Who takes it?: A look at SDSU-Oregon

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Who takes it?: A look at SDSU-Oregon

Landon Dierks, Sports Reporter

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Based solely on seeding, South Dakota State (the Portland region’s 6-seed) wasn’t supposed to be here, but it has earned its place among the household names this March.

After chipping away at Quinnipiac’s second-ranked scoring defense and outpacing Syracuse’s 19th-ranked scoring offense (on its home court), coach Aaron Johnston’s team has the rest of the Portland region on upset notice.

While it won’t be easy, here are four factors to watch for on Friday night:

Underdog mentality

SDSU may not have the nation name-recognition of UConn or Notre Dame, but the Jacks regularly push nationally ranked teams to their limits.

Such is the case for Friday’s opponent, the University of Oregon.

When the Ducks waddled into Frost Arena last December, they held the No. 7 ranking in the AP poll and left with a narrow 87-79 win over unranked SDSU behind 53 combined points from sophomore Satou Sabally and junior Sabrina Ionescu.

While SDSU makes its Sweet 16 debut, Oregon is playing in its third consecutive second weekend. This, however, doesn’t seem to matter to Oregon coach Kelly Graves.

“They’re a veteran group,” Graves said of the Jacks. “Maybe the first time in this spot, but not the first time in this tournament, against big opponents … they’re not afraid to play anybody.”

The Jacks are 3-3 against ranked opponents this season, and Friday will be their latest chance for SDSU to play the role of giant-killer.

Location

Oregon earned the right to play the second weekend of the tournament less than two hours from their campus in Eugene — providing it with a virtual home game inside the Moda Center.

Given that, a large contingent of Duck fans is expected to be in attendance to make things tough on the Jacks.

“We’re going to have a home atmosphere here, so this is basically going to be a home game with a lot of Duck fans cheering us on,” Sabally said. “… It’s always good to play at home. We see it as an advantage.”

While the majority of fans are likely to be clad in green and yellow, Oregon knows there won’t be any blue and yellow in the arena.

“When we played there, they had a great crowd, atmosphere,” Oregon junior Ruthy Hebard said. “I’ve seen some South Dakota State fans walking around Portland already. It’s going to be fun to see them and have our home crowd here, as well.”

Star guard versus star guard

The biggest matchup to watch Friday night is Ionescu going up against SDSU senior Macy Miller.

Ionescu recorded 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in Brookings, and no one should expect her production to dip as she continues to be the heartbeat of the Ducks’ offense.

It should also be mentioned that the junior is coming off of a triple-double (the 18th of her career) in Oregon’s second-round win over Indiana, so there’s been no let-up on her end.

In five postseason games, Miller has upped her scoring output from 18.1 to 22.2 points per game. While she only managed 14 points in the first matchup, she also made an impact by getting her teammates involved and rebounding as she posted six assists and six rebounds.

It might not be enough if Miller doesn’t put together an above-average performance in her second showing against the Ducks

The two might not always be matched up with each other on defense, the game might come down to which veteran guard makes a bigger impact for her team.

Supporting cast

Both teams have plenty of talent outside Ionescu and Miller.

For Oregon, starters Erin Boley, Hebard and Sabally all average at least 12.9 points per game, but health could be a problem. Hebard might not be at 100 percent strength (though she’s played regular minutes since coming back from an injury sustained in mid-February) while key reserve guard Taylor Chavez is day-to-day, according to Graves.

For a team with only 10 players on the roster, two injuries make a dent to the Oregon rotation.

The scoring numbers might not be quite as high, but Johnston is pleased with where his players (especially his starters) are at heading into the Sweet 16 compared to earlier this season.

“Since [December], I think Myah [Selland] has grown as a player. Tylee Irwin has grown as a player. So has Tagyn Larson. Other three starters for us, watching them in November and December compared to where they are in March, just a huge difference in their confidence level.

Larson, Selland and Madison Guebert average double-figures in scoring with Irwin adding 7.6 points per contest.

Neither team reached this point by accident and both coaches are quick to point out the talent the other’s squad has, so don’t expect the Ducks to take the Jacks lightly.

Follow coverage of the women’s Sweet 16 on Twitter @CollegianSports. TV coverage can be found on EPSN2 at 10 p.m. Friday, March 29.