Eugene – The song, “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons blared throughout Matthew Knight Arena at halftime, with Oregon leading Seattle U 48-16 up to that point.
The Spokane regional No. 2-seed Ducks went on to pummel the Redhawks 88-45 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament. Oregon improved to 9-13 all time in NCAA tournament play and are now 10-0 against Seattle U all-time.
Sophomore Sabrina Ionescu led the Ducks by notching the tenth triple-double of her career: 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. She broke the NCAA record of eight in December.
Ruthy Hebard had 12 points and nine rebounds for Oregon, while Lexi Bando and Maite Cazorla added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Ducks did whatever it took to make Seattle U uncomfortable on the offensive end, and they clamped down on the defensive end as well, forcing nine turnovers in the first half and 13 for the game. The hosts scored 19 points alone off of turnovers and steals.
“They really wanted to compete, and I thought that was a good sign,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “I thought defensively we were on point, and we got some easy transition (buckets).”
The Ducks also dove on the floor and did whatever it took to maintain ball possession.
“Going for every loose ball was big, because if you don’t go for loose balls, then they go in transition,” Oregon sophomore Oti Gildon said.
Graves echoed those statements.
“When I saw our team diving for loose balls early in that game, I could tell this wasn’t just another game and go through the motions,” he said.
Offensively, they were in sync all night long, and had 23 team assists to the Redhawks’ eight.
Ionescu’s triple-double, at 21 seconds into the fourth quarter, was the first in NCAA Tournament history.
All triple-doubles are essentially the same, she said.
“No, it does not feel any different. We won an NCAA game, so that feels different – especially on our own court, which is really cool,” Ionescu said.
The crowd of 7,040 gave her a standing ovation when she checked out of the game.
“I don’t know. I was just playing and it just happened,” Ayuso said of her ankle-breaking crossover.
Alexis Montgomery led Seattle U, which made their first tourney appearance in program history, with 14 points. The entire squad shot only 32.3 percent from the field, including a dismal 5.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we were a little bit nervous about being at the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history,” coach Suzy Balcomb said. “It was pretty evident in the first quarter. I think the rim was about the size of a penny for us and it was a huge peach basket for Oregon.”
Height played a big factor in how the Redhawks struggled to find an offensive rhythm. With the Ducks starting two 6-4 players, it was difficult for Seattle U players to rebound the ball and get any flow going. Oregon out-rebounded their opponents, 45-26, including 13 offensive rebounds.
“When you give up four or five inches on every single position, you have to be flawless,” Barcomb said. “We weren’t executing what we were trying to do.”
Oregon will play Minnesota on at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Ducks, seeded tenth in their regional last year, did not get to host first and second rounds then, but did this year because of their strong season. It is a privilege not lost on players.
“I think it’s really cool and it’s an advantage to just have fans and to be able to sleep in our own beds,” Cazorla said.
The defense of Oregon will have to step up against a high-powered Minnesota offense, ranked third in Division I.
“They have a lot of scorers……..so we just need to make sure we have help-side [defense] and keep our players in front of us to be able to stop them down the stretch,” reserve Oti Gildon said.
Eugene – Minnesota coach Marlene Stollings’ began the press conference after her team’s 89-77 NCAA Tournament upset win over Green Bay with some humor.
“You’ll notice my voice is a little raspy,” she said with a smile. “There’s a reason.”
For the fourth-year coach leading the Gophers into their inaugural Tournament appearance, it was called halftime.
Seeded tenth in the Spokane regional, they trailed the No. 7 Phoenix at the break, 42-32. Stollings’ message in the locker room was succinct: “Disrupt.” And she had a different message for her squad, renowned for its defense, which was to “control the controllables” and amp up their defense and rebounding.
They took the message to heart.
Minnesota totaled 19 rebounds and six steals in the second half, compared to 12 rebounds and two steals for the Phoenix. This defensive intensity fueled necessary offensive conversions and completions.
