CORVALLIS, Ore. — Two ranked teams, two intense rivalry games and two raucous sellouts: Women’s college basketball is enjoying a renaissance in the Pacific Northwest where Oregon and Oregon State are among the nation’s elite teams again this season.
Oregon (24-2, 13-1 Pac-12) is ranked No. 2 in this week’s AP Top 25, for its highest ranking ever. Oregon State (21-5, 11-3) is ranked No. 12.
Both teams, located just 50 miles apart, moved in the latest rankings following Oregon’s 77-68 victory over the Beavers on Friday in Eugene, with the Ducks jumping a spot and Oregon State falling from No. 9.
The teams are likely to shift around again in next week’s poll following the Beavers’ 67-62 revenge victory over Oregon in Corvallis on Monday night.
Both games were sellouts, and there was even a report of scalpers hawking general admission seats at Gill Coliseum for $25, up from the usual $12.
“Here’s the thing, it’s not just the full houses, that’s an amazing thing, but the quality of basketball that’s being played on these two teams is unbelievable. The level that these two teams compete at, execute at, it’s special, I mean it’s just magnificent,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “The fact that we are both in communities that will support the programs like we have, makes it what it is.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves was so amped by the crowd for the game at home that he grabbed the public address microphone afterward to offer his thanks.
“This doesn’t happen all the time. In women’s basketball, unfortunately, there are pockets that just don’t draw regardless of how good the teams are. Just because you have a good team doesn’t mean you’re going to have fans,” he said. “And I think these fans have really bought into our program and our players, they love these guys. And I just wanted to thank them for that.”
Oregon State has been considered one of the top programs in the country since Rueck’s fourth season at his alma mater in 2013-14, when the Beavers finished second in the league standings and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.
The Beavers’ best finish under Rueck’s watch came in 2016 when they went to the Final Four. Oregon State has been to the tournament in each of the last five seasons, and last year reached the Elite Eight.
The Ducks’ rise has been more recent, since Graves came to Eugene in 2014 from Gonzaga. In 2016, he landed Sabrina Ionescu, one of the top prospects in that year’s recruiting class. Ionescu started as a freshman and last year was the Pac-12′s Player of the Year.
A junior this season, Ionescu is averaging 19.7 points, 8.03 assists and 7.2 rebounds. She has become known for triple-doubles, and holds the NCAA record (among men and women) with 16.
Oregon has made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in the past two seasons.
Now that the two teams have split their regular-season series, a third showdown is possible during the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next month. Oregon currently sits atop the league’s regular-season standings.
“I don’t know where else this is happening, with two programs this close together geographically, so it just makes everything we’re doing more special knowing that we’ve got amazing platforms to operate from locally and nationally,” Rueck said. “All eyes are on Oregon right now.”
Both teams also look to be high seeds in the NCAA tournament if they continue to win.
The Ducks, Baylor, Louisville, and Mississippi State were the No. 1 seeds in the first NCAA Top 16 reveal on Feb. 11. Oregon State was a No. 3 seed. The NCAA will have one more reveal of the top 16 teams on March 4 before Selection Monday on March 18.
Mississippi State, Louisville and Oregon all lost this past week, meaning there already looks to be a shake-up at the top for the next reveal. If Oregon can remain a top seed, the Ducks will remain close to home in the Portland regional.
There’s one issue with the Ducks, however, the status of starting forward Ruthy Hebard, who injured her right knee in the second quarter of Monday’s game. Hebard warmed up with the team for the second half, but never returned.
The 6-4 junior from Fairbanks, Alaska, averages 16.8 points and 9.1 rebounds for the Ducks.
Afterward, Graves ominously said: “She didn’t look all that good.” Oregon did not yet have an update on Hebard’s status on Tuesday afternoon.