EUGENE — The Ducks left Las Vegas a little bit beaten up.
The toll of the season, which included a painful knee injury for Ruthy Hebard and the loss of Taylor Chavez to a fractured foot, caught up with Oregon during the 64-57 loss to Stanford in the women’s Pac-12 Tournament championship game.
That does not mean this team is on the verge of allowing the Portland Regional bracket to get busted this weekend.
After taking a week off to recharge, the second-seeded Ducks are ready to begin a potential Final Four run against No. 15 Portland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at Matthew Knight Arena.
“I know a lot of people think this is the end of the world or whatever that we lost that game,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said. “But the reality is we’re 29-4 and we’re one of those teams that’s at least in the discussion to get to Tampa (site of the Final Four) and perhaps win it all. We’re not going to shy away from that.”
Hebard was held to 13 points and five rebounds by Stanford but averaged 24.5 points and 11.0 rebounds in the wins over Arizona and UCLA at the Pac-12 Tournament.
Graves noted that his star power forward will have more recovery time between games during this tournament and there will be a price to pay for opponents who focus their defensive game plan on stopping Hebard.
“If you double on Ruthy, she’s an unselfish player and that leaves one of the best 3-point shooters in the country open somewhere on the perimeter,” Graves said.
Chavez, who suffered a fractured metatarsal last month, did not participate in practice Sunday or Monday, and Tuesday was a scheduled off day for players.
The true freshman guard could rejoin the lineup if the Ducks are able to survive and advance long enough.
“Still up in the air where she’s going to be,” Graves said of Chavez’s availability for the first or second round. “I’m confident at some point she’s going to be back this season.”
In Chavez’s absence, Morgan Yaeger played a more prominent role at the conference tournament. The sophomore guard knocked down three timely 3-pointers during the 88-83 overtime win over UCLA in the semifinals.
“Oh my gosh, that was amazing. I was so happy for her,” Chavez said of Yaeger’s performance in Las Vegas. “I see how hard she works and all the effort she puts in. She’s always been a great teammate, too. It’s awesome to see everything come into place.”
Senior point guard Maite Cazorla (flu) is feeling better after getting some time away from the court. National player of the year candidate Sabrina Ionescu played through an ankle injury in Las Vegas.
“That will be nice seeing different types of players and different types of offenses,” Ionescu said of moving on from the Pac-12 grind to the NCAA Tournament. “It will be great for us.”
Despite the losses to Oregon State and UCLA late in the regular season, followed by Stanford avenging its 40-point loss to the Ducks at Maples Pavilion, Oregon ranks third nationally in both scoring (85.2 points per game) and field-goal percentage (50.2 percent).
The Ducks remain No. 1 in 3-point shooting (41.8 percent), despite going 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) against Stanford.
“I think we’ve just got to get our mojo back a little bit,” Graves said. “We’re still the best shooting team in the country by most measures and the best offensive team in the country by pretty much every metric that is evaluated out there. But we’ve struggled down the stretch a little bit to shoot. … We’ve been defending well, and I think with a week off our kids are going to be healthier.
“We’re in a good spot right now. Now we’ve just got to go out and prove it.”