The first Top-25 matchup of the women’s college basketball season will be in Eugene.
No. 3 Oregon hosts No. 18 Syracuse on Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena (2 p.m., no television).
Coach Kelly Graves is hoping the fervent fan base that packed the venue for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March will multitask with the Duck football team’s game at Utah kicking off at 2:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City.
“Tape it for crying out loud,” Graves said. “Today’s technology, just tape the game and come to a live event. We need everybody there, especially the students. I think that’s critical.”
The Ducks (1-0) opened the campaign with an assertive 115-36 victory over Division II Alaska-Fairbanks on Tuesday night in Ruthy Hebard’s hometown.
Sabrina Ionescu extended her NCAA career triple-double record to 11 after finishing with 18 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.
The Orange (1-0), which opened the season with an 85-49 home win over North Dakota, are expected to present a serious challenge to the defending Pac-12 champions.
Syracuse has made six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, returns all five starters and adds McDonald’s All-American Emily Engstler to the rotation.
“They’re better than their ranking,” Graves said. “They are legit. They have speed, they have depth, they shoot the three, they play fast, they’ve got a great defense, they crash the boards. I typically do three keys to success. I couldn’t narrow it down to just three. I have five.”
The most important point Graves emphasized in practice was transition defense.
Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia led the NCAA with 304 assists (9.8 per game) last year. The Orange made 12 three-pointers and forced 27 turnovers against North Dakota.
“I think we’re all looking forward to it,” Oregon sophomore forward Erin Boley said. “I love playing really great teams early on in the season because it will be a good test of where we are and can show us where we need to go from here. I think it’s good for us.”
Boley, who replaces the graduated Lexi Bando in the starting lineup, scored 14 points in her Oregon debut. The Notre Dame transfer knocked down four of the Ducks’ 12 made three-pointers.
“The adjustment period probably happened practicing in October. That was a good time for me to kind of get into the flow of things,” Boley said. “Last year definitely helped, rather than coming in right away and being new. I was familiar with the offense and the things we run.
“There was an adjustment period, but I think at this point now I’m feeling good about it.”
Morgan Yaeger, who redshirted last season while recovering from a back injury, was also back on the court after a lengthy absence. The sophomore guard had six points, three assists and two steals off the bench.
“I was pretty nervous, but it was great,” Yaeger said. “It was so fun to be in Alaska for Ruthy. They weren’t the toughest of opponents, but I guess for me, it was kind of a good game to get my feet under me. It felt really good.”
All nine of Oregon’s healthy players scored in the opener, including six in double figures. Satou Sabally led the onslaught with 21 points.
The Ducks shot 67.7 percent from the field, including 50 percent behind the three-point arc (12-for-24), and held the Nanooks to 13 made field goals and 27.1 percent shooting.
“I was impressed,” Graves said. “We could have just gone through the motions, but they didn’t. We played hard.”
Oregon, coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and a school record 33-win season, is ready to jump way up in class for the home opener.
“I’m excited because it’s going to just kick our season off right from the start against a good team,” Yaeger said. “It’s going to be a tough game, I think there’s going to be a ton of people at the game, it’s going to an exciting first game.”