Duke ready for NCAA Tournament return after 1-year absence
Posted March 17
DURHAM, N.C. — Temple hasn't appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2011. Oregon hasn't been in since 2005.
For perennial women's basketball power Duke, the wait only felt longer.
After a one-year absence, the Blue Devils mark their return to the postseason Saturday night when they face Hampton in their tournament opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Second-seeded Duke (27-5) plays 15th-seeded Hampton (20-12) after seventh-seeded Temple (24-7) takes on 10th-seeded Oregon (20-13) in the first round of the Bridgeport Regional.
"We're just really excited to play," coach Joanne P. McCallie said Friday. "It's been a long wait."
In more ways than one.
The Blue Devils will have had nearly two full weeks off since their last game, a loss to Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title game on March 5.
Duke established itself as a tournament mainstay through the past two decades, earning berths every year from 1995-2015 and advancing to four Final Fours before a rare down year in 2015-16 ended that streak.
The Blue Devils are back, earning their first top-10 ranking in two years and winning 10 games on their march to the ACC championship game, where they lost to top-seeded Notre Dame.
"I think it gives us a good boost of confidence," guard Rebecca Greenwell said. "Every team in the ACC, it's going to be battle. We obviously didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we learned from that and we grew."
It's been a while since things went this well for both Temple and Oregon.
The Owls went to eight straight NCAA Tournaments from 2004-11 but hadn't been invited again until now, after they finished second to No. 1 Connecticut in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Ducks' lone appearance since 2001 came in '05 but earned their spot largely on the strength of four victories over Top 25 opponents, including a Pac-12 quarterfinal win over No. 11 Washington.
Neither team has ever reached the Sweet 16. It'll be tough for Saturday's winner to break that string because that team will, in all likelihood, have to beat Duke on its home floor — where the Blue Devils are undefeated this season — to make it to Bridgeport.
"It's go hard or go home at this point," Temple guard Tanaya Atkinson said, "and we only get one chance."
Some other things to know about the games in Durham:
LONG-RANGE TOUCH: This sub-regional has two of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams. Duke ranks sixth in Division I, hitting nearly 39 percent of its 3-point attempts. The Ducks are even better, ranking second at 39.6 percent. Oregon's Lexi Bando leads the nation, hitting 50 percent of her 3s. On the other hand, the Owls and their high-pressure defense allow opponents to shoot less than 30 percent from beyond the arc. "If we're just passing it around like we do, we're going to get the shots that we want," Bando said. "But we have to attack them and keep them honest."
YOU AGAIN? Hampton coach David Six has led the Pirates into the field for the sixth time in seven years. This is his third time his team was assigned to play Duke at Cameron. The Blue Devils beat Hampton 72-37 in 2010 and 67-51 in 2013.
UCONN'S SHADOW: This is the third time in seven years that Duke has been the No. 2 seed in Connecticut's regional. The Huskies beat the Blue Devils in a regional final in 2011, while a rematch three years later was spoiled when DePaul upset Duke in the second round.
BIG DUCKS: Oregon has six players at 6-foot-3 or taller. The Ducks are tied with Kansas State and Texas for the tallest roster in Division I. Temple has only three players that tall, and only one of them — 6-4 center Safiya Martin — averages more than 10 minutes. "We're totally different in styles of play," Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. "They have a lot of size. We have a lot of speed."
MISSING OWL: Injured Temple guard Donnaizha Fountain will miss her fourth straight game, Cardoza said. Fountain is the Owls' third-leading scorer (14.1 ppg) and No. 2 rebounder (7.5 rpg). Cardoza called it "a big loss" but says the rest of the Owls "mentally are really getting after it" to continue to replace her.
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