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Eugene Daily News
Alex Shoemaker

Oregon women’s basketball on same track as men’s team

Oregon women's basketball

Oregon women’s basketball – photo credit GoDucks.com

Fret not, Ducks fans. The future is indeed bright for Oregon athletics.

After an abysmal year for the University of Oregon football program, many have abruptly jumped ship and have dubbed Oregon as a “basketball school.” While I won’t go that far, there are certainly many reasons to be excited for hoops in Eugene.

Just look at the No. 7 Oregon men’s basketball team (No. 8 in USA Today Coaches Poll). At 22-4, 11-2 in Pac-12 Conference play, the Ducks have won 20 of their last 22 games after a rough 2-2 start to the season.

In short, it appears men’s basketball could very well be on its way to another elite eight appearance. Oregon has never made it that far in the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons.

Better yet, it’s not farfetched to start looking at the final four or even a national championship.

Sure it’s early. But damn have you seen Dillon Brooks and those young cats hoop it up?

As an avid fan of Oregon men’s basketball since the days of Luke, Luke and Freddy – for you younger fans, that’s Luke Jackson, Luke Ridnour and Freddy Jones; look them up NOW – this is the most exciting Ducks basketball I’ve ever watched.

Yes, this year’s Ducks team is more fun than 2006-07 with Aaron Brooks. Yes, it’s even more fun than last year’s squad.

As exciting as this season has already been, it’s unfortunate how much of a shadow the men’s program has cast on what’s been a breakthrough year for Oregon women’s basketball.

After a 7-1 start, the Ducks cracked the AP top 25 for the first time in 816 years (obviously that’s a joke, but it’s been so long I can’t even remember when they were last ranked) in the sixth release of the rankings back on Dec. 12 at No. 25.

The women only stayed ranked for a week, but they’ve flirted with that No. 25 spot for more than a month.

The Ducks (17-9, 7-7) sit in fifth place in the Pac-12 Conference standings. Aside from a home game against No. 10 Stanford on Feb. 26 in the regular season finale, Oregon’s other three remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings.

UCLA (18-7, 9-5) holds a two game advantage over the Ducks in the standings. The Bruins’ late stretch is slighter tougher than the Ducks with No. 9 Washington coming to So. Cal on Friday, followed by Wazzu and the Arizona schools.

Oregon almost certainly would have to upset Stanford and win out to finish ahead of UCLA. The top four conference teams earn a first round bye for the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Ducks are a favorable bubble team for the NCAA Tournament for now. But going 3-1 to end the regular season, finishing fifth and blasting the 12th-seeded team in the first round might just punch their ticket to the big dance.

Their last NCAA Women’s Tournament appearance was in 2005. They haven’t been close since.

Just three years removed from a 4-27, this run has been nothing short of miraculous. And it’s a shame it isn’t being hyped as such.

The Oregon men are grabbing all the headlines, but can’t we share a little love for the ladies?

Head coach Kelly Graves landed the women’s team a top-10 recruiting class last year – a first in Oregon hoops history, men’s or women’s – with five top 100 prospects.

Oregon women's basketball freshman Sabrina Ionescu

Oregon women’s basketball freshman Sabrina Ionescu- photo credit GoDucks.com

Headlining the group was the fourth best prospect in the nation, guard Sabrina Ionescu. As a freshman, Ionescu is averaging team best in minutes per game (30.8) and assists (5.7). She’s also second on the team in scoring with 13.9 per contest and rebounds at 7.1

Those are some gaudy numbers for someone who was just celebrating prom less than 10 months ago.

It doesn’t stop with Ionescu.

Oregon women's basketball freshman Ruthy Hebard

Oregon women’s basketball freshman Ruthy Hebard – photo credit GoDucks.com

Fellow freshman Ruthy Hebard, who was the No. 40 prospect in the 2016 class, might just be the crown jewel of that group.

Hebard has started in all but two games. She leads the team with 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

Let that sink in.

Oregon is loaded with young, talented players. Even if this team didn’t land a top 100 prospect in the 2017 class, it shouldn’t matter moving forward.

The Oregon women should be top contenders with the men for years to come. If you’re not already paying attention, it’s high time you start.

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