The News-Times

A new flock of Ducks

UConn will face a different Oregon team Monday

- By Maggie Vanoni

EUGENE, Ore. — Two years ago, a talented Oregon team came to Gampel Pavilion and made history against the UConn women’s basketball team.

The then-No. 3 Ducks defeated UConn, 74-56, for the Huskies’ first home loss in seven years and its worst home loss since 2005.

In front of a sellout crowd in Storrs, Oregon ran past UConn while maintainin­g at least a doubledigi­t lead for the majority of the game. Oregon led by as many as 21, and UConn couldn’t get closer than 12 in the second half.

Oregon was nearly unstoppabl­e that season after starting the year with a win over Team USA in an exhibition game. Led by Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, the team was the heavy favorite to the win national championsh­ip.

But it never happened. The Ducks’ bid for their first title vanished when the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the sports world and canceled games, tournament­s and seasons in March 2020. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was called off before it even began.

Fast-forward two years and the Huskies and the Ducks meet again, this time at Matthew Knight Arena. But the team UConn will face Monday (5 p.m., ESPN2) hasn’t quite had the same power it once did.

After the departures of Ionescu (the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2020), Sabally (No. 2 overall pick) and Hebard (No. 8 overall pick), Oregon was 15-9 last year and lost to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Oregon started this season ranked No. 10 in the country, but the Ducks (9-5) fell out of the Associated Press poll on Dec. 6 and are still unranked.

UConn (9-3) is also a different team than it was two years ago, traveling to Oregon as the No. 10 team. But the sting of that February 2020 game remains for the Huskies.

“It’s definitely a memory that I keep with me,” UConn senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa said with a grin following a win over Xavier on Saturday. “We just have to stay locked in, especially mentally, that’s where it begins, and we just basically go in and do what we do.”

The only two players left on

Oregon’s roster from 2020 are redshirt juniors Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally — both sat out the UConn game because of an injury and NCAA transfer rules. Sabally leads the Ducks in scoring (16.4 points per game). At 6-foot-7, Prince leads the team with 17 blocks this season.

Oregon was plagued by injuries before the holiday break, including the loss of starting point guard TeHina Paopao. With the majority of those players back, Oregon has gone 3-1 to start the new year, despite losing Prince last week to COVID.

Monday’s matchup with UConn will be the Ducks’ third meeting in the past few weeks against a team that played in last year’s Final Four. Oregon lost to reigning national champion and No. 2-ranked Stanford on Jan. 7 before upsetting last year’s runner-up, seventh-ranked Arizona on Saturday.

“They’ve kinda been like everyone else too, right?” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “Lot of ups and down, lots of injuries, lot of people out, not knowing who’s going to be in the

lineup. Apparently, they’ve gotten healthier. I don’t know what to expect from them because I don’t know who exactly is going to be 100 percent. But they’re always good out there. They always shoot the ball great. They’ve got tremendous size.

“Obviously, they’re one of the best teams in the country when they’re 100 percent. If they’re 100 percent on Monday, it’s going to be a really tough assignment for us. Heck, if they’re 80 percent Monday, it’s going to be tough. But it’s supposed to be.”

UConn seniors NelsonOdod­a and Christyn Williams and junior Aubrey Griffin are the only players left from the 2019-20 Huskies. While Griffin will miss the rest of the season due to back surgery, Williams and Nelson-Ododa have stepped up the past week at both ends of the court.

The Huskies have also had their share of injuries. While Nika Muhl returned last week and has started two games since recovering from a foot injury, UConn remains without star sophomore Paige Bueckers and freshman Azzi Fudd.

“Geno, he’s always gone with kinda a shallow bench anyway. Even on his best

teams, he’ll play six or seven,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “But obviously Azzi and Paige are really important pieces, but nobody’s crying for him. He’s got pretty good players.”

UConn will do the crosscount­ry flight Sunday as the Huskies visit senior Evina Westbrook’s home state. UConn leads the all-time series 3-1, winning 95-51 in Eugene on Dec. 31, 2012.

The teams also met in the 2017 NCAA Tournament regional at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, with UConn winning 90-51.

“UConn is the program by which every program is judged. Not just in women’s basketball, but even men’s basketball,” Graves said. “It’s obviously a huge game, it’s one that everybody has circled right from the start. It’s kinda unfortunat­e that neither team will be at our best when that game occurs. They’re injured a little bit, and we’re just coming back from that.

“So it’s not the game I think a lot of people anticipate­d when they first put it on the schedule. But nonetheles­s, it’s still going to be a big game for us, for our fans.”

 ?? Jessica Hill / Associated Press ?? Oregon’s Minyon Moore, right, shoots as UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa, left, and Christyn Williams defend on Feb. 3, 2020, in Storrs. UConn and Oregon meet again Monday in Eugene, Ore.
Jessica Hill / Associated Press Oregon’s Minyon Moore, right, shoots as UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa, left, and Christyn Williams defend on Feb. 3, 2020, in Storrs. UConn and Oregon meet again Monday in Eugene, Ore.
 ?? John Hefti / Associated Press ?? Oregon coach Kelly Graves acknowledg­es that while UConn’s Geno Auriemma is missing “really important pieces” in the injured Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers, still, “nobody’s crying for him.”
John Hefti / Associated Press Oregon coach Kelly Graves acknowledg­es that while UConn’s Geno Auriemma is missing “really important pieces” in the injured Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers, still, “nobody’s crying for him.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States