March S[imulation]adness: Oregon and UConn: Defense matters even with two offensive powerhouses

Oregon aims to continue championship quest, UConn looks to avenge February loss

[Please enjoy our March S[imulation]adness content. For more about this project, check out our explainer post.]

As Oregon and UConn meet in the Elite 8 a lot is on the line. UConn looks to make the Final Four for the 13th year in a row, while Oregon looks to make just their second consecutive Final Four.

Christy Thomaskutty, former Emory head coach and current women’s basketball analyst, weighed in on what to watch for in this matchup.

Oregon enters this game with the top-ranked offense in the country, with the Huskies coming in with the 12th.

Thomaskutty said, “If you love offense, grab your popcorn and get comfortable on the couch because I think this is the best Elite 8 match-up of the tournament.”

Like most of country, Thomaskutty has been waiting for the Oregon-UConn rematch since the Huskies lost to South Carolina on Feb. 10, which sent them solidly to the 2 seed line.

This matchup sets up a rematch of the Ducks Feb. 3 victory over the Huskies at Gampel, 74-56. Five Oregon players scored in double figures in that game, something that could happen again in this game.

While this game matches up two offensive masterminds in Kelly Graves and Geno Auriemma, Thomaskutty believes that the outcome of this game will come down to UConn’s defense.

In the Huskies’ three losses this season they have been outscored 50-110 in the paint, including 14-44 against Oregon. It’s clear if UConn wants to stay in this game they will have to limit the Duck’s points in the paint.

Thomaskutty believes that the following are the two main defensive areas that UConn will need to succeed in if they are going to pull off the upset.

Oregon’s screen on ball offense

Despite UConn throwing different looks at Sabrina Ionescu and the rest of the Ducks, Thomaskutty believes that the Huskies can better defend the SOBs now due to the development of Aubry Griffin. Her length and speed can help slow down Ionescu.

Thomaskutty noted, “However, the screen and roll at the high post, will be the bigger issue for the Huskies. Oregon will have their shooters spotted up which will force, UConn to clog the lane with help side and thus, concede the 3, or play it straight up with the post and guard defenders trying to defend Sabrina and Hebard/Sabally getting downhill.”

UConn will have to play it exactly right to successfully defend the Ducks.

Oregon’s dribble penetration

Oregon averages 9.4 made threes per game, something that allows the Ducks to spread the floor so effectively.

“In the first match-up, the Huskies were flying out at shooters and chasing them off the 3 point line. Oregon wisely, gave a shot fake and just penetrated to the rim for [high percentage shots].”

To stop the Ducks, UConn will have to not only control the three, but also effectively the teammate who gets the ball off the bounce.

Defense is particularly important for the Huskies, so that they are able to get out in transition and create easy scoring opportunities before Oregon can get set in their half-court man, 2-3 or 3-2 defenses.

UConn was unable to create any offensive flow in their first matchup with Oregon because of the Ducks’ half-court defense. In order to move on Megan Walker and Christyn Williams will need to combine for more than 13 points, the number they scored in early February.

In the first matchup, Oregon controlled the game from the opening tip, despite it being the team’s third game in five games traveling across the country. In this game, however, the Ducks will be in the friendly confines of Portland and have a huge home crowd behind them.

This time, they will be playing in the friendly confines of Portland with a huge home crowd advantage.

While this game may be closer than most think, Oregon has too much experience to lose.

Thomaskutty’s final prediction is, “As Geno stated during Diana Taurisi’s senior year, UConn won because they had the best player in the country in a Husky uniform… this year, the best player in the country competes for the Duck’s and thus, will lead them to the Final Four.”

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.