Final Four: Oregon Ducks Stand Out In All The Right Ways

Sabrina Ionescu drives against Arizona State.Justin Phillips/KPNW Sports
Sabrina Ionescu drives against Arizona State.Justin Phillips/KPNW Sports /

This past Sunday, the Oregon Ducks earned a spot in the Final Four for the first time in the history of the program.

When asked on Tuesday morning about this milestone, Head Coach Kelly Graves said, “I don’t know if it was Sesame Street or Electric Station, one of those shows where ‘one of the these is not like the other.” Now, there’s no doubt that Graves believes in his team, but he’s also not going to ignore the fact that the sport of NCAA women’s basketball has long been dominated by a severe lack of parity.

But the Ducks have broken through, all the same.

They did it after three-straight historic runs to the Elite Eight.

They did it in front of 11,000+ rabid fans at the Moda Center.

They did it after spending 40 minutes trading knockout punch after knockout punch with the ultra-talented, ultra-experienced Mississippi State.

They did it while playing their signature unselfish and high-powered brand of basketball.

Graves should give his team some more credit.

Graves is an elite recruiter that has assembled the most talented group of individuals from across the world, and has helped them become a team that can beat you in so many different ways. He brought in the Sabally sisters from Germany. Cazorla from Spain. Yaeger from Australia. And he even managed to reel in Ruthy all the way from the frozen tundra of Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Oregon Ducks are the most entertaining team in the country when they get rolling. If you haven’t seen Sabrina and Ruthy run the pick-n-roll, then you haven’t seen Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played. Kobe and I have personally said that phrase so many times on twitter and in real-life that you’d think their two-man game is world-renowned (along with Oti and Boley, their FIBA 3X3 World Cup teammates).

Their ability to move the ball throughout the paint is contagious too— especially on Sunday— because even as Mississippi State sold out to keep the ball away from Sabrina, the Ducks just came back with the combos of Satou/Ruthy, Boley/Satou, and Maite/Oti. Possession after possession, the Ducks showed off just how complete of a team they are.

The ball movement in the paint was absolutely integral to getting around the Bulldogs’ All-American Center Teaira McCowan. McCowan is 6’7” and a future first-round WNBA draft pick/Olympian, and the Ducks handled her on both sides of the ball. But if you thought McCowan was trouble, Baylor makes that double.

The Ducks opponent tonight in Tampa Bay, Baylor, boasts the best front court duo in the country with Kalani Brown (6’7”) and Lauren Cox (6’4”). Baylor is the number one overall seed in the tournament, and the Bears are on track to establish themselves as the new superpower in women’s basketball.

But don’t tell that to Sabrina and the Ducks.

Sabrina is the player of the year. She played like that and more as she hit a Curry-like step back dagger to help send the Ducks to Tampa Bay. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’s going to show up and show out for her team tonight. There’s also no doubt in my mind that I’d join 4,300+ other fans in paying a bad amount of money for a number 20 jersey. She will be a problem for Baylor, and whoever else gets in her way, and that’s just how she likes it.

The Oregon Ducks come into the Final Four as the most “inexperienced” of the last teams standing, but that’s only because they’re joined by top-seeded Baylor, Notre Dame (2018 National Champion), UConn (UConn). During their 2017 and 2018 Elite Eight runs, the Ducks fell to a then still-dominant UConn, and a buzzer beater-happy Notre Dame, respectively.

It’s no mystery to Oregon, or to the rest of the sports world, that they are the odd one out as far as blue-blood pedigrees go.

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Each of the three other coaches have multiple national championships, and they will all most likely enter the Hall of Fame at the end of their careers. But whether the rest of the nation is ready to admit it yet, the Ducks presence in Tampa Bay is proof that they have finally pushed their way into the oligarchy at the top.

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to show off just how electric, dynamic, and downright dangerous they are. They’ll prove that the top of the sport will continue to expand, and that the road to the Final Four will run through Eugene for years to come.

At first glance, Coach Graves thinks that the Final Four could look like “one of these things is not like the other,” and he’s right about that.

There isn’t another team in Tampa that boasts the greatest collection international talent in the world.

Neither Notre Dame, UConn, nor Baylor, have the entire roster of the USA 3×3 World Cup team on their side.

And there’s only one team in Tampa that is lead by Sabrina Ionescu.

The Oregon Ducks don’t look like anyone else in the Final Four.

They just might look better.

Oregon Faces Baylor at 4 pm Pacific Time Friday.