Eugene – It was late October inside the Matthew Knight Arena practice courts with the Oregon women’s basketball team preparing for practice.
Lexi Bando, one of the team’s two seniors, addressed the media before practice.
She was asked these two questions:
How is this year different from last year? and What are some team goals for this season?
“I mean it was amazing what we did last year, but you can’t look back on that. It’s a new year,” Bando said. “Obviously our goal is to win and to make it even farther than (last season), and it’s going to take some hard work,” she said. “We’ll see where we can go.”
The expectations were high coming into this season for the team advancing to the school’s first Elite Eight the year before, and returning all five starters.
Flash forward to the present, and No. 8 Oregon won their first regular-season Pac-12 championship since 1999-2000 with a 16-2 record. They also took the conference tournament championship for the first time in program history.
And they’re not done yet.
The NCAA Selection Committee tabbed the Ducks with a No. 2 seed in the Spokane region, which is the highest seed in school history. They play Seattle University Friday at 4:30 p.m. on their home court.
The ecstatic reaction from players and fans at their Selection Party was a few steps above their elation last year, when they were a tenth-seed.
— Derek Tahara (@DerekTahara) March 12, 2018
And Oregon knows they can take no team for granted in the postseason.
“We have the luxury of knowing we better come ready to play because we were in the same situation last year,” coach Kelly Graves said. “It is a testament to a group that has worked really, really hard this season and a two-seed is validation of that.”
Focus, staying in the moment and having fun will be key for Oregon, as they haven’t played a game since March 4, but have practiced a few times in between.
“We’ve been playing loose, it’s not going to change,” Graves said. “Every time we’re together it’s fun, that’s part of this team’s DNA.”
Players said they are shaking off rust.
“It’s a little difficult, but I think the last few practices have been great,” sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard said of the long layoff. “I can tell everyone’s focused, ready to come out. Our defense is still looking great and we’re really excited for this tournament.”
Will they make it past the round of eight this season? We will see.