Ducks ready for top-10 matchup
Oregon gets a chance to redeem itself with another matchup against a top-five team.
The No. 9 Ducks (8-1), who have won five consecutive games since a 74-61 loss at then-No. 5 Louisville on Nov. 19, face No. 5 Mississippi State on Wednesday in Starkville, Miss.
Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. on the SEC Network.
“I know our team is going to be really excited for this game, they’re looking forward to it,” coach Kelly Graves said after Oregon’s 98-38 win over Southern Utah on Saturday. “I told them for a week and a half we’re joining the SEC. … This will be a great test going into the holiday and going into Pac-12.”
The Ducks host Mississippi on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena and play No. 19 Texas A&M for the second time this season on Dec. 21 in Las Vegas.
Oregon ranks third in the NCAA in scoring (90.8 points per game), fifth in three-point percentage (43.1) and sixth in field-goal percentage (51.0).
The Bulldogs (9-0) rank eighth in scoring defense (53.0 ppg) and 50th in field-goal percentage defense (36.0).
“We have some really good SEC schools coming up. We just have to keep working on our defense and coming out and making sure we play hard,” said senior guard Lexi Bando, who led the team with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting during the 60-point rout of Southern Utah. “It’s going to be a battle. We’re going to have to work our butts off.
“They’re an amazing team. We’re going to have to tune in and focus and trust our coaches.”
Last season Oregon played three of the Final Four participants — losing to Mississippi State in Hawaii (75-63), getting swept by Stanford during Pac-12 play (81-60 and 65-59) and falling to top-seeded UConn in the Elite Eight (90-52).
The Bulldogs upset Geno Auriemma’s undefeated Huskies in the national semifinals before losing to South Carolina in the national championship.
Morgan William’s buzzer-beater gave Mississippi State the dramatic win and ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak.
“I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that they would have won the game,” Graves said. “But we played three of the four teams that were in the Final Four, so they were asking me to handicap it, so to speak. The one thing I did say is it wouldn’t surprise me because they do a couple of things. Number one, they are really tough. They’re tough physically and they’re tough mentally. Number two, they guard people. If any team had a chance to do it was them.”
William scored a season-high 16 points during Mississippi State’s 86-48 rout of Arkansas-Little Rock on Sunday. Teaira McCowan, a 6-7 junior, added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Graves said Oregon’s defense has improved since his road-weary team lost at Louisville in the preseason WNIT title game after beating Texas A&M two nights earlier in College Station, Texas. The Cardinals are 12-0 and ranked No. 3 this week.
“We have to learn to win on the road,” said forward Ruthy Hebard, who is averaging 15.3 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. “I think we got taught about that a lot last year, and our freshmen this year need to learn how to win on the road.”