Oregon Ducks

Oregon head coach Kelly Graves sees similarities between 2017 and 2021 squads

Oregon Ducks
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In 2017, no one expected the youth-laden Oregon Ducks to make noise. 

The women's basketball team hadn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2005 and hadn't finished first in the conference since 2000. 

The Ducks were bottom feeders. But that was all about to change. 

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Oregon would put together an incredible season, surprising the entire college basketball world when freshman sensation Sabrina Ionescu helped lead them all the way to the Elite Eight. 

The Ducks lost to No.1 Notre Dame, 84-74, ending their improbable run, but the wheels were set in motion for a great future. 

The Ducks would be crowned conference champions three seasons in a row after the 2017 run and were favorites to win a national championship before COVID-19 put a halt to the 2020 season.

With Ionescu and players like Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard now departed, the Ducks knew this could be a down year. While they have taken their knocks, the Ducks still have a 13-6 record and hopes of a deep postseason run. 

For head coach Kelly Graves, a run would not be surprising because of how similar the 2021 squad is to the 2017 team that nearly shocked the college basketball world.

On the latest episode of Talkin' Ducks, host Jordan Kent asked Graves about those similarities. 

 

We were really young. We had seven freshmen that year, we have seven freshmen this year. The difference was people didn't expect us to play at a Top-10 level with those freshmen. We were still trying to grow a program.

Kelly Graves on 2017 vs 2020 teams

The biggest difference was the pressure put on that team. In 2017, no one gave the Ducks a chance. They got to play loose and free, with no fear of every single decision being nitpicked. Now, as one of the premier programs in the country, there is little room for error. 

"One of the big differences: Expectations," said Graves. "Not just external expectations -  we've spoiled our fans around here because we've been pretty good for a while - but internal. Everybody just expected because this is what we've done, that we're gonna win. There is no one on my team right now that has experience hardship, adversity... it's a new experience for us but that's why I think in the end it's gonna make us stronger." 

Like the 2017 team, all this squad needs to do is get all the pieces to fit and get hot at the right time. In order to do that they just have to keep at it. Keep pushing each other and find that consistency that can breed success. 

Consistency is key, and Coach Graves knows it. 

"Consistency. Not only in execution but in effort," Coach Graves said when asked what it would take to make a postseason run. "Just a belief that we are really good. That we're capable of beating anybody. That we're capable of making a deep run. Remember that group four years ago? No one expected us to get to an Elite Eight. We were a 10 seed going into the tournament. But they started to believe and then that belief led to better execution and the rest is history."

Coach Grave, ever the comedian, also drew a little light-hearted inspiration from an iconic Will Ferrell character. 

"I still think we're a really good shooting team. Like Jackie Moon said in Semi-Pro, 'we just gotta hit our threes.'"

Hit their threes, find their groove, and ride the wave like they did in 2017. 

The three years following that season were the best in Oregon history and this current team has a real chance to match that run in the years to come.