Ducks get only shot at Stanford
As the sports cliche goes: In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.
No. 6 Oregon, in pursuit of the program’s first conference title since the 1999-2000 season, hosts No. 24 Stanford on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena (noon, ESPN2).
The Ducks (21-3, 10-1), who made a memorable run to the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament last year, have their sights set on another historic March for the rising program.
But the Cardinal (15-8, 9-2), coming off their 12th Final Four appearance under legendary coach Tara VanDerveer, aren’t going to just hand Oregon the crown.
“They never beat themselves,” coach Kelly Graves said. “You’re not going to outcoach them with a hall of fame coach there, so it’s just going to be a dogfight.”
If the Ducks can continue to protect their home court they will separate themselves from Stanford by two games with ownership of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Oregon improved to 14-0 at Matthew Knight Arena with Friday’s 91-54 shellacking of No. 25 California. Sabrina Ionescu led a balanced effort with 28 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
“We came ready to play, locked in right from the tip,” Ionescu said after the Ducks’ most lopsided conference win in 16 years. “I think that’s important when you’re playing top teams, especially Cal and Stanford. They’re going to give you their best game, and if you’re not ready for it then it can be anybody’s game.”
With only one day to prepare for Stanford, Graves said he didn’t want to push his team too much physically or mentally Saturday.
“We were joking we’ve got some players who can’t run what we’re doing and we’ve been doing it since October,” Graves said. “So God bless them if we can learn all the different sets that Stanford can run in a day. So it comes down to principles and how hard we want to work and how tough we want to be.
“If we do work hard and play tough, sound defense, then we’re going to be fine.”
Oregon had a 40-28 rebounding edge and held Cal to 38.2 percent shooting from the field. All-Pac-12 forward Kristine Anigwe was limited to six points and only one of her eight rebounds came on the offensive glass.
Stanford had 17 offensive rebounds and 21 second-chance points during its 60-57 win at No. 16 Oregon State. Brittany McPhee led the Cardinal with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“Defensively we have to continue to stay focused for 40 minutes and really dial in and know their personnel and what they’re running,” Ionescu said. “If we do, I think games are going to turn out like they did (against Cal).”
The Ducks avoid the Bay Area road trip in the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule, which is a fortuitous break considering the program’s 1-29 all-time record at Stanford.
Oregon also defeated UCLA, which is tied with the Cardinal for second place, 70-61 on Jan. 7 in Los Angeles. The ninth-ranked Bruins (18-4, 9-2) will visit Matthew Knight Arena on Feb. 19.
So perhaps the best is yet to come for the Ducks, who are in the mix for a No. 1 seed and will almost certainly host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m really pleased,” Graves said. “I thought we played a great game (against Cal) on both ends of the floor. I loved our energy, our focus, our intensity, really, for 40 minutes.”