LAS VEGAS — The Ducks may be the safest bet on The Strip this weekend.
Third-ranked Oregon, which set a program record with 17 regular-season conference wins, enters the Pac-12 Tournament as the heavy women's basketball favorite.
The top-seeded Ducks (28-2) begin the postseason against No. 8 Utah in the quarterfinals on Friday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Utes (14-16) advanced with a 72-63 victory over Washington in the opening round on Thursday.
Oregon swept the regular-season series with lopsided wins in Eugene (88-51) and Salt Lake City (90-63).
“I feel the first couple of times we played them we were a little bit intimidated,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said of the Ducks. “Since we played them both times, we have improved. Of course, they have as well.
“I don't anticipate the intimidation factor. I think that's a big thing.”
Kelly Graves knows the Ducks, who the NCAA selection committee slotted as the No. 1 seed in the Portland Regional during its updated top-16 reveal on Monday, will have a strong case to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with three more quality wins against Pac-12 peers.
For the first time in the history of the bracket, six Pac-12 teams entered the postseason ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
No. 24 Arizona State was upset by California, the first No. 12 seed to advance at the Pac-12 Tournament, in Thursday’s opener.
“It is just what March Madness is,” Utah guard Dru Gylten said of the opportunity to pull off an upset of Oregon. “We look at it as an opportunity to play the top team in the country, and we have nothing to lose. We're going to go out there and fight like we did today.
“And I think Cal also showed that; that they don't care who they're playing, they're just going to come in ready to fight.”
The Ducks lead the nation in scoring (86.0 ppg) and are second in field-goal percentage (50.7%).
During its 16-game winning streak, which has included wins over nine ranked opponents, Oregon has outscored the opposition by 25.9 points per game.
“I am really proud of them,” Graves said. “We put together a really good resume. The reveal … we’re excited to be a number one. I’m not sure if that's going to change, regardless of what happens down here.
“We're just we're in a really good place.”
Graves is the Pac-12 coach of the year for the second consecutive season. Sabrina Ionescu earned her third player of the year honor, this time with a unanimous vote.
Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard were also on the all-conference team as those three players look to make one more Final Four run together.
“When we take a step back and take a look at everything we’ve been through as a team, it’s like, ‘Wow. We have a target on our back and we’re still going up,’” Hebard said. “It’s just motivating to be able to be a part of this team.”
Oregon defeated Stanford in the 2018 title game in Seattle for the program’s only Pac-12 Tournament championship. The Cardinal cut down the nets after last year’s victory over the Ducks in Las Vegas.
Taylor Chavez missed the postseason last year due to a foot injury. The sophomore guard is healthy and ready to play a key role off the bench after being named the Pac-12’s sixth player of the year.
“I look at where we were at this last year. We had a lot of question marks and a lot of injuries,” Graves said. “We were just kind of limping through. This we're healthy, we're confident, and I think we're hungry. We didn't win it last year and so we're really excited.”
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