Ducks have plenty of experience traveling
Oregon coach Kelly Graves isn’t complaining about the minor seeding snub or the long trip to the Bridgeport (Conn.) Region.
The Ducks have already made noise this season in the underdog role and the team travels well.
No. 10 Oregon will face No. 7 Temple in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Durham, N.C. (3:30 p.m., ESPN2).
That’s about 10 miles from Chapel Hill, N.C., where the Ducks opened the 2015-16 season with a 79-77 victory over then-No. 22 North Carolina.
During the WNIT run last March, Graves’ team overcame an 18-point deficit to beat UTEP in front of a hostile crowd of 9,055 in El Paso, Texas, before traveling to Vermillion, S.D., for the semifinal against South Dakota 47 hours later.
This year’s road to the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years featured three nonconference games in Honolulu in November, including a competitive loss to then-No. 7 Mississippi State, which is the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Region. Oregon also had a two-game swing through the Southeast to play Clemson and Mississippi in December.
“We’ve played out there before and we played well out there,” said Sabrina Ionescu, who had one of her four triple-doubles during the Ducks’ 87-59 win over the Tigers on Dec. 12 in Clemson, S.C. “We’ll go up a few days early, get some rest and acclimated to the time zone, and be ready to play.”
During conference play, Oregon stunned then-No. 20 California on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ionescu in Berkeley. It was the eventual Pac-12 freshman of the year’s second game back in the lineup after breaking her thumb at Ole Miss on Dec. 14.
The Bears, despite finishing two games below the Ducks in the Pac-12 standings, were given a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 LSU in Waco, Texas.
“The Pac-12 honestly was so hard this season,” junior shooting guard Lexi Bando said. “Everyone was so good. I don’t even know how many ranked teams we have in it, I think five or six, so I think we’re going to be ready coming out. We’re just excited.”
The Ducks were confident their invitation to the Big Dance was forthcoming after upsetting then-No. 11 Washington 70-69 on March 3 in front of the largest crowd in Pac-12 Tournament history (9,686) at KeyArena in Seattle.
“It’s invaluable,” Graves said of his team’s ability to play well outside of the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena. “You can rely on that experience and tell your kids, ‘Listen, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing or where. We can win in an atmosphere like this on the road.’
“That UTEP game last year was crazy. Obviously all our freshmen weren’t involved there, but those veterans can rely on that experience. I think that Washington game will be referenced several times in this postseason if we can continue to advance.”
The Ducks are 6-6 in true road games and 4-2 in neutral-site games this season. Six of those eight losses were to ranked opponents.
“We know the competition is going to be top of the line,” Ionescu said. “Everyone is playing for their lives pretty much. You win and you advance.”
The Ducks (20-13) will likely draw No. 2 Duke if they advance to the second round. The Blue Devils (27-5) are 16-0 at home entering their first-round matchup with No. 15 Hampton.
Oregon practiced on Wednesday in Eugene before making the nearly 3,000-mile journey to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I think you try to keep everything business as usual,” Graves said. “Obviously (the players) know what’s at stake, it’s a bigger deal, but the reality is it’s still a game, it’s still 40 minutes.
“We’re traveling across the country, we’ve done that before already. We’ve made this trip this year. I expect the team to be really juiced.”