Junior Kenisha Bell, after scoring only two points in the first half, put up 24 more in the final two frames. Freshman Destiny Pitts had 20 points, Gadiva Hubbard 16 and Carlie Wagner 15 for the Gophers.
While Minnesota presented a team of NCAA tournament rookies fielding only two players with previous experience in Wagner and Bryanna Fernstrom, it was Green Bay’s ninth appearance in the past 10 years,
The matchup was destined to be intense, as it pitted the Phoenix’s No. 1-ranked defense against Minnesota’s No. 3 ranked offense. The first quarter was a rocky one for both teams, with three lead changes and two ties.
The Gophers crawled back in the third, and in the fourth quarter Green Bay’s defense lapsed, and they committed 10 fouls. Minnesota capitalized on every one, going 15-16 from the charity stripe. Fourteen of Bell’s points were from the line, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
Allie LeClaire led Green Bay with 17 points, and Jessica Lindstrom added 11.
Bell said her coaches knew how to push her buttons at halftime.
“They try to make me mad on purpose,” she said. “They start talking trash.”
It worked, and the Gophers outscored their opponents, 30-13 in the final quarter.
Phoenix coach Kevin Borseth said fatigue caused his team to make errors down the stretch.
“Either we got tired, or we got caught up in some bad situations,” Borseth said of their fouls. “I don’t know if they were a result of our turnovers or just getting caught up in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
LeClaire said the team might have been looking ahead.
“I think we thought we had it this year and we didn’t,” she said. “It’s sad going out like this, but we (fellow senior Lindstrom and herself) had a great four years.”
Borseth credited both teams.
“I think Minnesota played a good game, I think they had to,” he said. “We gave them everything we had. Our kids, they competed.”
The Gophers will play No. 2 seed Oregon at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.
It took Jatarie White two dribbles to get where she needed.
During the third quarter in a game against Georgia on Dec. 3, the Texas junior transfer center caught the ball on the right elbow, her back facing the basket. The 6-foot-4-inch post squared up to the rim, bounced the ball once to move to the left side of the lane and again as she pivoted to the center of the paint.
Caliya Robinson, a starting 6-foot-3-inch junior forward for Georgia and 2016-17 SEC All-Defensive Team member, stuck to White’s hip the entire way. White dug in her bag of tricks to give her smothering opponent the slip.
She pump faked the ball over head, sending Robinson in the air, then glided to the rim, kissing the ball off the backboard with her left hand for two points. It was the up and under, White’s go-to move.
White’s been fooling defenders like that since high school. She’s feinted and scooped her way to a starting spot on a Texas team that earned a No. 2-seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
It’s taken three years for her to step foot on the Frank Erwin Center hardwood.
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, she helped lead Providence Day to four state championships. In her senior year, White averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and was rated as the nation’s top post prospect and the No. 7 overall recruit.
She drew interest from North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio State and Texas, among others, but committed to South Carolina in Nov. 2013.
“It’s pretty close to home and I felt really connected with (head coach) Dawn (Staley) when she was recruiting me,” White said. “So it’s like, ‘Why not here?’”
White was a major acquisition for the Gamecocks, but South Carolina still had their eyes on another target: 6-foot-5-inch, No. 1 overall recruit A’ja Wilson.
“They knew that they were going to have a pretty good shot at landing A’ja Wilson,” said David Cloninger of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina who covered the Gamecocks for The State in Columbia, North Carolina at the time. “They looked at Jatarie, and I don’t want to say it was a backup plan, but it’s like ‘We need to make sure that we can get somebody just in case we don’t get everybody we want.’”
There was no guarantee Wilson would sign with the team. She’d been recruited by the best schools in the nation, including UConn, and took an extra five months to reach a decision. Wilson committed to South Carolina in April 2014, the final piece of the No. 2 recruiting class that year.that also featured White and a trio of guards.
