March 23, 2021
How defense jump-started Oregon’s postseason
And more notes around the Pac-12
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Despite losing five of their last six games to close out the season, the Oregon Ducks dominated Monday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to a stifling defense, the Ducks came out on top against the South Dakota Coyotes in a 67-47 victory.
Oregon advances to the second round of the tournament where they’ll face Georgia, who beat Drexel 67-53.
Let’s take a look at how they got there.
No upsets here
March Madness has been full of upsets so far, but the Ducks weren’t about to let themselves get added to that list. Given their less-than-stellar finish to the Pac-12 season, the internet was abuzz with hot takes that South Dakota would pull off the upset and send Oregon packing.
The Ducks had five games canceled since the start of the year due to pandemic protocols, and also dropped six games to opponents ranked No. 11 nationally or better.
All this to say, it’s been a tough road and Monday was a chance for Oregon to bounce back and prove they belonged in the big dance.
And their defense did just that.
Ducks defense dominates
You know what they say, and the Ducks must’ve taken it to heart: Good defense wins games.
Oregon held South Dakota without a bucket for a stretch of nearly 15 minutes that began midway through the first quarter and lasted until the opening moments of the second half. In that time, the Coyotes missed 25 straight field-goal attempts.
“We had to be the aggressive team,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said after the game. “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.”
It did take the Ducks a little bit to find their rhythm, suffering from a couple of early turnovers. But when they did settle in, there was no stopping them. Senior leader Erin Boley sank the team’s first shot, followed by two baskets from Sedona Prince and two by Nyara Sabally. Boley then drained six-straight field-goal attempts.
If you blinked you might’ve missed it, but Oregon was now up 13-4.
It wasn’t quite a perfect game, though. The Ducks shot 3-of-9 in the second quarter and got a little sloppy with seven turnovers, but still led 34-9 at the break.
Oregon remained vigilant after the half, making its first five shots of the third quarter, including three baskets by Sabally and one each for Prince and Boley.
South Dakota may have wilted under the defensive pressure, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they played. They fought hard until the end, despite trailing by as many as 27 points. The closest the gap got was 16.
“One of the big things we focused on for this team was, we have the pieces and we just had to figure out a way to get a good flow,” Boley said after the game. “When you’re playing as hard as you can for the other people that are on the floor for you, it makes a big difference. So it’s a great start for us tonight, but we have to build on that and we have to continue to bring that energy and just play as hard as we can and continue to play for each other.”
Te-Hina Paopao and Jaz Shelley have been out for much of the season, so Oregon utilized a new starting five in their first-round game, with freshman guard Maddie Scherr as a catalyst for the defense, and Sabally and Prince in the post. Boley led her team with 22 points on the night, including four three-pointers. She now has over 1,000 points in the bank as a Duck.
Boley was 9-of-13 shooting overall and hauled in three rebounds with four assists and three steals. Meanwhile, Sabally was 8-of-12 shooting with five rebounds and two blocks, and Prince had seven rebounds with three steals and two blocks.
So what is Oregon’s key to success in a tough match-up against Georgia on Wednesday? Coach Graves says rebounding will make or break the Ducks’ chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball much better Wednesday than we did tonight or we’re in trouble,” Graves said. “We’re going to have to rebound better. They had 20-some-odd offensive rebounds. The good side of that is they were missing a lot of shots, the bad side is they were getting most of their misses. We’ve just got to do better in those two areas, or the outcome Wednesday will be different.”
Ducks on disparity
A few days ago this video from Prince blew up, highlighting the stark inequities between the men’s and women’s tournament bubbles.
Since then, the NCAA has upgraded the women’s weight room in the San Antonio bubble.
However, new issues have popped up as well. Most recently, that the NCAA’s Digital Hub, used by remote reporters to gather resources like fresh photos and audio transcripts, was severely lacking on the women’s side. On Sunday, there were almost 1,500 pictures from the men’s tournament and a grand total of zero for the women.
The NCAA claimed it didn’t have enough staff or money to provide women’s tournament photos until the Sweet Sixteen. Now, there are over 250 photos in the Digital Hub from Monday’s women’s games.
Boley, along with many other players, feel it is important for them to continue to speak out on these disparities in order to move forward in alleviating them.
“Not only do we have a platform, but we’re also really passionate about what we do. First and foremost, we’re athletes and we want to set a really good example on the court first, and then be able to use that platform that we’re given to speak up. We’re really proud of Sedona, and proud of the girls on this team who have spoken up and incited change. I think that’s a huge deal for women in sports and I hope that people are able to watch us play and see the passion that we play with and are inspired by that.”
Second Round Pac-12 match-ups
Four other Pac-12 teams will be joining Oregon in the second round: Arizona (beat Stony Brook, 79-44), Oregon State (beat Florida State, 83-59), Stanford (beat Utah Valley, 87-44) and UCLA (beat Wyoming, 69-48). Washington State’s tournament run came to an end after a tough 57-53 loss to South Florida on Sunday.
No. 1 Stanford vs No. 8 Oklahoma State: Tuesday, March 23 at 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 3 Georgia vs No. 6 Oregon: Wednesday, March 24 at 12 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 1 South Carolina vs No. 8 Oregon State: Tuesday, March 23 at 4 p.m. (ESPN)
No. 3 UCLA vs No. 6 Texas: Wednesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
No. 3 Arizona vs No. 11 BYU: Wednesday, March 24 at 4 p.m. (ESPNU)
All listings are Pacific Standard Time.