Oregon backup forward Oti Gildon got a big lift out of playing in her home town.
Then she channeled that energy into a big performance for the Oregon Ducks on Saturday.
The former Gonzaga Prep star finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, most during a big third quarter that helped the Ducks beat Central Michigan 83-69 in their Sweet 16 NCAA game in front of 5,084 fans at the Arena.
Many were Oregon fans who made the long drive from the Willamette Valley. The loudest were Gildon’s family and friends.
“It was really fun,” Gildon said. “It’s always nice to hear familiar voices in the crowd yelling and cheering you on.
“I knew I needed to step up for the team.”
She did so, and her timing couldn’t have been better.
Midway through the third quarter, a 16-point Oregon lead had been sliced to nine by CMU’s 3-point shooting.
Barely a minute after entering the game, Gildon made two free throws, giving Oregon what turned out to be a permanent double-digit lead.
She added three rebounds and a pair of layups as Oregon took a 66-48 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“She just gives us great energy,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “She has the best second jump on our team. If she misses a shot, she’s quick to get back up.
“Happy for her to do it in front of her friends and family.”
No matter the location, Gildon is at her best in March. Reminded that she was a major contributor during Oregon’s surprise Elite Eight run a year ago, she shrugged.
“I have no idea,” Gildon said. “To be honest, I just really want to help the team succeed and advance to the Elite Eight. We were able to do that. Whether it’s rebounding or defense, I’m happy to do that for the team.”
Tears for Central Michigan
For Central Michigan senior Tinara Moore, saying goodbye was perhaps the hardest thing to do.
Asked to reflect on her career following a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon, Moore choked out a few words – “It’s just been amazing,” she told the media. Then she broke down.
Coach Sue Guevara had her back.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a player improve as much as she has improved,” Guevara said. “You know, when you love something so much, it hurts. It hurts.”
It was no easier for junior Presley Hudson. Flanked by seniors Moore and Cassie Breen, she said through welling eyes: “I’m going to miss them a lot. They’re family.”
Seconds later, the moderator dismissed the players long before their allotted time was up. The media didn’t object, and the trio left for the CMU locker room.
“Thanks, guys,” Guevara said. “I appreciate that.”
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