Seattle, WA — Oregon and Stanford both made impressive runs in the Pac-12 tournament while weaving their way to the finals, where Oregon dethroned the defending champs, 77-57, on Sunday night in Seattle to claim its first-ever conference tourney title.
Now, the question becomes: Can either — or perhaps both — teams engineer long runs in the NCAA Tournament?
And the answer is yes.
Oregon and Stanford, who were the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Pac-12 tournament, have both shown that they have the stamina, star-power and stubbornness to produce a truly memorable March.
Let’s start with playmakers, since both teams are loaded with them.
At the top of the list is Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, who showcased her explosiveness Sunday night. Whether it was bombing from deep in the corner and attacking the rim, she just kept on scoring while pouring in a career-high 36 points in the win over Stanford. She finished 14-of-24 from the floor, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range.
But she is not the only weapon for the high-flying Ducks, who have five players averaging double-figures (coming into Sunday’s game). In addition to Ionescu, who is averaging 18.8 per game, Oregon also can turn to Ruthy Hebard (17.7 ppg), Maite Cazorla (11.1), Satou Sabally (10.9), and Lexi Bando (10.4).
And for Stanford? Brittany McPhee certainly has “take-the-game-over” capabilities, and she heads into the tourney as Stanford’s leading scoring (17 ppg). Alanna Smith and Kiana Williams are also gritty players who are capable of becoming March superstars.
Next, let’s talk toughness. Both Oregon and Stanford have it in spades, which should bode well over the next few weeks as they navigate through the zig-zagging path of March Madness.
Oddly enough, in some ways, the NCAA Tournament might actually seem like a little bit of a breather (at least in the early rounds) compared to the gauntlet that both teams faced during the regular season and certainly during the Pac-12 tournament.
Consider this: Seven teams from the Pac-12 are projected to make the NCAA Tournament, which speaks to the depth of the conference.
Oregon earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with Sunday’s win, and Stanford is a lock to make the field, too. The two teams are likely be joined at the Big Dance by fellow Pac-12 representatives UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, California and USC.
So, yes, Oregon and Stanford have both been tested, night in and night out, during their Pac-12 schedules — and those rigorous challenges have presumably prepared the Ducks and Cardinal for whatever lies ahead. In other words, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, the Pac-12 is like New York: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
And finally, let’s talk experience. Again, both teams have plenty of it.
Stanford has six upperclassmen on the roster, several of whom played key roles last March when the Cardinal made a dramatic run to the Final Four. Oregon, likewise, has plenty of returnees from last year’s team that made a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed, knocking off No. 7-seed Temple, No. 2-seed Duke and and No. 3-seed Maryland along the way.
“The sky is limit for us as long as we stay healthy,” said Ionescu during a postgame interview on ESPN2 on Sunday night.
It’s hard to argue with her.
Oregon certainly seems poised for a long postseason run. And don’t be surprised if the Ducks run into Stanford again before the month is over.
Both teams seem made for March.