It’s finally time to March on.
Seventh-ranked Oregon had a lot of extra downtime to stew over its loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game March 10.
Now the Ducks (29-4), the second seed in the Portland Regional, will continue the quest for the program’s first Final Four appearance with a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against No. 15 Portland State on Friday at Matthew Knight Arena (6:30 p.m., ESPN2).
The Vikings (25-7) won the Big Sky Tournament to earn an automatic bid into the tournament.
“We’re not going to overlook them,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “I guess that’s always the danger of March Madness, anything can happen. I think we’ve navigated the first few rounds of this tournament quite well the last few years, and I don’t think this year will be any different.”
Oregon is 4-0 during the first weekend of the tournament under Graves while advancing to the Elite Eight the previous two seasons.
True freshman guard Taylor Chavez will not be available off the bench due to a fracture in her foot, but starters Sabrina Ionescu (ankle), Maite Cazorla (flu), Satou Sabally (arm) and Ruthy Hebard (knee) have recovered from their painful trip to Las Vegas.
The Pac-12 regular-season champions are ready to make a run.
“So many crazy things can happen in March, but we’ll be ready,” Ionescu said. “We’re going to scout them like we would scout if we were in the national championship game. This game is just as important as any game has been for us and is the most important game of the year because we have to take care of this in order to move on.”
Portland State, three years removed from a four-win season, is making the second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Seniors Ashley Bolston, Sidney Rielly and Courtney West have helped coach Lynn Kennedy lead the dramatic turnaround.
The Vikings will try to prevent Oregon, which leads the nation in 3-point shooting (42 percent), from getting its offense back in rhythm after Stanford held the Ducks to 6-for-22 behind the arc in the Pac-12 championship game.
“We have to do the things we do well,” Kennedy said. “If we don’t, it’s going to be a long night. If we do, I think we can have some success in the first, second and third quarters and take it to the fourth quarter.”
Oregon overwhelmed Seattle in last year’s No. 2 vs. No. 15 first-round game at Matthew Knight Arena. Ionescu recorded a triple-double with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in only 29 minutes during the 88-45 romp.
From the start, the Ducks’ path to another regional final appears to be more difficult this year.
“They have tall girls,” said the 6-foot-4 Hebard, who will face West (6-4) and Jordan Stotler (6-4) in the paint. “But I think the Pac-12 and our nonconference schedule prepared us for dealing with big, strong girls. I think we just have to continue to play strong, be physical and finish over taller players.”
No. 7 Texas faces No. 10 Indiana in the other first-round game Friday at Matthew Knight Arena with the winners meeting Sunday with a trip to the Moda Center and Sweet 16 on the line.
Ionescu was in the training room when ESPN accidentally released the bracket early Monday, which led to Oregon canceling its selection show watch party with fans.
“We never even had a chance to celebrate or just enjoy it,” Ionescu said of being placed in the Portland Regional, which was a team goal from the start of the season. “I think there were only four of us here who were able to talk and were like, ‘Oh, we’re in the Portland Region. So that part kind of sucked.
“But we got back together that night and just said it’s a great opportunity for us. Hopefully we’ll get good fan support coming out to these two games. I think we’ve earned the right to hopefully play in Portland, but we have to take care of two games here first.”