Eugene, Ore. -- Following a Pac-12 Tournament championship loss to Stanford, Oregon women's basketball is aiming to "get their mojo back", as head coach Kelly Graves says. The Ducks were given a no. 2 seed in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament, and were placed in the Portland Regional, opposite Mississippi State, the top seed in that corner of the bracket. Eugene will also be a host venue for the first two rounds of the tournament, starting with Texas vs. Indiana and Oregon vs. Portland State.
"I know the kids look at the picture and I know what we're chasing and the kids don't hide from that" , says Graves. "You try to pump the kids in practice and so they see a little bit of success there. We're still a good team. Listen, we're 29-4. I know people think that it's the end of the world, that we lost that game. We're 29-4 , we're one of those teams that's at least in the discussion to get to Tampa and win it all, and we're not gonna shy away from that".
The Ducks will also be coming into the opening rounds a little bit healthier than they were in the Pac-12 Tournament. Senior guard Maite Cazorla was battling illness through the Ducks time in Las Vegas, while freshman guard Taylor Chavez is still recovering from a foot injury. While Graves says Cazorla is back to 100 percent, Chavez might take awhile before she is ready to go this season. Everyone else on the team is healthy, ready and, despite less roster depth than last year, are ready for a run.
"Taylor's better. She's still not 100 percent, she still hasn't practiced yet so still up in the air where she's gonna be", Graves mentions. "I'm confident at some point she'll be back this season. I don't think health is gonna be an issue".
Portland State, the 15 seed and Big Sky Tournament champion, haven't faced the Ducks since the 2016-2017, where the Vikings lost to the Ducks in the non-conference season. PSU, who finished the year 25-7, defeated the Big Sky's top team, Idaho, en route to their first tournament berth since 2010.
"I think Coach Kennedy's done an awesome job there. They've had some growing pains but they're starting to see the fruits of their labor" , Graves says. "I know they like to zone and they're real effective with it. Idaho is one of the best three point shooting teams in the country and I know they really struggled in that semifinal game".
But with all of the hype and excitement around the tournament, there is a shadow cast by Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, who has been projected throughout the entire season as a top pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft. The Draft occurs one week after the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament, and with Ionescu's name coming up so much over the last couple of months, questions about whether or not she will take the leap and go pro have gotten louder. Graves doesn't believe that it matters right now, seeing as how the focus is on winning an NCAA Title first.
"Nope" , answers Graves. "And I don't think she does either. I don't think that's on her mind. She wants this team to go as far as they possibly can, I know that's what's at the front of her mind".
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