Wilson’s arrival buried White on the depth chart. During White’s freshman year, the Gamecocks returned two perennial starters at the post spots in seniors Elem Ibiam and Aleighsa Welch and brought 2013-14 SEC Freshman of the Year and sophomore center Alaina Coates off of the bench.
Still, White wasn’t left completely out of the game plan.
“The way that Dawn Staley substitutes, she knew that anybody, Jatarie White included, was going to get some chances,” Cloninger said.
White played sparingly in the early part of the season and began to carve out her role with the team. But in early Dec. 2014, White suffered a stress fracture in her foot that left her sidelined for a month.
White’s injury left her falling behind.
“You get injured and everything you learned, it kind of washes away,” White said. “It was devastating because when I got back, it was like everybody was kind of like in their groove and already had their chemistry going.”
It took a while for White to earn her spot minutes back, and took even longer when she missed another three games in February with an illness. But heading into her sophomore season, she was bound to see her playing time increase.
Ibiam and Welch graduated and Coates and Wilson were next in line to replace them in the starting lineup. White was supposed to be the definitive second-unit post.
She struggled with the extra responsibilities and after another setback with her foot injury, she saw her minutes cut again.
White played her last game for South Carolina on March 25, 2016 in an 80-72 loss against Syracuse in the Round of 16 of the NCAA tournament. Her only stat of the night was committing a turnover in just two minutes of action.
In two seasons for the Gamecocks, White missed 18 games while averaging 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds. She made a Final Four appearance and won two SEC Conference Championships, but wanted more from her college experience.
White’s self-confidence plummeted. Frustrated, she realized she had to get out of Columbia.
“It kind of like all just hit me at once,” White said. “It was kind of like I was going through this period when it felt like nothing I could do was right. Back then, I just couldn’t take that. I felt like everything was going in a downward spiral and nobody was really there for me to help me mentally.”
White announced her decision to transfer on March 31. She was eager to find a team that would be better equipped to support her emotionally. One school stood out fairly early in the process.
Monica White, Jatarie’s mother, had always wanted her daughter on the 40 Acres. When Jatarie took her first visit to Austin as a senior in high school, Monica told her that Texas should be her first choice. Jatarie chose South Carolina instead to be closer to home, but Monica’s love for the Longhorns never deterred.
“(Head) coach Karen (Aston) was still as enthusiastic as she was when Jatarie was much younger,” Monica said. “That makes you feel good.”
“When I transferred, she was like ‘You need to look at Texas,’” Jatarie said. “And I was doubting myself like ‘I don’t know if I can go and play there. I couldn’t play at South Carolina.’ But, she was like ‘You need to go there.’”
White took her second visit to Texas in June 2016 and reconnected with head coach Karen Aston and senior guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty. The three had pushed hard to sign her in 2014 and bombarded White with texts, calls and FaceTimes to ensure their second opportunity didn’t go to waste.
It worked. White committed to Texas on June 7, 2016 and began playing the waiting game.
Under current NCAA rules, save for some exceptions, student athletes who play baseball, men’s or women’s basketball, FBS football or men’s ice hockey must sit out of athletic competition for one year after transferring.
Student athletes from other sports are not subject to this rule and face far fewer restrictions when transferring. Coaches frequently switch schools with ease, even while under contract. This has raised concerns that student athletes subject to the transfer rule are comparatively treated unfairly.
To pacify those concerns, the NCAA considered a rule change earlier in 2017 in which student athletes meeting unstated academic standards would be eligible to play immediately upon transferring to a new school.
The proposal received a lot of pushback.
“A lot of coaches were up in arms about it and of coming out against this as an idea because, from a coach’s perspective, it would open the door for players to transfer more often,” said Dan Greene of Sports Illustrated, who reported on the proposal. “They don’t want to be constantly convincing players to stay.”
During her season off, White was able to do everything a typical student athlete does — except play in a game. She took the year to build her confidence back up, putting in extra work to improve her strength and conditioning and improve her focus on academics.
