Funny, this doesn’t feel like the junior half of the Spokane Regional bracket.
Oregon owns two lopsided wins this year over Texas A&M and Central Michigan just won the biggest game in school history last weekend at Ohio State.
In that context, tradition doesn’t mean much and there’s only one certainty on Saturday at the Arena: The winner of this unlikely Ducks-Chippewas game will be one step from the Final Four.
Never mind that of Oregon’s nine all-time NCAA Tournament wins, five have come in the last two seasons, and that CMU hadn’t reached the second round until last weekend.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves appreciates how far the Ducks have come.
Four years ago, he took over a broken program. Now Oregon is coming off its first Pac-12 Tournament title, and holds a No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional with a 32-4 record and one of the most exciting players in the nation in sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu.
Graves, who won a dozen NCAA games as a double-digit seed at Oregon and Gonzaga, said he’s the last person to take anything for granted against the 11th-seeded Chippewas.
“Yeah, I mean, this is a formidable team,” Graves said Friday. “They’re an 11 seed, but it’s in number only. This is a much better team than that.
“They’ve obviously shown that.”
CMU is enjoying its best season. The Chippewas (30-4) have won 10 straight, capped by NCAA wins over LSU and Ohio State, the latter by 17 points.
Asked about the Ducks, CMU coach Sue Guevara said, “I think we match up pretty well with them.”
A few minutes later on the Arena floor, Guevara had the Chippewas shooting 3-pointers – hundreds of them, it seemed. That’s what they do best: Central Michigan took 804 long-range shots this year, 12th most in the nation.
The Chippewas’ accuracy was even better – 38.8 percent, ninth best in Division I. Guard Presley Hudson is so prolific and so accurate (122 for 275, or 44.4 percent) that Guevara talked about “Presley Hudson range.”
For Hudson, that means “anywhere I feel comfortable. In the game sometimes the hoop feels close than what it really is.”
Micaela Kelly (39.6 percent) and Cassie Breen (38.6) figure to add to Oregon’s challenges on the perimeter, while 6-foot-3 forward Tinara Moore averages a team-high 18.9 points and 6-footer Reyna Frost pulls down 11.8 rebounds.
CMU lacks depth, with five Chippewas averaging at least 31 minutes.
Oregon counters with an uptempo half-court offense that Graves believes is difficult to play against if you don’t have a bench.
“We get up and down the floor OK, but I think in the half-court, we make you guard. … I think over the course of a 40-minute game, that can be difficult,” Graves said.
Oregon’s biggest weapon is national player of the year candidate Sabrina Ionescu, who averages almost eight assists and seven boards along with a team-high 19.6 points.
“She makes them go, there is no doubt about that,” Guevara said. “But you know, I think we’re going to do some things to disrupt the flow of Oregon’s offense.”
The Ducks have four other double-digit scorers in Ruthy Hebard (17.5 points along with a team-high 8.8 rebounds), Maite Cazorla and Satou Sabally.
Keys to the game
Oregon: All five players must be active in defending the perimeter.
CMU: Find a way to disrupt Oregon’s flow in the halfcourt.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.