BC-BKW--NCAA-Eugene Preview,1st Ld-Writethru
Oregon has had enough time to ponder its finish at the Pac-12 tournament. Now it’s on to a more important matter.
The Ducks (29-4) are the No. 2 seed in the Portland Region for the NCAA Tournament. They’ll open with No. 15 Portland State (25-7) on Friday night at home in Eugene.
Oregon is coming off a 64-57 loss to Stanford in the conference tournament championship game. But that was back on March 10, and the Ducks have had time to recover from some nagging injuries that caught up with them in Las Vegas.
“We were disappointed obviously in how that finished out,” coach Kelly Graves said. “But as I told the group, Notre Dame and Mississippi State, the two finalists last year, also lost in their respective conference championship games and it didn’t affect how they played. So I tried to just tell the team this didn’t change who we are and how far we can go, and what we’re about.”
The Vikings are coming off a thrilling 61-59 victory over Eastern Washington in the Big Sky tournament last Friday that earned them the automatic bid. Desirae Hansen drained a 12-foot jumper with 3.1 seconds remaining for the win. Portland State knocked top-seeded Idaho out in the semifinals.
Portland State returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its only other appearance in 2010. The Vikings’ 25 wins are the most for the program since joining the Big Sky for the 1996-97 season.
Oregon went to the Elite Eight for the second straight year last season but fell to eventual champion Notre Dame. Oregon is 6-2 in NCAA Tournament games under Graves.
“We’ve been through it. This is nothing new for this group. So I’m sure they’re going to be focused and dialed in right from the get-go,” Graves told reporters Wednesday.
Seventh-seeded Texas (23-9) plays No. 10 Indiana (20-10) in the earlier game on Friday.
SCOUTING THE HOOSIERS: Indiana is making its sixth overall tournament appearance but first since the 2015-16 season. The Hoosiers, who are 2-5 in tournament games, earned an at-large bid after falling to Iowa 70-61 in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
Indiana is led by junior guard Ali Patberg, who is averaging 16 points and 4.7 assists per game.
“This was our goal that we set out in early October, and it’s great to see the fruits of our labor have paid off. But we still have work to do,” coach Teri Moren said after the group was among the last four teams picked for the tournament. Indiana won the WNIT last season.
SCOUTING THE LONGHORNS: Texas is making its sixth straight tournament appearance. The Longhorns fell to Iowa State 75-69 in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
“You have to re-set, it’s a new season. You can either pout about what happened, and pout about what didn’t go right, or you can re-set your batteries and you can move forward,” coach Karen Aston said.
Texas has been to the tournament 32 total times, compiling a record of 42-30. The Longhorns have been to the Sweet 16 for the past four years.
WHAT’S AHEAD: The winners of Friday’s games will meet Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena for a shot at advancing to the round of 16, set for next week about a two-hour drive north of Eugene in Portland. The top seed in the region is Mississippi State.
WILL SHE OR WON’T SHE? Simmering in the background at the NCAA Tournament will be speculation about whether Pac-12 Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu will skip her senior year at Oregon to go professional. Earlier this year, Graves addressed the possibility and whether he’s discussed it with his star player. “I’m not going to make a pitch. I’m going to support her whatever she decides she wants to do. That’s something that other people are worried about, I don’t think she is right now,” he said.
Ionescu, a junior, is averaging 18 points, 7.2 assists and seven rebounds a game. She is the NCAA career leader among men and women with 17 triple-doubles, including seven this season.
EXTENDED: Oregon has agreed to a contract extension with Graves that keeps him in charge of the Ducks through the 2025-26 season. The three-year, $2.85 million extension is pending approval by Oregon’s Board of Trustees. Graves is currently in the second year of his six-year deal. He can earn additional extensions each time the Ducks go to the NCAA Tournament.