After Maryland’s big second round win over West Virginia, many college basketball fans expected a Sweet 16 matchup between former ACC bitter rivals—Maryland vs. Duke.
Instead, the 10th-seeded Oregon Ducks pulled one of the most surprising upsets of the tournament, defeating No. 2 seed Duke 74-65 at Cameron Indoor to earn a matchup with No. 3 seed Maryland in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“We’re definitely very familiar with Duke’s system, style of play and personnel, so you’re starting from scratch [with Oregon], not knowing personnel or the system,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “[We are] just watching a lot of film to prepare for them.”
The film on the Ducks, who come into the game with a 22-13 overall record, will start with what they were able to do to pull off the upset over Duke.
“[Oregon] shot the ball extremely well,” Frese said. “Duke played zone the entire game, so they were able to knock down a lot of really easy open shots with what they were doing. They were physical [and] I thought they were really aggressive in terms of their mentally. It’s a heck of a win to be able to step in on someone else’s home court and be able to go get a win.”
It was quite an impressive victory, and the Ducks knocked down 3-pointers at key times in the game to hold off the Blue Devils. Oregon made only 9 of 26 shots from long range, but was 5-for-12 in second half en route to securing the upset victory.
Four of those 3-pointers in the second half came from junior guard Lexi Bando, a 45.7 percent 3-point shooter, who is a rare veteran on an otherwise-inexperienced Oregon team. Along with Bando, the Ducks start three freshmen and a sophomore, and head coach Kelly Graves has given the reigns to his young team all season.
That move by Graves reminded Frese of a very special team she coached just 11 years ago.
“I liken [Oregon] to our 2006 National Championship team in the sense that they just don’t know any better,” Frese said. “They’re playing free, there’s no anxiousness of what’s out ahead because this is the furthest they’ve ever gone. There is something to be said when you don’t put pressure on yourself to perform.”
The three freshmen in the starting lineup have accounted for 63 percent of Oregon’s scoring in the tournament so far. The best performer of the bunch has been guard Sabrina Ionescu, who was named ESPNW’s National Freshman of the Year. She is averaging 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, and recorded an NCAA freshman record four triple-doubles this season.
“[Our freshmen] talk a lot about her and how good she was when they were playing in AAU,” Terps senior Brionna Jones said. “She’s an amazing player and we’re just excited to be able to play in that matchup.”
Ionescu can score from anywhere, and has shot 81.3 percent from the free throw line and 40.9 percent from 3-point range. Although she will be an offensive threat toward Maryland’s guards, the Terps have two guards in Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Kaila Charles who have proven that they can cover any guard in the country.
Oregon’s other dominant offensive freshman is forward Ruthy Hebard, who averages 14.9 points per game and shoots 60.5 percent from the floor. The 6-foot-4 post player has averaged 21.5 points and 11 rebounds through the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, and made the game-winning shot with seven seconds remaining in Oregon’s 71-70 first-round victory over Temple.
Hebard will be another test inside for Jones, but the Maryland center has held her own all season against some of the best post players in the nation. Jones is averaging 20 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and her 69.8 percent shooting mark from the field leads the nation.
Jones recorded 22 points and 11 rebounds in Maryland’s 83-56 second round win over West Virginia and Walker-Kimbrough, her fellow senior, added 19 points. The two have been the go-to offensive weapons for the Terps this season, and may give Frese’s senior-led team an advantage over the freshmen-led Ducks.
“I hope it shows that our experience wins out in those battles,” Frese said. “We definitely want to take advantage of our experience. I think Shatori and Bri really thrive with the pressure.”
Although the Terps may rely on their seniors, this matchup will feature two of the youngest teams in the country. Oregon and Maryland are the only two teams in the NCAA tournament who start at least two freshmen. Nonetheless, Frese has full confidence in her group winning that first-year battle.
“I’m really confident in them … they’ve done remarkably well,” Frese said.
With the Terps taking on a No. 10 seed in the Sweet 16, many people around the game can’t help but think about a possible rematch with No. 1 UConn. However, every member of this Maryland team will assure you that they aren’t looking ahead at all.
“We’re not really focusing on UConn,” Terps freshman Kaila Charles said. “As we can see, anything can happen [and] we don’t know if we’re going to play UConn. Right now, we’re just focusing on the Oregon game and just playing our game, and hopefully being successful and getting out of that round to meet the next opponent.”
The game between the Terps and Ducks will tip off at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport Connecticut. The matchup can be seen on ESPN.
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