Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, was a sea of green and gold as Oregon and Baylor fans flooded in. In a historic moment on April 5, 2019, the Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team took the court for its first Final Four appearance in program history. The Ducks battled all season long, and despite the devastating loss to Baylor in Tampa, the women’s basketball program has been forever changed.
It all started when Coach Kelly Graves joined the Ducks in 2014. Prior to Graves’ arrival in Eugene, the women’s basketball program struggled in the competitive Pac-12 conference. Since he took over the program, the Ducks have won two Pac-12 season championships and one Pac-12 tournament championship. Graves and the Ducks have fought harder and harder each season, coming back each year with a hunger to achieve more than the last year. In 2017, the Ducks made their first appearance in the Sweet 16 and pushed through to the Elite Eight before losing to the University of Connecticut. In 2018, the Ducks made it back to the Elite Eight before losing by 10 points to Notre Dame. Then in 2019, the Ducks made history, winning the tournament championship and competing in the Final Four, where they lost by only five points to Baylor. But they aren’t done.
These past few years, Oregon has been home to some incredible female athletes. This historic team, led by Sabrina Ionescu, has worked hard for its successes. Ionescu, now a household name, is a two-time winner of the Pac-12 Player of the Year award (2018 and 2019) and the first Duck to win this award more than once. She also made history this year by becoming the all-time NCAA leader in career triple-doubles, recording more than any male or female athlete in the NCAA. By her side are post player Ruthy Hebard, who averages almost a double-double, and guard Maite Cazorla, who was just drafted to the Atlanta Dream.
These women have contributed to Oregon’s success, but the progress will not end with them. They have helped build a program and pave a way for future success. Ionescu made it clear in her Letter to Ducks Nation, published in The Players’ Tribune, that this is not just one season, that this is not just a few good players, but that this program is going to continue to grow and thrive long after they graduate. “Something is happening here. We’re building a program — and not just any program. We’re building a program that wins national championships. Starting, I hope, with this next one.” Ionescu details how their fan base has grown from her freshman year, when they drew about 1,000 fans to games, to this season, in which they averaged around 7,000. This growing fan base includes forces like Steph Curry, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Women’s basketball at the University of Oregon is forever changed. This program is growing, gaining national attention and packing stadiums. It’s not just about the players or the coach, it’s about building a program, and one to be reckoned with — one that will continue to thrive and one that will win a national championship.