UO hopeful about being place in Portland Regional, despite loss to Stanford in Pac-12 Tournament title game
LAS VEGAS — As Tara VanDerveer was leaving the MGM Grand Garden Arena with more hardware to add to the Stanford trophy case, the legendary coach noted:
The second-seeded Cardinal was obviously a lock for the women’s NCAA Tournament weeks ago, but beating No. 1 Oregon 64-57 in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on Sunday night made it official as Stanford earned the conference’s automatic bid into the field.
The Ducks (29-4) are also safely in the field and on the short list of teams capable of making it to Tampa, Fla., for the national semifinals. The question is whether or not Sunday’s loss jeopardizes their plans to cut down the nets after the Portland Regional final.
Oregon slid one spot to No. 7, just behind Stanford, in the Associated Press poll released Monday. ESPN’s latest bracket projection still had Kelly Graves’ team as the No. 2 seed in the Portland Regional, with No. 4 Mississippi State as the No. 1 seed.
The Pac-12 regular-season champion Ducks defeated the SEC regular-season and tournament champion Bulldogs (30-2) 82-74 on Dec. 18 at Matthew Knight Arena.
“We’ve earned what we’ve gotten. You always want to win the tournament championship, but to me the real championship is the two-month grind,” Graves said. “I’m sorry, the regular-season championship, having to go nine games on the road over two months, battling injuries that everybody has to … that should count for something.”
Oregon dealt VanDerveer the most lopsided loss of her hall of fame career, 88-48, on Feb. 10 at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal (29-4), which finished one game behind the Ducks in the standings, hasn’t lost since and will also likely be a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance.
“This is an Elite Eight, Final Four kind of game,” Graves said after Oregon allowed Stanford to avenge its humbling loss this season and last year’s loss in the Pac-12 Tournament final in Seattle. “I think our kids were fired up, and we were prepared as much as you can do in one day, but it’s just that sense of urgency wasn’t there.
“You do that in the NCAA Tournament and you’re done. It’s a one-and-done deal, and it’s hard.”
Oregon shot 33.9 percent from the field, including 27.3 percent on 3-pointers, and was outscored 33-18 in the paint by Stanford.
“Our biggest concern is us right now,” Erin Boley said after finishing with 10 points and five rebounds in the title game. “We just have to move on from this game and take it one game at a time now.”
Starters Ruthy Hebard (knee), Sabrina Ionescu (ankle), Satou Sabally (arm) and Maite Cazorla (illness) will have some time to rest and recover this week.
Freshman guard Taylor Chavez, who has missed the last five games with a fractured metatarsal, is hoping to get back on the court at some point during the NCAA Tournament.
“If we all had the choice right now to play that (Stanford) game again, I think we all would,” Chavez said in the postgame locker room. “Everyone would lace their shoes back up and everyone would play again. But I think it will be good to have the week off to physically recover.
“A game like this, we'll let this simmer and soak in. It’s a reality check.”
Ionescu led Oregon with 27 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and one turnover, but Stanford held the Pac-12’s best offense to a season-low point total.
“I’m not going to take the week off,” Ionescu said. “ But I think the people that do need to take the week off to get there minds right and their bodies right should and will take the week off. I won’t.”
The Ducks, who have gone 18-3 while playing 21 consecutive Pac-12 opponents, are looking forward to hosting teams from different conferences during the first and second rounds at Matthew Knight Arena.
If they are placed in the Portland Regional when the bracket is released next Monday, the road to the program’s first Final Four will go through Moda Center.
Oregon traveled to the East Coast twice in 2017, losing to UConn in the Bridgeport Regional final. In 2018, the Ducks made their second consecutive Elite Eight appearance, losing to eventual national champion Notre Dame in Spokane, Wash.
“I don’t really care where we go, honestly, as long as we get another opportunity to play,” Ionescu said. “I think that we deserve to be in Portland and we’ve beat enough top teams to be in Portland. If that’s what happens, then it will be great because we will have a great fan base and people will be able to come out and support us in Portland. If it’s not, then we’re just going to travel and hopefully win those games.”