BRIDGEPORT - Oregon coach Kelly Graves planned a trip with his family in January to watch the menâ€™s Final Four next week.
It couldnâ€™t have worked out better for the Ducks womenâ€™s basketball coach that his former school Gonzaga and his current one have already qualified for the national semifinals in Arizona.
That was until his 10th-seeded team started winning its own NCAA Tournament games.
Now the Ducks stand one win away from their first trip to the Final Four.
For that to happen, they would have to pull off one of the greatest upsets in womenâ€™s basketball history, knocking off No. 1 UConn on Monday night in the Bridgeport Regional final.
â€śI tell you, I wouldnâ€™t mind if I had that problem and had to miss the menâ€™s Final Four,â€ť Graves said smiling. â€śIâ€™d gladly take the hit financially.â€ť
Graves knows his team will need to be at its best to pull off the win.
â€śItâ€™s going to take our absolute best. Thereâ€™s no doubt about it, and weâ€™ve got to play for 40 minutes,â€ť he said. â€śYou know, watching them play and what Coach Auriemma has done is incredible. It truly is. I think theyâ€™ve set a standard that is good for our sport.â€ť
His young team, led by three freshmen, has played with a nothing-to-lose attitude in upset wins over No. 7 seed Temple, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland. Facing the Huskies, who have won 110 straight games doesnâ€™t seem to change that.
â€śWeâ€™ve played against top-ranked teams and weâ€™ve been down. I think we have six or seven wins from coming from down in the fourth quarter,â€ť freshmen Sabrina Ionescu said. â€śSo, weâ€™re pretty used to doing that. But, weâ€™ve made it this far by not being nervous, so I donâ€™t see why UConn would make us extra nervous.â€ť
The Huskies will be trying for a 10th consecutive trip to the Final Four. Theyâ€™ve won four straight national championships and 27 consecutive NCAA Tournament games.
Coach Geno Auriemma has been impressed by the Ducks and Graves.
â€śThey donâ€™t know enough to be either intimidated or pressured or anything youâ€™d associate with a team doing this for the first time,â€ť Auriemma said of the Ducks.
â€śThey are having fun and enjoying the moment as they should. Itâ€™s really neat to see. ... I said when (Oregon coach) Kelly Graves was hired that it wonâ€™t be long before theyâ€™re in the Final Four. I hope itâ€™s not this early, but it wonâ€™t be long.â€ť
Here are a few other tidbits for the game:
GROWING UP MCGWIRE
Mallory McGwire never felt any pressure to play sports when she was younger despite her dad, Dan, being a first-round pick in the NFL by the Seahawks and her uncle Mark McGwire, starring for the Aâ€™s and Cardinals.
She actually loved playing golf when she was younger, supposedly driving the ball 200 yards when she was 11.
â€śThere were no expectations. My dad wanted us to do whatever we wanted to do. I grew up playing golf actually,â€ť she said. â€śI mean I played basketball, but it was kind of just like a side thing. Basketball developed around high school to be completely honest. They never pushed us. My sister plays basketball also.â€ť
Sheâ€™s flourished in her first season with the Ducks averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 53.7 percent from the field.
McGwire said she doesnâ€™t really talk to her uncle much, but her dad does. â€śMy dad was a professional athlete as well and to think that theyâ€™ve both been through the same things that Iâ€™m going through is a lot of help,â€ť she said. â€śMy dad texts me every day, every game day. I talk to him before every game and he gives me advice before every game.â€ť
A win on Monday would give Auriemma 113 NCAA Tournament victories, moving him past Pat Summitt for the most all-time.
WINNING WHEN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO
UConn doesnâ€™t lose many games against unranked teams. The Huskies have beaten 134 straight non-Top 25 teams and won 309 of the past 310. The lone loss came against St. Johnâ€™s in 2012. Since the 1993-94 season, UConn is 586-9 against unranked opponents.