Ducks host Minnesota Gophers with Sweet 16 trip on the line
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — After the victory in their NCAA Tournament opener, Minnesota’s coaches sat courtside to watch their next opponent, Oregon. What they saw was a second-seeded team that certainly wasn’t taking their first opponent lightly.
The Ducks were focused from the start against No. 15 seed Seattle, building a 48-16 halftime lead before winning 88-45 on Friday night. The early lead gave Oregon the opportunity to rest most of its starters in the fourth quarter.
“When I saw our team diving for loose balls early in that game I could tell this wasn’t just another game, they weren’t just going to kind of go through the motions and win this thing, they really wanted to compete,” coach Kelly Graves said.
Sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu was the lone starter to come out in the fourth, and that was just because she was one rebound away from her 10th career triple-double. She got it, finishing with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds before going to the bench to a standing ovation from the home crowd with just over eight minutes left.
There’s no reason to think that Oregon won’t come out with the same fire on Sunday night when they face the Golden Gophers for a chance to move on to Spokane in the West Region. The Ducks, who went to the Elite Eight for the first time in team history last season, have won 10 straight and claimed both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles.
Minnesota, the No. 10 seed, beat No. 7 Green Bay on Friday. Kenisha Bell had 24 of her 26 points in the second half as the Gophers rallied from 10 points down at halftime.
Oregon also did its own scouting of the Golden Gophers, watching their game before taking on Seattle. Minnesota came into the tournament with an average of 85.2 points per game to lead the Big Ten and rank third nationally — behind only UConn and Baylor. The Golden Gophers are making their first tournament appearance since 2015.
“We know Minnesota scores a lot,” Ionescu said. “We know that defense is going to be huge for us. But I think we are prepared.”
Ionescu’s triple double became the focus on the Oregon’s first-round game after it was evident the game itself against the overmatched Redhawks was a blowout.
She already holds the NCAA career record in the category with 10. She had four her freshman year and has six — so far — this season. She became the 15th women to score a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game, with the 16th triple double overall. Stanford’s Nicole Powell had a pair in the 2002 tournament.
The winner of Sunday’s game in Eugene will travel north to Spokane to face the winner of Monday’s game between third-seeded Ohio State and No. 11 Central Michigan in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes beat George Washington 87-45 on Saturday, after Central Michigan upset No. 6 LSU 78-69.