If Oregon is going to make its first-ever Final Four, the Ducks won’t have to leave the state to do so.
As announced by the NCAA selection committee, the Ducks have earned the No. 2 seed in the Portland Region — meaning the first two games are based in Eugene with the Sweet-16 and Elite Eight taking place in Portland.
“What an advantage to be playing at home and really in the Portland Region, I think any coach, they want to play as close to home as possible,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “It is an advantage. Our fans have been so amazing this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get into the tens of thousands here for each of our games. They love this basketball team. I think they like to celebrate with them and hopefully they’re going to help us win the first game and hopefully even a second.”
Oregon will meet in-state foe No. 15 Portland State (25-7) in the first round on Friday at Matthew Knight Arena. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be shown on ESPN2. No. 7 Texas (23-9) faces No. 10 Indiana (20-12) in the game prior with the winners advancing to the second round on Sunday against one another.
Despite being the two-seed in the Region, Oregon arguably has one of the easiest roads to the Final Four thanks to the other teams in the bracket and not having to travel more than 100 miles in any direction.
Mississippi State is the No. 1 seed and the likely opponent the Ducks will face in the Elite Eight (if both teams manage to make it). Prior to that, the Sweet-16 opponent is expected to be No. 3 Syracuse. The Ducks are familiar with both teams, having beaten them earlier in the season.
Erin Boley’s three-pointer with less than a minute left gave the Ducks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in their 75-73 victory over Syracuse in the second game of the season. Oregon then took down Mississippi State 82-74 a month later, outscoring the Bulldogs by nine in the second half for the win.
But Graves and the Ducks now they must take it one game at a time, not overlook any opponent regardless of seed.
“We’re guaranteed one game. I think we’ve had success in this tournament because we’ve gone that route… we don’t look ahead; I think as soon as you do that, you’re in trouble,” Graves said. “I do realize that among our top seeds, Mississippi State we played this year, Syracuse of course we played. Yeah, there’s that potential but listen, we’re focused on the first game.”
Not the deepest team in the NCAA, but arguably the most talented starting five, Oregon is led by all-American Sabrina Ionescu, a legit national player of the year candidate. Ionescu — the two-time Pac-12 player of the year — averages 19.6 points, 8.1 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game, the only player in the country to be averaging those types of numbers.
All five starters average double-figures, and it’s offensively where this unit shines by putting up 86.1 points per game. The Ducks shoot 51-percent from the field and 42-percent from beyond the arc while knocking down 77-percent of their free throws.