Oregon and head coach Kelly Graves are going into the Final Four as the only newcomers, surrounded by three other women’s teams that have won multiple national titles.
“Obviously, we’re a little bit different,” Graves said Tuesday. “But those programs and those coaches had to win their first, as well get to their first Final Four. It’s a new experience for us.”
Though not totally unexpected for the Ducks (33-4), who have won back-to-back Pac-12 regular-season championships and went to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons.
“I know one of the focuses this year was to get here to a Final Four,” said Graves, in his fifth year at Oregon after 14 seasons at Gonzaga. “We didn’t want to be an Elite Eight program, we wanted to be a Final Four program. I know our players were hungry and really determined to get there. Now that it’s here, we’re certainly excited.”
Led by junior All-America guard Sabrina Ionescu, a Miramonte-Orinda alum, the Ducks play their first Final Four game Friday against No. 1 overall seed Baylor (35-1) in Tampa, Fla.
In the other Final Four game Friday, defending national champion Notre Dame and UConn meet in a national semifinal or championship game for the seventh time since 2011.
“I know we’re the No. 1 overall seed, but I’m not sure we’re the hunted. I think we’re one of four teams that can win it all,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We happen to be the overall No. 1 seed probably because of the timing of how losses happened late in the year. But we’re just happy to get there, to bring players who have never been there, and realize Oregon is an unbelievably talented team.”
The Lady Bears are back in the Final Four for the first time since completing a 40-0 season in 2012, when they won their second national title.
With big posts Kalani Brown (6-foot-7 senior) and Lauren Cox (6-4 junior), Baylor has won 27 consecutive games since its only loss, at Stanford on Dec. 15.
“That game was not going to define our season or how good we were really, but it would give us a little bit of just kind of what we need to work on,” said Mulkey, in her fourth Final Four in 19 seasons as Baylor’s head coach after she won national titles as a player and assistant coach at Louisiana Tech.
Stephen Hawkins is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Oregon-women-make-Final-Four-debut-others-13736906.php.