This matchup is the type that is circled preseason. The defending Pac-12 regular-season champion is meeting — for the first time since the conference championship — the team that stole the title out from under them. Oh, and both programs are ranked in the top 10, each having spent time at No. 1.
This is the type of game that may preview a Final Four.
“At least a regional,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer.
No. 3 Stanford (15-1, 4-0 Pac-12) will meet No. 6 Oregon (13-2, 3-1 Pac-12) in a raucous Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday night.
“What’s really exciting are the crowds, you know, to go up to Oregon there’s gonna be a great crowd,” VanDerveer said.
Junior guard Kiana Williams said, “I’m excited and I know my teammates are excited. They’re going to be loud, and I think it’s going to be a big challenge, especially for me, to make sure we all stay on the same page. They’re going to go on a run and the crowd is going to get into the game, but I think if we just stick together, execute our game plan, we’ll be just fine.”
The Pac-12 boasts the lone unbeaten team in the country, No. 7 UCLA. In a remarkable season for the conference, in which half of its teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and four are in the top 10, this game means a little bit more.
“Every single Pac-12 game is going to be a battle,” said sophomore guard Lexie Hull.
Of all of the teams in the vaunted Pac-12, however, Oregon and Stanford were picked one-two in the preseason and have lived up to the expectations thus far.
Oregon is second in the country in both scoring margin, nearly averaging 30-point wins, and in shooting percentage, hitting more than half of its shots from the field. The 11.6 rebound margin is eighth in the nation, and its 3-pointers per game and 3-point percentage are both the best in conference.
Between Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, the Ducks have two of the top-five scorers in conference, two of the top-three rebounders, the top assister in the nation (Ionescu, 8.6), and the NCAA’s third-best field goal percentage (Hebard, 68.7%).
The pair, alongside Satou Sabally who rounds out the big three, combined for 54 points in the most recent 71-64 bounceback win over No. 21 Arizona. Ionescu, who is 1.4 assists and 0.9 rebounds per game from averaging a triple-double on the season, secured her 22nd career triple-double in that win, extending her NCAA all-time record.
Outside of freshman guard Hannah Jump, whose 47.6 3-point percentage is sixth-best, Stanford does not have any individuals climbing up the leaderboards, yet.
Last game, however, a potential big three of Williams, Hull and freshman guard Haley Jones emerged to score 57 of the team’s 79 points. Nevertheless, Stanford is more inclined to take a balanced approach to scoring responsibility, while still allowing individual players to have solos when it is their night.
For her efforts, Jones was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for the third time this season.
As a team, the Cardinal are 13th in field goal percentage, shooting 46.9%, and seventh in field goal percentage defense (.329).
Stanford has won three straight in Eugene, but that streak is on the line Thursday night at 6 p.m.