Jacks, Ducks clash again for spot in Elite Eight

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

Coach Aaron Johnston’s Jackrabbits have already made program history by advancing to the Sweet 16, but they’re looking to go deeper into the postseason.

To do that, South Dakota State will have to get past a familiar opponent in Oregon, but avenging its December loss will be no easy task. The Ducks get a virtual home game at the regional site in Portland and are playing to extend their season as well.

“It’s nice to play a team you’re a little bit familiar with,” senior Madison Guebert said after the second-round win over Syracuse. “Oregon’s a very aggressive team and they have a lot of very talented players. It was a close one for us at Frost Arena, so we’re excited to get another crack at them.”

When Oregon visited Brookings on Dec. 12, 2018, sophomore Satou Sabally and star junior Sabrina Ionescu propelled the Ducks to an 87-79 win.

Sabally scored 27 points and grabbed six rebounds while Ionescu flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

If the sixth-seeded Jackrabbits (28-6) are to knock off the second-seeded Ducks (31-4), they will likely have to make the supporting cast bear more of the offensive load.

Even then there are no guarantees.

Oregon’s 86 points per game is the third-best scoring average in the country, and it gets the bulk of the production from the starting lineup. All five starters average 9.8 points per game or more, paced by 19.7 points from Ionescu (she also averages 8.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds).

“Their offense is so well balanced,” senior Macy Miller said. “Sabrina Ionescu is a really great player and you can’t just key on her because she makes all the players around her better.”

Following the win at Frost Arena, Oregon coach Kelly Graves had high praise for the home team, so don’t expect the Ducks to overlook the Jackrabbits this time around.

“Nobody who knows basketball will be surprised by (the final score),” Graves said after the first matchup. “… These guys are good — we knew that.”

The trio of Guebert, Miller and sophomore Myah Selland combined for 103 points, 46 rebounds and 17 assists in the first two rounds (they scored 56 of SDSU’s points in the first matchup with the Ducks) and will likely need to keep up the level of play in order to advance.

With much of the attention on the starters, freshman forward Paiton Burckhard quietly had a solid weekend. She tallied 18 points six rebounds across the two contests. If Burckhard and others can play impactful minutes off the bench in Portland, it will be a welcome sight for SDSU.

Given the recent history with Oregon and the quality of opponent the Jacks faced in the first and second rounds, SDSU coach Aaron Johnston thinks his team is in a good place but knows his players will have to elevate their performance as the tournament continues.

“We’re confident, but you’re playing elite teams,” Johnston said. “Quinnipiac is an elite team and we feel really good about getting that win. You take another step forward and Syracuse is another step up from elite. You win this one and it’s another step up, so the only way to keep moving forward is to take on teams like Oregon. That’s going to be a big, big challenge. They’re awfully good.”

Opening tip of the Jacks’ Sweet 16 game will be at 10 p.m. Friday, March 29 from the Moda Center in Portland, with televised coverage on ESPN2.