Oregon’s road back to the women’s Final Four is going to have some bumps.
The second-ranked Ducks (10-1) are the favorites to win a third consecutive Pac-12 title entering Friday’s conference opener against Colorado at Mathew Knight Arena (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
No. 3 Oregon State, No. 5 Stanford and No. 10 UCLA should also contend for the regular-season crown. No. 18 Arizona and Colorado are undefeated.
The Buffaloes (12-0, 1-0) already opened up conference play with a 80-70 victory at Utah last Sunday.
“I don’t see anybody going 18-0 in conference,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “We’re going to beat each other up like we always seem to do. I think that battle tests us for the NCAA Tournament.”
The Ducks, coming off the program’s first Final Four, made a statement about the level of play this team is capable of with a 93-86 exhibition victory over the USA Women’s National Team on Nov. 9.
Oregon went 6-0 at home in nonconference play, winning by an average of 42.5 points. The team’s only loss was 72-62 to No. 7 Louisville in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Colorado coach JR Payne, who played for Graves at Saint Mary’s and began her coaching career under her mentor at Gonzaga, appears to have finally established the program she envisioned when taking the job in Boulder.
Dynamic guard Jaylyn Sherrod earned Pac-12 freshman of the week honors after finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against Utah.
Mya Hollingshed, 6-foot-4 junior forward, leads the Buffaloes in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
“I am so pumped to get Pac-12 started,” Graves said. “How better to do it than my old assistant coach and my old player that played for me, JR at Colorado, and they’re coming in at (12-0). That’s how good this conference is. They’re (undefeated) and they have some good quality wins. It’s not just like they played a bunch of nobodies. It’s a good team.”
Colorado, which received nine votes in this week’s Associated Press poll, is 5-0 on the road this season.
It will be interesting to see how much the Buffaloes have closed the gap since losing 102-43 last season at Matthew Knight Arena.
Sabrina Ionescu, the NCAA’s career triple-double queen (21 and counting), enters Pac-12 play averaging 15.0 points, 9.2 assists and 9.0 rebounds.
Ruthy Hebard leads the team in scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg) with Satou Sabally adding 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds.
USC graduate transfer Minyon Moore gives the Ducks a defensive stopper to go with all of the offensive firepower.
“Now comes the show,” Graves said. “This is for real.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to email@example.com. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.