BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Oregon coach Kelly Graves planned a trip with his family in January to watch the men’s Final Four next week.
It couldn’t have worked out better for the Ducks women’s basketball coach that his former school Gonzaga and his current one have already qualified for the national semifinals in Arizona.
That was until his 10th-seeded team started winning its own NCAA Tournament games.
Now the Ducks stand one win away from their first trip to the Final Four.
For that to happen, they would have to pull off one of the greatest upsets in women’s basketball history, knocking off No. 1 UConn on Monday night in the Bridgeport Regional final.
“I tell you, I wouldn’t mind if I had that problem and had to miss the men’s Final Four,” Graves said smiling. “I’d gladly take the hit financially.”
Graves knows his team will need to be at its best to pull off the win.
“It’s going to take our absolute best. There’s no doubt about it, and we’ve got to play for 40 minutes,” he said. “You know, watching them play and what Coach Auriemma has done is incredible. It truly is. I think they’ve set a standard that is good for our sport.”
His young team, led by three freshmen, has played with a nothing-to-lose attitude in upset wins over No. 7 seed Temple, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland. Facing the Huskies, who have won 110 straight games doesn’t seem to change that.
“We’ve played against top-ranked teams and we’ve been down. I think we have six or seven wins from coming from down in the fourth quarter,” freshmen Sabrina Ionescu said. “So, we’re pretty used to doing that. But, we’ve made it this far by not being nervous, so I don’t see why UConn would make us extra nervous.”
The Huskies will be trying for a 10th consecutive trip to the Final Four. They’ve won four straight national championships and 27 consecutive NCAA Tournament games.
Coach Geno Auriemma has been impressed by the Ducks and Graves.
“They don’t know enough to be either intimidated or pressured or anything you’d associate with a team doing this for the first time,” Auriemma said of the Ducks.
“They are having fun and enjoying the moment as they should. It’s really neat to see. … I said when (Oregon coach) Kelly Graves was hired that it won’t be long before they’re in the Final Four. I hope it’s not this early, but it won’t be long.”
Here are a few other tidbits for the game:
GROWING UP MCGWIRE: Mallory McGwire never felt any pressure to play sports when she was younger despite her dad, Dan, being a first-round pick in the NFL by the Seahawks and her uncle Mark McGwire, starring for the A’s and Cardinals.
She actually loved playing golf when she was younger, supposedly driving the ball 200 yards when she was 11.
“There were no expectations. My dad wanted us to do whatever we wanted to do. I grew up playing golf actually,” she said. “I mean I played basketball, but it was kind of just like a side thing. Basketball developed around high school to be completely honest. They never pushed us. My sister plays basketball also.”
She’s flourished in her first season with the Ducks, averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 53.7 percent from the field.
McGwire said she doesn’t really talk to her uncle much, but her dad does. “My dad was a professional athlete as well and to think that they’ve both been through the same things that I’m going through is a lot of help,” she said. “My dad texts me every day, every game day. I talk to him before every game and he gives me advice before every game.”
PASSING PAT: A win on Monday would give Auriemma 113 NCAA Tournament victories, moving him past Pat Summitt for the most all-time.
WINNING WHEN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO: UConn doesn’t lose many games against unranked teams. The Huskies have beaten 134 straight non-Top 25 teams and won 309 of the past 310. The lone loss came against St. John’s in 2012. Since the 1993-94 season, UConn is 586-9 against unranked opponents.
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