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NCAAW Final Four Preview: Oregon faces Baylor with historic tournament run on the line

While the Lady Bears are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2012, the Ducks are in the national semifinal for the first time ever.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Portland Regional-Oregon vs Mississippi State
Fresh off a day of receiving some new individual hardware, Sabrina Ionescu’s next goal is to lead Oregon to its first national championship game.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu received her second Nancy Lieberman Award, which goes to the nation’s top point guard, and the Wade Trophy, which recognizes the best all-around Division I women’s basketball player.

Today, Ionescu looks to guide her team to its first-ever national championship game — during its first-ever Final Four appearance.

Although the Ducks have never won a game against any of the teams left in the NCAA Tournament, including an 0-3 mark against Baylor, they also hadn’t done a lot of other things before Ionescu (and her teammates) came to campus. From their first outright Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles last season to Ionescu’s growing wealth of individual accolades, the Ducks have truly arrived on the national stage.

But while Baylor isn’t a Final Four mainstay like the teams on the other side of the bracket (Notre Dame and UConn), it does have experience that the Ducks don’t. The Lady Bears are 4-1 all-time in their Final Four appearances, with their most recent one coming as part of their 42-0 season in 2012.

It’s an all-new cast of players on both sides, of course, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a certain mentality on Baylor’s side pushing it toward continued dominance. Consider, also, that Oregon’s own 2011-12 season ended with a 15-16 record. While none of the Lady Bears have won a national title before, head coach Kim Mulkey has, and she’s eager to show them what it’s like to win it all.

What to watch for: offense, defense, individual stardom

Looking at it one way, tonight’s game should be a high-scoring affair. Oregon ranks third in the nation in points per game to Baylor’s seventh, both averaging over 80 points. The Ducks’ last game saw them hit 88 points to outscore the nation’s second-best offensive team, Mississippi State, while Baylor hung up 85 points in their own Elite Eight game.

That said, Baylor ranks 10th in scoring defense, allowing 54.6 points per game on an NCAA-best 31.3 percent field-goal percentage defense. Against Iowa, the Lady Bears allowed just 53 points on 32.1 percent shooting — right at their averages.

Both teams also have plenty of individual high scorers, with each seeing four players hit double figures in their most recent games. DiDi Richards, especially, has had a strong last few games for Baylor. After averaging 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds for the season up through the California game in the second round, Richards has amassed a 25-point, 6-rebound game against South Carolina and a 16-point, 10-rebound effort against Iowa.

Richards’ next big challenge will likely be shutting down Ionescu, whose own tournament performance featured her 18th career triple-double against Indiana among her four straight double-digit scoring efforts. Of course, those are just Ionescu’s four latest double-digit scoring efforts, as she’s hit that mark in all 37 of Oregon’s games this season.

Which team will break their national championship game-less rut and advance? The No. 1 overall seed can never be counted out, especially with the talent they possess. But an underdog with all the tools to take down the nation’s best cannot be overlooked, either.

NCAAW Tournament — Final Four (Game 1)

No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears vs. No. 2 Oregon Ducks

When: Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN2

NCAAW National Championship

When: Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN, WatchESPN

More ways to watch the games

Want to watch in person? Final Four tickets can be found here.