It wasn’t easy, though. White felt like she could have made a bigger impact.
In the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Texas lost 77-66 in the Elite Eight to Stanford. Stanford lost to South Carolina in the next round and the Gamecocks went on to win the national championship over Mississippi State. White could only watch it unfold.
“It’s pretty difficult knowing that you’re coming out here and practicing and trying to get better, but not really helping your team on the court,” White said. “So, it’s kind of like just trying to help them as much as you can in practice and being a good teammate off the court.”
White has settled in nicely to her new home. She started in 26 games this season and is averaged 10.6 points and 5.7 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game.
“Nothing Jatarie does is ever going to surprise me,” Aston said. “She’s just kind of getting her feet wet. I mean, she hadn’t played in a while. And she’s anxious. She’s learning. It’s still all new to her.”
Heading into the Longhorns’ matchup with No. 15-seed Maine on Saturday, she’s now trying to accomplish what South Carolina did, and what Texas couldn’t do, without her.
“One of my goals is being able to win a championship with this team,” White said. “We just have to overcome that mental block and fatigue to get where we need to be.”
After the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 was announced Monday, Division I Women’s Basketball Committee chair Rhonda Lundin Bennett answered questions from reporters:
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We as a committee are very excited about this bracket and this tournament that’s getting ready to start on Friday. We convened on Thursday evening and spent from Thursday night to midday today putting this bracket together, getting our seeding all done, sending teams, placing them into the bracket.
We feel great about this. We feel like there’s a lot of parity in our game right now. We had a significant challenge coming to the decision of which teams should be in and which teams should be out. I think we were considering quite a few teams when we got to that point.
There are a lot of really good teams out there. I think that’s going to lead to an excellent tournament.
We also felt very prepared for the seeding process after doing our three top 16 reveals throughout the year. I think it helped us tremendously. We put together a great top 16 and gave the opportunity for those 16 teams to host.
I just wanted to thank all of you for your coverage of women’s basketball both throughout the year and throughout the tournament. It means a lot.
When it came to evaluating Rutgers as a bubble team, what worked against them as opposed to maybe a Creighton or Minnesota, whom they beat?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Some of the things we thought were their 3‑7 record in the last 10 games, as well as their ninth‑place finish in the Big Ten standings. Those bad losses that they had as well were some of the things that differentiated them. Those losses were Northwestern and Washington State at a 175.
Considering Rutgers beat Minnesota, I know Minnesota was five spots ahead of them in Big Ten standings, answering my own question, but considering Rutgers‑Minnesota head‑to‑head, was that a factor?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Head‑to‑head is just one of our considerations. You’re going to look at that whole body of work and make that decision looking at that, as well as I said before. Rutgers’ finish in their conference was another thing, too.
How did you feel the reveal of the final eight went last night for what you were hoping out of it?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I think it was wonderful. I mean, I think we as a committee have worked really hard to come up with ways to drive interest in our bracket and in our championship. That’s why we do the top 16 reveals. That’s why we did that last top 16 reveal with the 16 in order and put those first four lines in a bracket.
I think we’re always just looking for ways to drive excitement about the women’s game.
Any thought of next year actually revealing the top 16 the same way you did the final eight last night so those teams that are going to be potentially hosting the first two rounds have an extra day to prepare for it?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We’ll get together this summer and have a big discussion about some of the things we might want to do next year.
We feel really good about the top 16. It drives a lot of interest, gets a lot of people talking about our championship. We try to be very creative and think outside the box, and we’ll continue to do that.
What were your thoughts on the outcome of the last eight teams to be considered? Were you pleased? Was there any consideration of how it might affect those teams in the last 24 hours with that decision?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We were very pleased with it. I think having the opportunity to have our great partner here with ESPN and have them put that on SportsCenter, there were people talking about our tournament last night and talking about it all day today with those eight teams.
