SAN ANTONIO – The school that could have won the canceled women’s NCAA Tournament last year stumbled into tournament this year with a whole new cast.
Except for Erin Boley and she made sure Oregon, which had lost five of six games, ended its funk.
Boley scored 22 points and the 23rd-ranked Ducks closed out the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament late Monday night with a sleeper, downing South Dakota 67-47.
“We said from the time we left Vegas, from the Pac-12 tournament, that we were going to turn this around and end this season strong,” Boley said. “And I’m really really proud of this team. We came out and played so hard tonight.”
The 11th-seeded Coyotes missed their last 25 shots of the first half and were held to a near-record low in trailing 34-9 at the break.
“We just felt that this was the kind of team that, if we were just going to stay back and play kind of soft defense, they were going to pick us apart,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “So we had to be the aggressive team.”
Nyara Sabally added 17 points and Sedona Prince 12 as the sixth-seeded Ducks (14-8) took advantage of their size on both ends of the floor to head into a second-round matchup Wednesday with third-seeded and 10th-ranked Georgia in the Alamo Region.
Boley, a senior who spent her freshman year at Notre Dame, surpassed 1,000 points with the Ducks.
Hannah Sjerven scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Summit League champion Coyotes (19-6). Liv Korngable added 15 points for the Coyotes, who were in their fourth NCAA Tournament.
Oregon made quick work of this one, The Coyotes made their first two shots before Prince and Sabally both made two baskets and a Boley 3-pointer capped an 11-0 run for a 13-4 lead.
After Korngable scored at the 4:15 mark of the first quarter, the Coyotes missed their next 25 field goals. And after Sjerven made two free throws a minute later, they didn’t score again until she made another free throw four seconds before the half.
South Dakota was just 3-for-32 shooting.
“It’s hard to get a flow of the game going when your shots aren’t falling and that’s something, obviously, no one expects coming into a game,” Sjerven said.
The Coyotes ended their drought with their first shot of the third, making 8 of 20 shots and outscoring Oregon 20-16 in the quarter but the damage was done.
Oregon finished the game at 60% (27 of 45), making 6 of 12 from 3-point range and all seven free throws but had an unsightly 23 turnovers. South Dakota was 13 of 33 (42.4%) in the second half.
Oregon got an addition to its record book, allowing just nine points in the first half. The previous record was 10 scored by Saint Francis 15 years ago. Meanwhile, it was the second-fewest allowed in a half of an NCAA Tournament game. Prairie View scored eight in the first half against Baylor in 2011.
Oregon chose to go tall – as in 6-foot-7 Prince, 6-5 Sabally and 6-2 Boley – across the front line against the Coyotes, whose only 6-foot starter is Sjerven at 6-3. South Dakota’s second-tallest player is 5-11, the size of the Ducks’ two guards.
IN THAT OTHER TOURNAMENT
Graves had to mention the men’s tournament, where his old school Gonzaga, “starring” walk-on Will Graves, was on a collision course to possibly meet Oregon in the Elite Eight.
“You know what? I’m kind of anticipating an Elite 8 battle against the Ducks and my son, who plays for the Zags. Wouldn’t that be something? Don’t ask me who I’m cheering for in that, but I’m really proud of them. I think it’s great for our whole athletic department.”