall and had three rebounds with four assists and three steals. Sabally was 8-of-12 shooting and had five rebounds with two blocks, and Prince had seven rebounds with three steals and two blocks.
Scherr scored just two points in 25 minutes, but she had five rebounds and two steals while turbo-charging Oregon's defensive pressure.
"She set the tone," Graves said. "She's the point person in the presses we were running. She's just disruptive. I've said all year long, she's our best on-ball defender. We needed it tonight, she delivered."
What It Means: The Ducks came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of their previous six games, and since the first of the year had five games canceled due to pandemic protocols while dropping six games to opponents ranked No. 11 nationally or better. In short, it's been tough sledding for Oregon, and Monday was a chance to play well and enjoy themselves as a team.
"That was a goal we had going into the game, was to play and have fun," Boley said. "This team plays our best when we're having fun. There's a few games at the end of the season, we went back and watched film and didn't think we were playing as hard as we could, and weren't playing with joy. That was huge for us this game."
Notable: The Ducks played without two members of their starting backcourt for much of the season, Te-Hina Paopao and Jaz Shelley. Paopao missed her third straight game, while Shelley was a game-time decision but remains doubtful Wednesday when the Ducks play Georgia. … Junior Taylor Chavez hit a three-pointer in the fourth quarter for her first career NCAA Tournament points. Chavez missed the 2019 tournament due to injury, and the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. … The Ducks have won at least one game in their last five NCAA Tournament appearances.
Up Next: The Ducks face Georgia in the second round Wednesday (noon, ESPN2).