The idea for Tuesday’s top-10 women's basketball matchup between Oregon and Mississippi State was hatched on a beach in Hawaii in 2016 when the Ducks and Bulldogs met in the Rainbow Wahine Showdown.
The two coaches, Kelly Graves and Vic Schaefer, were in the midst of rebuilding projects with slightly different timelines. After their meeting in 2016 — won by Mississippi State, 75-63 — they decided to keep the series going with a home-and-home agreement.
“I remember when Vic took over Mississippi State, it was a program that was in big trouble — in shambles, so to speak,” Graves said. “He did a great job of building it.
“We had a chance to share that experience because I was going through the same thing a year or two later.”
Graves and the Ducks will find out if they’ve closed the gap when the No. 4 Bulldogs visit Matthew Knight Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday for a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
Mississippi State (10-0) was the national runner-up the past two seasons, falling to South Carolina in 2017 and Notre Dame in last year’s championship game.
The No. 7 Ducks, seeking their first Final Four after consecutive Elite Eight appearances, see this as a potential postseason preview.
“They’ve been to a national championship game and had some big-time wins the last couple years,” guard Sabrina Ionescu said. “We know they’re veteran and they’ve been in this position before, so we’re just going to have to be able to weather that.”
The matchup features the top two scoring teams in the nation, with Oregon No. 1 at 92.4 points per game and Mississippi State just a tenth of a point behind.
While both teams can score, they get their points in different ways. The Bulldogs are fourth nationally in offensive rebounding and run their offense through 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan, who averages 18.6 points and 12.8 rebounds.
The Ducks know they’ll have their hands full with McCowan, who overpowered them to the tune of 35 points and 19 rebounds in last year’s meeting.
“As a team, they’re getting about 55 percent of their misses back,” Graves said. “That’s a real challenge for us. We’re an OK rebounding team, but we’re going to have to be really on point.”
The Ducks and Bulldogs appeared to be headed for a top-five showdown until Oregon’s undefeated season hit a snag nine days ago at Michigan State. The Ducks rebounded with a come-from-behind victory at South Dakota State, but their 88-82 loss to the Spartans provided several areas to clean up before the Bulldogs come to town.
“Some of those games we didn’t come out as ready as we should have,” Ionescu said. “That’s something we have to learn. Teams are going to give us their best shot night in and night out.”
Oregon shouldn’t have any trouble getting ready for Mississippi State. Winners of 46 straight nonconference games, the Bulldogs are the highest-ranked nonconference opponent to visit Matthew Knight Arena since No. 1 Connecticut beat the Ducks 95-51 in 2012.
Even with students on winter break, Oregon has been offering $2 general admission tickets to ensure a packed house.
“I hope everyone comes out and cheers loud, because it should be a fun game,” Ionescu said.