I don’t think it was any surprise to those teams that we were talking about as that final eight. I think we believe they probably already knew they were on that bubble, and we put them out there in alphabetical order.
Was there any consideration of the timing, since there were two tournaments still going on when the reveal happened?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: That’s one hard thing with those tournaments still going. When you have tournaments that start at 7 p.m. on the Sunday before we announce the bracket, that’s going to be something.
We were considering all those teams based on their body of work. If someone happened to be in that top eight who was still playing, we would have certainly considered them and made our decision based on that. Our bracket is not finalized until Monday. If something happened in the conference tournament, we certainly could have considered that.
With regards to Rutgers and the final eight, obviously Rutgers was one of the four of those eight that didn’t get in. Can I ask you what the final pecking order was in terms of the four that didn’t get in? How close was Rutgers to getting in?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We announced those in alphabetical order, and that’s where we’d like to leave it. Rutgers was one of those four teams.
We spent almost seven hours yesterday going over those last eight teams, really talking about everything. I think every one of those teams was right on the cusp of getting in. We took a look at them and feel really good about the decision that we came to.
What were the factors that left Purdue out of the tournament?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Well, we felt for Purdue, they were 2‑4 in that RPI, 26 to 50, as well as they had some losses in the 101 plus. We looked at things like conference finish, conference record. Those were some of the factors.
The men released the 1 through 68 seed list. How close is the women’s committee to doing that?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: That’s something that we’ll continue to talk about. We’ve been interested in being transparent by doing those top 16 reveals, revealing things like our last eight teams.
We’ll continue to talk about that.
USF was really hoping for a four seed and the right to host. Coach Fernandez, after he learned they were a six seed, said, It looks like the tournament for one reason or another is becoming regionalized. Was geography any kind of consideration in putting USF, Tallahassee, as a six seed?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Geography is one of our principles when it comes to placing teams in the bracket. We seed the teams, then we place them in the bracket using that S‑curve.
Geography is one of things we do consider and is one of our principles
Is there anything on USF’s résumé that may have hurt them or impeded their chances of becoming a four or five seed?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I would say their worst loss was a 151, Wichita State. When you start looking at those teams and seeding, those are some of the things that are going to differentiate teams and determine which seed line they’re on.
(Question regarding Sherri Coale’s statement about awarding strong strength of schedule.)
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We as a committee definitely value strength of schedule. I think you’ve seen that in the last couple years, as well as this year. We do want to reward teams that schedule up. You also have to win some of those games, and we’re going to compare your body of work to other teams.
Strength of schedule is something that has been important to us.
Concerning Oklahoma, when you’re evaluating them, the schedule obviously helped the Sooners. What do you view as Oklahoma’s marquee victories?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: Their win over South Florida was a top 25 win for them. It’s very important to have top 25 wins when you’re comparing them to other teams that might have those significant wins.
Aside from South Florida, was there anything else that you were impressed about specifically the games they won?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: They did beat Belmont. Belmont is an excellent team and is in our field. I think within their conference, as well, their conference record of 11‑8. They had some significant wins within their conference, as well.
Could you address the one and two seeds, how close Baylor was to getting a one seed, how close you viewed the ones and twos this year in terms of the overall group?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: We felt there was a razor thin margin between Baylor and Notre Dame. Notre Dame did have the best strength of schedule in the country, and they had nine more top 50 wins than Baylor. Those were the reasons that the committee put Notre Dame on that one line and Baylor on the two line.
In terms of how close the twos were to the ones overall this year?
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: I think that’s where we were looking, is we had the one seeds, then we looked at teams like Baylor and Oregon and Texas and South Carolina. We felt really comfortable with the ones we settled on, as well as the order of the two line.
I was wondering about the reasons or considerations for USC not making the cut out of the last eight that you considered.
RHONDA LUNDIN BENNETT: For USC, it came down to their top 25 wins. They didn’t have any top 25 wins. They also had only two top 50 wins. Those were some of the factors that we looked at with USC.