Oregon women play big, beat Georgia
Given the way the Oregon women's basketball team has struggled against quick, aggressive defenses this season, the Georgia Lady Bulldogs figured to be a tough matchup in the second round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
But, against a senior-led Georgia team, it was the Ducks (15-8) who executed when it mattered most in a 57-50 win at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday, March 24. Oregon advances to the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive tournament and will face No. 2 seed Louisville (25-3) at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN in the Alamo bracket semifinal.
Sedona Prince had a monster game for Oregon, and fellow redshirt sophomore Nyara Sabally scored on three consecutive possessions down the stretch to turn a tie game into a six-point Oregon lead.
The 6-7 Prince finished with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting and was the go-to person on several key possessions, including a layup off a Maddie Scherr feed with 3:54 on the clock that put Oregon up one after Georgia erased a seven-point deficit to take its only lead of the second half.
Then, with the Lady Bulldogs working to keep Prince away from the basket, it was the 6-5 Sabally's turn. Sabally was aggressive inside in scoring at the basket on three consecutive possessions as the Ducks went up six with 49 seconds left.
"Nyara and I talked before the fourth quarter and said, 'We're going to go to the Sweet 16 our first year,'" said Prince, who had eight points, four rebounds and three blocked shots in the final 10-minute period.
Only four players scored for Oregon. Sabally finished with 15 points, Taylor Mikesell 11 and Erin Boley nine. But the starter who didn't score was every bit as vital to the Ducks advancing.
Freshman Maddie Scherr, starting her second game at point guard for injured freshman Te-Hina Paopao, had six assists and was a disruptor at the top of Oregon's zone defense. The Ducks survived their own 18 turnovers by forcing the Lady Bulldogs into 14, five of them steals by Scherr.
"You play in the NCAA Tournament, it comes down to defense. It comes down to getting stops. And we've struggled, especially down the stretch, to do that," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. "I'm so proud of our team. We've given up (only) 47 and 50 points in our first two rounds."
The Ducks shot 45.8% and made 5 of 12 3-pointers compared to 1-of-13 3-point shooting by the Lady Bulldogs.
The third quarter has at times been a stumbling point for Oregon this season, but not Wednesday. The Ducks limited Georgia to six points in the third quarter and took a seven-point lead into the fourth.
The Lady Bulldogs scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to tighten the gap, and eventually went ahead 45-44 on a steal and layup by Mikayla Coombs with 4:21 remaining.
Neither team led by more than seven in a game dominated by defenses.
Ultimately, Oregon's ability to get good looks inside late and to make Georgia work for looks at the other end decided the game. Oregon was 5 of 6 down the stretch, while the Lady Bulldogs were 1 of their last eight, including missing their last five over the final 2:34.
Jenna Staiti, a 6-4 senior, tried to keep Georgia's season going by scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The Lady Bulldogs struggled to score from half-court offense as the long arms of Oregon's active 2-3 defense made open looks difficult to find.
It was a 16-7 edge in fast-break points that kept Georgia in the game.
The Ducks used an 11-2 run in the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a three-point lead, and the game was tied at halftime despite eight Ducks turnovers.
Prince kept the Ducks close early, scoring seven of Oregon's 10 points in the first quarter.
Oregon made four 3-pointers in the second quarter, helping to counter Georgia's 14-8 advantage in the paint.
"This was a big win," Graves said. "Georgia's a heck of a team. A heck of a team. And our Ducks did it, they came through."
Graves noted that Prince performed well after entering the spotlight by using social media to question why the weight room at the women's tournament was significantly smaller than what men's teams were given — and sparking a national discussion about inequities in women's sports.
The coach also noted that the weight of expectations on a team with nine new players, the pandemic and injuries all made for a challenging season.
"It's great redemption. I think the whole time they did believe in themselves, they believed in each other. I'm really happy for them. I'm so proud of them." Graves said. "It's just not been an easy ride and we're still playing so I feel so good about that."
• Oregon is one of three Pac-12 teams to reach the Sweet 16. Stanford, the No. 1 seed in the Alamo bracket, will face No. 5 seed Missouri State on Sunday. the winner there will face the Oregon-Louisville winner in the Alamo regional final.
Arizona beat BYU on Wednesday and will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M on Saturday.
UCLA, a No. 3 seed, lost to No. 6 seed Texas in the second round on Wednesday.
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