TAMPA, Fla. — Maite Cazorla hit the 3-point dagger against Mississippi State in the Portland Regional final to help deliver Oregon’s first appearance in the women’s Final Four.
But the Ducks’ 72-67 loss to Baylor in the national semifinal Friday at Amalie Arena cut like a knife for the decorated point guard.
Cazorla and fellow senior Oti Gildon experienced more wins (113) than any players in program history. They played in the WNIT semifinals as freshmen, three Elite Eight games and their finale together at the Final Four.
“I think we played hard. The game could have gone either way,” Cazorla said. “We gave everything we needed to, it just sucks that we lost.”
Cazorla hit a 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 run that gave Oregon a 64-61 lead with 6:10 remaining.
The Bears (36-1) clawed back and advanced to Sunday’s national title game against defending champion Notre Dame.
“I told them I'm really proud of them. It always hurts right now, as it should. It hurts when you put a lot of energy and a lot of yourself into it,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said of his message in the postgame locker room. “I know all our team had a chance to voice how great they feel about Maite and Oti, our two seniors, who had tremendous careers.
“They're ones that really got this thing started.”
Cazorla finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal. The Spanish import holds the school record for games played and starts (146).
“This has been amazing. I don’t even have words,” Cazorla said. “It’s been awesome playing with these girls, these coaches. They’re like family to me. So that made it even more fun. So I’m just grateful to them.”
Gildon — who played 18 minutes to assist Ruthy Hebard in the battle with 6-foot-7 center Kalani Brown and 6-4 forward Lauren Cox — added four points, three rebounds and an assist off the bench.
Before the opening tip, Graves laughed at the size difference between Baylor’s captains, Brown and Cox, as they were shaking hands with Cazorla (5-10) and Gildon (6-1).
The duo was honored during a senior day ceremony Feb. 24.
A week later, Cazorla and Gildon celebrated the team’s second consecutive Pac-12 regular-season championship before playing two more March Madness games and cutting down the nets at Moda Center after the regional final.
“I think Oti and Maite have meant everything to the program, they truly have,” Graves said. “They took a chance on us when we didn’t really have anything to sell them other than a vision of how we thought we could be. …
“I have so much admiration and love for Maite. I have so much admiration and love for Oti. I owe them a great deal, their teammates owe them a great deal. They are the epitome of what a Duck is supposed to be. And I love them.”