Oregon needed a win Monday night after losing five of its last six games. The Ducks got just what the doctor ordered in a 67-47 win over South Dakota in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The team looked unstoppable in the first half, but was outscored in the second half, signifying areas for improvement in rebounding and turnovers. Head Coach Kelly Graves reflected on what he saw from his team.
A fast start was necessary in the coach's eyes. He viewed South Dakota as a team that could pick them apart if they came out soft, but even he was surprised at how his team started the game.
"I think we put together as good a half of defense as I've ever been a part of as a coach," Graves said.
Players like Te-Hina Paopaa and Jaz Shelley were unavailable Monday night, which forced him to get creative with his lineup. Size won out, as he deployed the towering duo of Sedona Prince (12 pts) and Nyara Sabally (17 pts).
"When those two are playing like that we're a difficult matchup. Not a lot of teams in this tournament have two post players like that--that can score around the hoop. We needed them tonight and they delivered," he said.
The Oregon post players weren't the only ones that delivered for the Ducks. Freshman Maddie Scherr, a two-time Kentucky Gatorade player of the year in high school, flashed her defensive skill to rattle the Coyotes in her first collegiate start.
"She set the tone," Graves said. "I've said all year long she's our best on-ball defender. The rest just fed off of it. We have a lot of confidence in her."
In a case similar to the men's team, some may have been concerned about how the team would look after going more than two weeks without facing an opponent. Some teams that are hot can take a step back and regress, but in Oregon's case, the head coach thinks the break helped re-orient his team.
"One of the things in the women's tournament--momentum doesn't often carry over," he said. "There's teams like us who didn't finish the season very well, I think (we) had a chance to really focus on us and get better."
For a team full of younger players, picking up a win in the NCAA tournament is vital in building not only their confidence, but the profile of the program.
"We've got to be the youngest team in the field. I know Nyara (Sabally) and Sedona (Prince) aren't considered freshmen, but they are freshmen," Graves said. "This is their first year of playing college basketball. Just to see some success I think is really important for this crew as we take our program forward."
A victory for both the men's and women's team signifies another accomplishment for Oregon athletics.
"Our whole athletic department, there's a level of expectations of success," he said.
"We have so many teams that are excelling right now and it's really fun to be a part of. We just want to do our part. We want to keep winning and tonight was a big step towards that."
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