UO, coming off a statement victory at No. 4 UConn, is tied with No. 6 Stanford atop the Pac-12 standings
After leaving Tempe, Ariz., in defeat, the Ducks have been on the rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
No. 3 Oregon has won eight consecutive games, including four victories over top-10 teams, since its 72-66 loss on Jan. 12 at Arizona State.
The Ducks (20-2, 9-1), penciled in as the No. 1 seed in the Portland Regional in the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s first bracket projection, drubbed No. 4 UConn 75-56 on Monday night in Storrs, Conn.
It was the Huskies’ first loss in Gampel Pavilion since 2013 and their most lopsided loss in the history of the building, which opened in 1990.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves was equally proud of his team’s focus during runway road wins over Utah and Colorado by a combined 191-116, which came on the heels of the emotional Civil War sweep of then-No. 7 Oregon State.
“I thought we were the best team in all five games. We have played really well though,” Graves said. “I don't think any of us thought that the UConn game would kind of go that way. We all felt we were the better team and should win the game.
“The way we kind of came out early and dominated that was on top of a great trip to the mountains.”
Oregon returns home to play No. 12 Arizona on Friday at Matthew Knight Arena (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Wildcats (18-3, 7-3) are currently fourth in the Pac-12 standings and have won five consecutive games since losing 71-64 to the Ducks on Jan. 14 in Tucson, Ariz.
Junior guard Aari McDonald (20.8 ppg), nicknamed “jet plane” by Oregon’s staff for her takeoff speed, leads the conference in scoring and had 25 points in the first meeting.
But the Ducks held the other Arizona players to a combined 39 points on 15-for-37 shooting (40.5%).
“I mean, Aari’s a great player, obviously,” said Oregon defensive stopper Minyon Moore. “It's kind of like she's going to get hers. You do what you can to stop her, but the key is to stop the other players from also getting hot.”
Oregon’s entire starting five caught fire against UConn.
Sabrina Ionescu (10 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) flirted with a triple-double. Ruthy Hebard (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Satou Sabally (17 points, 10 rebounds) created matchup nightmares for Geno Auriemma.
Erin Boley also set the tone with 13 first-half points on 5-for-7 shooting, and Moore set the pace on both ends with 12 points, six assists and two steals.
“I think we're really strong team,” Sabally said. “We're super competitive and it showed. We play with a lot of emotions.”
Sabally has elevated her play since the loss at Arizona State, which visits Eugene on Sunday, averaging 19.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals during the winning streak.
“(Graves) has described her as a unicorn,” Moore, a senior graduate transfer who played the previous three seasons at USC, said of the sleek 6-foot-4 Sabally. “She’s the all-around player. She’s got that WNBA body. It’s really hard to defend her.
“I’m glad I’m on her team now."
Oregon leads the NCAA in scoring (86.2 ppg) and has given up an average of 58.4 points over the last eight games.
The Ducks enter the weekend tied with No. 6 Stanford (20-2, 9-1) first first place in the Pac-12, one game ahead of No. 10 UCLA (19-2, 8-2).
“We’ve turned up the defense. That's been the main difference in this stretch,” Graves said. “Our defense is leading to a lot more easier baskets, and I think by playing hard at the defensive end, as crazy as it sounds, it's helping us at the offensive end.”
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