Nerves will be wracked in UW-Oregon rematch in LA

Jazmine Davis and the UW women's basketball team will be faced with the tough task of slowing down the fast-paced Oregon offense today. Photo by Sang Cho

The first meeting between the Washington and Oregon women’s basketball teams this season was a rip-roaring, seesaw thriller that probably left UW head coach Kevin McGuff with more than a few gray hairs.

After the second game between the two old rivals, it’s a wonder McGuff has any hair left at all.

And there’s no reason to think that the rubber match of the season series between the Huskies (16-12, 8-10 Pac-12) and the Ducks (15-15, 7-11), which is at noon today in the first round of the inaugural Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles, will be any different.

“When I found out we were going to play Oregon, it was, ‘OK, we’ve got to be ready for this, because they’re going to give it their all; they’re going to leave it all out on the court,’” said point guard Jazmine Davis, who was named the conference’s freshman of the year on Monday. “So that’s what we have to do, too.”

The Huskies are hoping today’s rematch will be more like their second showdown with the Ducks than their first.

On New Year’s Eve in Eugene, Ore., the UW squandered a 16-point second-half lead before ultimately losing 88-86 thanks to a Duck 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go. In the Feb. 9 game, the Huskies once again led by 15 late in the second half. This time, though, they were able to withstand a furious Oregon rally and hold on to a 72-69 win.

That loss was the start of a 2-5 stretch for the Ducks that took them through the end of the season, a skid that dropped them from the middle of the Pac into the conference’s dregs.

McGuff, though, doesn’t see that as a symptom of any overriding issue with Oregon head coach Paul Westhead’s team.

“You kind of get to this time of the year, and it’s a breath of fresh air for everyone,” he said.

A breath of fresh air is exactly what the Huskies might be dreaming of today at the Galen Center, the tournament’s host venue. That’s because they’ll once again be trying to keep up with Westhead and the Ducks’ frenetic brand of basketball that’s left them second in the conference in scoring and first in 3-point field goals made.

Westhead’s philosophy is simple enough: Run and run and run until, ideally, opponents can’t keep up. One could argue that’s exactly what happened to the UW in each of the prior meetings with its I-5 rivals.

And while he readily acknowledged it will still be a challenge, McGuff hopes his team is at least somewhat better prepared to handle that pace today.

“We should, having played them twice this year, be comfortable with what they do, certainly familiar,” the first-year head coach said. “But still, it’s hard. It can take a lot out of you, especially late in the year.”

If the Huskies are able to handle Oregon, they’ll move on to face Stanford in the second round. Yes, mighty Stanford, of the No. 2 national ranking and the 76-game Pac-12 winning streak between the regular season and the conference tournament. And while McGuff promised that, as always, his mind is singularly focused on the Ducks, Davis appeared to already be taking a future matchup with the Cardinal for granted.

“It’s definitely an opportunity, playing Stanford,” the Bay Area native said. “Just that whole experience, for me, is such a big deal. I just can’t wait to play them.”

The X-Factor

Sophomore Kellie McCann-Smith, a transfer from Nebraska, has been a key role player off the bench for the UW all season long, serving as a serious threat from the perimeter. In the Huskies’ two earlier meetings with the Ducks, however, she’s been a star.

In their first meeting, McCann-Smith erupted with a career-high 26 points. In the second meeting she had 12, all coming off 3-point field goals. In all, just shy of one-third of all the points she’s scored this season came against Oregon.

Why? There are a couple of reasons. The first is the Ducks’ propensity to play zone defense, a side effect of which tends to be more space on the wings for 3-point shooters to operate. The second, as McCann-Smith herself pointed out after her most recent explosion against Oregon, is that she’s quite comfortable spotting up in transition, which is eminently easy to do against the fast-paced Ducks.

How she plays in Los Angeles today could very well decide whether the Huskies get a crack at the Cardinal.

“It’s a good matchup for her,” McGuff said. “Hopefully she can have one more good game against them.”

Reach reporter Kevin Dowd at sports@dailyuw.com or on Twitter @kevindowd.

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