TAMPA, Fla. — Maite Cazorla and Oti Gildon took a chance when they committed to Oregon.
There was no hype and no excitement for a team that rarely drew in home crowds over a couple hundred. It was a program that hadn’t had a winning season in five years.
Yet, the two stayed. And now, four years later, that chance finally paid off.
This year, with the senior leadership of Cazorla and Gildon, the Oregon Ducks earned their way to the program’s first-ever Final Four. And with it, the two seniors have left just as meaningful of a legacy.
“These four years have been amazing,” Cazorla said after Friday’s 72-67 Final Four loss to Baylor. “We’ve won games, we’ve lost games, but at the end of the day, I’m not gonna totally remember all the games we won, all the games we lost. I think I’m going to remember the ride and the journey with them.”
Cazorla, the unsung hero of Oregon’s backcourt, and Gildon, one of the Ducks’ most reliable sixth-woman to have played, are the two winningest Ducks in Oregon history, with a career record of 113-35 over their four years.
That record includes Oregon’s trip to the WNIT’s Final Four their freshman year, all the way through the Ducks’ NCAA Tournament Final Four run their senior year.
Whether it was Cazorla’s perfectly timed 3-point daggers or Gildon’s clutch offensive rebounds that snuck in baskets when Oregon needed it most, the two have helped propel Oregon to a nation-wide, high-speed level of national attention.
“I owe so much to Oti Gildon and Maite Cazorla,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said after Oregon’s Elite Eight win vs Mississippi State. “They were the two that really took a chance on us.”
Cazorla, the Las Palmas, Spain native, concludes her Duck career playing 146 games and with 146 starts, another program record. She totaled 4,800 minutes, 1,474 points and 691 assists.
“All four years, the players and the coaches, believed in me and gave me a chance and I’m forever grateful for them,” Cazorla said.
Gildon played on the USA Basketball 3x3 team at the 2018 FIBA 3x3 World Cup with Oregon teammates Sabrina Ionescu, Erin Boley and Ruthy Hebard. She will graduate from the Oregon program with 143 games played, a 0.560 field goal percentage, 414 rebounds and 583 points.
But for Gildon, those numbers don’t compare to the relationships and memories she’s made as a Duck.
“Just these girls. Being able to grow with them and learn with them and being able to play basketball with them is amazing,” she said. “I’ll remember the memories with them more than the games and that’s what I’ll take away from this.”
Friday night’s loss definitely stung, as it should for players that have spent the past four years trying to help their team reach that kind of profound stage of women’s basketball. While both were teary-eyed in the locker room following the Final Four defeat, Gildon said she’s learned so much from every moment of being a Duck, including during in each heartbreak loss.
“It goes by fast,” she said. “Enjoy every moment of it. Meet new people, make friends and have fun because you never know when it’s going to be your last time playing, so just enjoy every moment.”
Despite the two seniors having played their final game as Ducks, one thing remains undeniably true:
They have left the program much better than how they found it.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni