Perhaps the team with the most disappointment and sense of “what could have been,” the 2019-2020 Oregon Women’s Basketball team will always wonder if they would have been able to complete their unfinished business.
All the pieces were in place, as this was their year. Plain and simple. It is a tragedy that this team and these players did not get a chance to complete their magical season (and careers) the way it was supposed to happen: with a National Championship.
The motto of this team was “Unfinished Business.” They had been there before, with back-to-back Elite Eight trips, followed by a Final Four, this was the season they got over the hump.
They were a group on a mission. Winners of 31 games, with 12 (over 1/3) of those wins being over ranked opponents. Not to mention a victory over Team USA in an exhibition game before the season. They were more than ready to take on any team that challenged them in the Tournament.
So, with the Lady Ducks unable to complete their Unfinished Business, I thought I would take a swing to see if this team could have done it. But first, I feel I should add that in a recent interview Kelly Graves said that Nyara Sabally, who has been injured with torn ACL’s the past two seasons, had the potential to return for the NCAA Tournament.
While we wouldn’t have been able to expect too much from Nyara Sabally, having not played for almost two years, her skill and size, even for short periods of time would have been a big boost to the Ducks. Not only that, but with Satou Sabally declaring for the WNBA Draft, it would have given the sisters a chance to play together at Oregon for the first time.
However, I digress, let’s get back to the hypothetical of the NCAA Tournament.
To begin, with the having played their first two games at home, then the next two rounds in Portland, I think it is safe to say that the Ducks would have cruised through the Sweet Sixteen rather handily. Where I think the competition would ramp up would be in the Elite Eight, where most projections for the Tournament had UCONN playing in the West region against our Ducks.
In a rematch of their February showdown, I would have expected the Huskies to put up a much bigger fight the second time around. Since their first meeting, UCONN has shot up (pun somewhat intended) the leaderboards to become the number one three point shooting team in the country at 39.9%.
While I would expect a much closer game, I think the Ducks would still come out on top by a margin of around eight to twelve points. The biggest key would be the play of Oregon’s bench. In the first matchup, the Ducks bench played only 27 minutes, and accounted for zero points. The reserve players, most notably Jaz Shelley and Taylor Chavez, had been consistently producing during the final stretch of the regular season and would have played bigger roles in this game, leading to an Oregon victory.
Combining the bench to go along with the fact that the Ducks are the more talented team, and the game would have been played in Portland, we would have seen the Ducks reach their second straight Final Four. While most likely setting up a rematch of last years semifinals with Baylor.
Just like last season, this would be another difficult, back and forth matchup between the Ducks and the Bears. Once again, Baylor is a tall, long and athletic team. This is a game where I think the return of Nyara Sabally would have made a big impact for Oregon. Another body inside would give Ruthy Hebard much needed help with the frontline of the Bears.
The difference in the game would be Satou Sabally. In last years matchup, Sabally was only able to play 22 minutes because of foul trouble. Her ability to create mismatches and stretch the floor would give the Ducks the edge. While it would be an extremely close and competitive game, I think the Ducks would escape with a late game win.
Going into the National Championship game, I would have expected South Carolina to be the Ducks opponent. As good as Oregon was all season, the Gamecocks may have been just as good. Of their 32 wins, 13 of them were against top 25 teams. Beating UCONN, Maryland and Baylor by an average of 14 points.
However, what they don’t have is the two-time National Player of the year in Sabrina Ionescu. This is the type of stage, and the type of game where star players shine, and I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest Women’s College Basketball players of all time.
Ionescu would let nothing stop her or her team from finishing their business and winning the first National Championship in program history. It would have been the perfect ending to a storybook career, and what possibly could be the first of many championships for the Lady Ducks.
What this team has done over the past four seasons should not be taken for granted. Just because they were not able to finish it on their terms, doesn’t mean they haven’t completely changed and sparked Women’s basketball at Oregon. They have started something special here, and I fully expected the next group to continue on their legacy.
Coach Alex Nordstrand
Top Photo From Twitter
Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.
Alex is a lifelong Duck fan living in Eugene who goes to every Football and Basketball game that he can, and appreciates his wife for putting up with him during those seasons. Sports have always been his biggest passion, having played and coached Basketball at the High School level. He hopes to bring a unique and deeper understanding of both the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams at Oregon, and looks forward to nerding out with everyone while writing and talking Ducks!
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