Coming into this weekend’s fixtures, Oregon women’s basketball had Monday night’s game against UCLA locked in its sights.
Win or lose, there would be emotions after the game: The team would honor seniors Lexi Bando and Justine Hall during Senior Day ceremonies. Head coach Kelly Graves said it was arguably the biggest game in the Ducks’ history. With a national TV audience watching on ESPN2, future NCAA seedings and the conference title on the line, Graves wasn’t wrong.
“I wish I drank, I’d already grab a beer,” Graves said following Oregon’s 101-94 nail-biting overtime win over UCLA on Monday night.
With the win, the Ducks now sit alone at the top of the conference and have a Pac-12 regular season title within reach. Almost a year removed from going 8-10 in conference play with a freshman-heavy team that made a run to the Elite Eight, this year’s Ducks now have the chance to finish 16-2 in the Pac-12.
“Nobody saw that run coming but I think it just gave us a ton of confidence, especially these two,” Graves said. “And I’ve always felt that players improve the most between their freshmen and sophomore years — they certainly did that. I think it was the perfect storm last year and it just helped propel us.”
On Thursday, No. 9 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA and No. 14 Stanford were all tied at the top of the Pac-12 standings. Then the Bruins fell at No. 15 Oregon State while the Cardinal fell to Cal on Friday. With wins against USC on Friday and UCLA on Monday, the Ducks would grab sole possession of the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Oregon pulled it off with a close double-overtime win against USC on Friday followed by the Monday night win over the Bruins in front of 7,098 fans.
“It was electric. We needed them tonight,” Graves said.” I thought down the stretch they gave us a huge lift especially late in the game and into overtime. I heard them. There was a couple times I think sound actually had feel. That’s pretty neat.”
That feeling might return to Matthew Knight Arena if the Ducks earn the right to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in just over a month’s time.
“This was a great showcase, you guys,” Graves said. “A great national showcase for our fans, our program, for this team.”
The Ducks, now No. 8 in the AP Poll, knew they needed to beat the No. 10 Bruins to get themselves perched atop the standings. They’ve done that.
They still have to beat Arizona State and Arizona on the road, who can both easily play the role of spoiler. But Oregon has a found groove.
Oregon will still travel to Seattle a week from Thursday for the Pac-12 Tournament. There are still two games to play but the Ducks can taste the Pac-12 regular season title, which Oregon last won back when it was still the Pac-10 in 2000.
Now, 18 years later, that title is on track to return.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow
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