SEATTLE — Eugene native Lexi Bando committed to play for head coach Kelly Graves when he was still in charge of Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington.
Then, a job opened up in Eugene and Graves, as well as Bando, made the switch.
“I just believed in his vision,” Bando said. “He built a dynasty at Gonzaga. “They won conference championship after conference championship. Taking it to the Pac-12, he wanted a challenge and I believed in him and now we’re here.”
Four years later, Bando, Graves and the No. 6 Oregon women’s basketball team stood atop the stage in the center of the court at KeyArena in Seattle, hoisting the Pac-12 Tournament trophy for the first time in the program’s history. It was a long journey, but it’s one that paid off.
“It’s bittersweet right now,” Bando said. “Coming in my freshman year I didn’t even think this was possible and to be here now is the most incredible feeling.”
— Shawn Medow (@ShawnMedow) March 5, 2018
Bando, who missed seven games during the middle of Pac-12 play, posted 12-of-18 shooting in the Pac-12 Tournament, 10 of which were from beyond the arc.
“Threes, 3s and more 3s,” Colorado head coach JR Payne said after Oregon’s 84-47 win over the Buffs in the quarterfinals. “The thing I love about Lexi is not just her ability to shoot the ball, but I love that she loves the big shot.
“In most of her games that have come down to the wire over the last couple years, she’s made big shot when’s it mattered.”
That was the case when Oregon played UCLA. Bando hit four shots, three of them from 3-point range, which included two 3s inside the final six minutes of the game.
“It seems like every time she makes a three it almost counts four or five, because it seems to give us a lift,” Graves said. “She hit a couple in the second half that were huge too.”
Oregon’s consistency from 3-point range was evident all weekend long as the Ducks shot above 45 percent in every game, while their opponents failed to reach 30 percent accuracy from deep.
While Bando may have only scored five points on 2-of-6 shooting, 1-of-4 from 3, her presence can be enough to keep opponents quiet and open up space for her teammates. In that final, sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu was that player who she opened play up for as the Pac-12 player of the year to score 36 points.
This season, the Ducks went undefeated in conference play when Bando plays. While she was out, she still provided inspiration from the bench, and when she got back, she picked up where she left off, continuing to average around 10 points per game.
“I told Bando and Justine, ‘This one’s for you guys,’” freshman forward Satou Sabally said. “They went through the rough times and they just kept going. It’s an honor to help them and keep going and just succeeding.”
Bando followed Graves because of his dynasty in Spokane, and now one seems to be forming in Eugene.
“I think they’re building one,” Bando said. “When I leave they’re still going to continue to be even more successful.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow