Buckle up, this is gonna be fun: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Oregon
Tonight-- A game for the ages
Basketball fans, you are in for a real treat tonight. Not just one but two incredible women’s NCAA March Madness games tonight. The second, your No. 2 seeded Oregon Ducks face the Spokane regional No. 1 seeded Notre Dame Irish in what will be an intense battle from start to finish.
Why you may ask? Because of what is at stake: a trip to the Final Four, a first in program history for the Oregon Ducks with a win tonight.
But to get there, the Ducks have a huge task that lies ahead: the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who have earned that No. 1 seed for many reasons.
Here’s how each team got this far…
Fighting is in their name
No. 1 Notre Dame, lead by its junior class of guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale and forward Jessica Shepard, is ranked No. 5 overall by ESPN, is 32-3 on the season, and finished second in the ACC conference with a 15-1 conference record, only losing to Louisville who finished No. 1 in the conference.
The Irish cruised to the ACC tournament championship game to face Louisville once again. What looked like to be the time the Irish would finally take down the Cardinal, they came up two points short losing 74-72. A strong showing in the rest of the conference, Louisville earning the No. 1 seed in the Lexington region of March Madness, which ended up in favor of Notre Dame earning the Irish the No. 1 seed in the Spokane region.
Notre Dame cruised past the first two rounds at home with a 99-81 win over Cal St. Northridge, the junior's totaling 77 of those 99 points. Notre Dame then faced No. 9 Villanova in round two and again cruised to a 98-72 victory, 64 points combined coming from the junior trio. Round three, however, would be a bit more challenging for this high-scoring offensive Irish team in the Sweet 16. Notre Dame faced a surging No. 4 Texas A&M team lead by one talented freshman. It was a close game until the Irish pulled away late, defeating the Aggies 90-84 and advancing to the Elite 8.
Ducks flying, firing on all cylinders
If you have watched or heard anything about the Oregon Ducks this season (or even last season), you have probably heard of Sabrina Ionescu. A player that is turning heads with every time she steps onto the court. A player that gives 110% effort 24/7. A player who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year this season. A player who was announced today to the AP All-American First-Team. A player who holds the record for most career triple-doubles in the NCAA.... and she is only a sophomore.
How might you say the Ducks got this far into the March Madness tournament? Ionescu. But this deep tournament run doesn't end with Ionescu. On the court beside her is sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard who is a force down low. Hebard has recorded three double-double's this post-season alone and can get it done on both sides of the court.
Besides this dynamic duo, junior guard Maite Cazorla may be the Ducks' best on-ball defender, freshman Satou Sabally who was this season's Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, senior hot-shooter Lexi Bando playing in her final college tournament, and a deep bench for head coach Kelly Graves.
The Ducks breezed by the first two home games at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon and headed off to Spokane for the Sweet 16 to face No. 11 Central Michigan. Oregon stuck to the game plan, fed Hebard down low all game long, and cruised to a 83-69 victory.
On to No. 1 Notre Dame in the Elite 8.
Who: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Oregon
What: NCAA March Madness, Elite 8
When: 6 PM tipoff
Where: Spokane, WA
Guards: It all starts with Mabrey at the guard spot for Notre Dame. She is averaging 13.1 points per game as she is the one to get the offense rolling and control the pace. Ogunbowale is the other guard for the Irish averaging 15.7 points per game. On the other side, Oregon is lead by its triple-double queen (the NCAA record-holder to be precise with 10 career triple-doubles) sophomore Sabrina Ionescu, and junior Maite Cazorla who is their primary ball handler and arguably the best on-ball defender for the Ducks.
It will be interesting to see who controls the pace early on in this game.
Down low: What a battle on the inside. 6' 4" Hebard vs. 6' 4" Shepard. Sophomore vs. Junior. Hebard coming into tonight averaging 17.6 points per game and one rebounds, one rebounds shy of averaging a double-double. Shepard recorded a double-double on Saturday evening against Texas A&M with 13 points and 10 rebounds.