THESE DUCKS ARE LIVING THE ROCK STAR LIFE – Oregon Travels to Tampa as the Prohibitive Underdog, But Brings With Them a Heightened Level of Confidence and Cache

It’s taken some time, but this Oregon women’s basketball team is definitely living the rock star life.

Not only do crowds gather wherever they go and offer their undying support, but both kids and adults consistently surround the team asking for autographs and photo’s.

It’s a paparazzi life and the girls are loving every minute of it.

It’s certainly been an exciting and fun evolution to watch over these last several years.    And while they don’t have the tournament cache as UConn, Baylor and Notre Dame, it can be argued the Ducks will be the team with the brightest spotlight on them come Friday in Tampa at Amalie Arena and will no doubt be the darlings of the Final Four.

In fact, considering this list of Final Four contestants, and staying with the rock star theme, you could certainly say the Ducks are no doubt the ‘New Kids On The Block.’

It’s not something they shy away from.  In fact, it’s a space they relish and feel comfortable in.

Oregon is making its first ever appearance in the women’s Final Four when it faces No. 1 Baylor on Friday ( 4:00 pm ) pacific time.

Even when the men’s team made it to the Final Four two years ago, there was some history behind them, albeit from 1939, but the history was there.

The Ducks women’s program have never even sniffed a Final Four before its miraculous Elite 8 appearance in 2017.

Oregon will be joined by Baylor, Notre Dame and of course UConn, a Final Four staple for the last 15 years or so.

All of the other three program have not only recent Final Four experience, but even a ring or two, or 11 in UConn’s case.

“It reminds me of the old Sesame Street song of one of these things is not like the other,” Ducks coach Kelly Graves said.

“You look at (Baylor) Coach (Kim) Mulkey has won two national championships, Muffet McGraw (Notre Dame) has won two and Geno (Auriemma of UConn) has won more than I have fingers.

“And this is our first time.  It’s a new experience for us.   But this team has been under the microscope and has pressure on them and a lot of eyes and attention put on them.   It’s a bigger stage, but we’ll be used to it.”

As with all newbies to this sort of situation, Oregon has to be careful to balance out the “just happy being there” mentality and heading east to Florida and actually winning the championship because the Ducks do have the talent and capabilities to return home to Eugene with the trophy.

Oregon made the Elite 8 in the previous two seasons before this and the Ducks probably weren’t ready for it.

As Graves said in a radio interview, 2017 was most likely a fluke and was quickly dispatched by UConn.   Last season, the Ducks managed to play two good quarters against the Fighting Irish, but that wasn’t nearly enough.

In 2019, they showed in the Portland Regional they’re ready for the bright lights on the grand stage.    Mississippi State was a 1-seed and 33-2.  Oregon put together four good quarters and won 88-84.

Baylor does have two big posts who are really talented in 6-7 Kalani Brown and 6-4 Lauren Cox, but they are the absolute center of attention.

The surrounding players are really good, but nothing Oregon hasn’t seen before in the Pac-12.

The Ducks have proven they can play with anyone and are ready and very capable of joining the other three teams in this Final Four as a team that can claim a championship.

Yes, these Ducks might be considered the ‘New Kids on the Block’, but there’s no doubt they’ll be ready for the challenge of Baylor and the grandest stage in women’s collegiate sports.

Don Smalley

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