SEATTLE — After enjoying a first round bye on Thursday, Oregon women’s basketball will face off with the Colorado Buffaloes in the quarterfinal of the 2018 Pac-12 Tournament. The ninth-seeded Buffs are coming off a 66-56 win over Utah, and the one-seeded Ducks will look to hold off an upset bid.
Colorado played a solid game against Utah, particularly on defense. The Buffs had an impressive 12 steals en route to 19 turnovers, and held Utah to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field. At the same time, they shot 44 percent on the day. Buffs forward Annika Jank was 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, while guard Kennedy Leonard had 15 points on the day. Both finished with eight rebounds.
When the Ducks and Buffs met during the regular season, Oregon won 74-55. Compared to their strong defensive play against Utah, Colorado struggled to contain the Ducks. Oregon gave the ball away just eight times, while turning the Buffs’ 14 giveaways into 18 points.
In an interesting wrinkle, this game pits Ducks head coach Kelly Graves against a former protegé in the form of Buffs coach JR Payne. Payne both played and coached for Graves, and the two have kept up a close friendship.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Leonard said in the post-game press conference after the Buffs’ win over Utah. “Obviously they’re the number-one seed and we’re the nine-seed, so there’s no pressure on us. They gotta stop us.”
Offensively, Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally led the way with a trio of double-digit performances against the Buffs. Ionescu also drained a team-high four 3-pointers, but the Ducks lost the rebounding battle 40-39.
While Colorado outscored Oregon in the first half, the Ducks locked the Buffs down on defense for the rest of the game. They went on to hold Colorado to a mere 34 percent.
Since then, Ionescu and Hebard have played some of their best basketball of the season as of late. Over the past four games, the two have combined for 149 points on 55 percent shooting from the field.
Additionally, the Ducks have an asset back in the form of Lexi Bando. While Bando’s minutes have been limited since she returned from a leg injury, her presence as one of the nation’s premier 3-point shooters will force teams to make a tough decision: do they double-team Hebard in the paint and let Bando shoot, or risk going one-on-one with a truly dominant post presence?
On paper, the Ducks are easily the favorites. This, after all, is the postseason — all bets are off.
After enduring a beatdown in front of their home crowd during the regular seasons, watch for the Buffs to play with a chip on their collective shoulder. Upsetting the tournament’s top seed would both avenge their previous loss, and move the team one step closer to playing its way into the NCAA tournament.
The Ducks should pull off the win, but watch for the Buffs to make them work for it.
Follow Aaron Alter on Twitter @aaronalter95