Oregon takes media attention from viral video in stride, now it’s time for basketball: “That’s why we’re here.”
After media frenzy, Ducks are focused on South Dakota
— Oregon Women’s Basketball (@OregonWBB) March 20, 2021
Usually, the days leading up to the first day of the NCAA Tournament are filled with travel, practices, and low-key pre-game day press conferences. However, with a global pandemic still raging and the tournament’s resumption after a season hiatus, the prologue to the Big Dance would undoubtedly have a different vibe than previous years. Still, no one could have imagined the hailstorm that rained down on the NCAA in the past 72 hours as photos and videos surfaced that depicted conditions at the women’s tournament that are vastly inferior to the men’s event.
The NCAA acknowledged the disparities, apologizing profusely, and went into overdrive to correct some of the problems that included paltry weight rooms, inferior food choices, and even different and less reliable Covid-19 tests than the men’s side. While Stanford sports performance coach Ali Kerschner was the first to post photos of the weight room inequalities, it was a video posted by Oregon sophomore forward Sedona Prince describing the differences that garnered a viral effect, firing up social media.
“If you aren’t upset about this problem,” Prince said in the video, “then you’re a part of it.
The collective outrage resulted in attention focused on Prince and Oregon and a deluge of media coverage from across the spectrum discussing inequality and sexism in sports.
Oregon head coach Kelly Graves addressed the sudden boom in attention during a press conference Saturday morning and previewed his team’s tourney opener, a matchup against 11th-seeded South Dakota on Monday. Oregon is a No. 6 seed.
Prince, who was a highly-touted transfer from Texas to Oregon, and her teammates discussed the disparities before she posted the video online Thursday evening., according to Graves. While the 6-7 post didn’t let her coach know what she was going to do, he expressed pride at her efforts to bring attention to the inequalities.
“I didn’t realize it was going to go viral like it did,” Graves said. “And I’m glad it did because change has been made.”
Prince, who was also in the headlines when she left her home state to play at Oregon, has butted heads with the NCAA before over a denied waiver request and as a plaintiff in a lawsuit contesting the organization’s image and likeness rules for student-athletes. She is undaunted by the media attention, Graves asserted.
“I think this is just another instance, you know, where she’s in the limelight. I think she handles it well. I’m really proud of what she did. I know a lot of people now jumped on it. She was one of the first ones. And I’m proud of all my team for having an opinion and putting it out there, and demanding change, and change has come. I think that’s great, what a powerful lesson for them, that the voices of our student-athletes are credible. Sedona leads that charge. She’s not afraid to be out front.”
The NCAA vice president of women’s basketball, Lynn Holzman, was caught off guard by the video and quickly sprang into action that night, organizing a virtual meeting with coaches, team administrators and representatives from the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
The next morning in a press conference, Holzman promised that swift changes were underway, including an improved weight room and better accessibility to a variety of food options. Saturday morning, the NCAA released an image of a new, expansive, and better-equipped weight facility.
The weight room has arrived!
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 20, 2021
Graves praised their efforts and the difficulties of organizing a large-scale event like the tournament.
“Change was made,” Graves said. “and I applaud the NCAA. You know they admitted to the problem, and they’ve tried to make a change and in the short term. My guess is it probably still doesn’t look like the guys. But, you know, they’ve tried to remedy it. I applaud them for that.”
With at least two of the issues highlighted at the tournament fixed, Graves and his team can focus more on the task at hand.
“Now it’s time to think basketball,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Series 1-0 in South Dakota’s Favor
Oregon (13-8, 10-7 Pac-12) and South Dakota (19-5, 12-2 Summit) have only faced each other once: A March 2016 contest that the Coyotes won 88-54 in the WNIT. But that was before the era of Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, and Ruthy Hebard, former Ducks who are now WNBA players.
This season the Coyote’s top threats include guard Chloe Lamb, a three-point ace who averages 16.2 points per game, and forward Hannah Sjerven, who averages 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. South Dakota has another offensive maven in Liv Korngable, who puts up 14.7 points per game. The mid-major program only commits 11.2 turnovers per contest and is 18th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Oregon’s heavy hitters include forward Nyara Sabally, an All-Pac-12 team selection who gives the Ducks 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Forward Erin Boley is also a player to watch, with her prowess from beyond the arc, averaging 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Prince is poised to play a big role in Oregon’s NCAA run as she scored in double figures in four straight games earlier this year.
The Coyotes, this season’s Summit League Tournament champions, have a reputation for being a team that Power Five programs like to avoid. They will be a dangerous foe in the first round for Oregon.
“They’re incredible,” Graves said. He described South Dakota’s playing style as “tons of screens, great cutters, great spacing.”
“They can all shoot. They can all make plays off the dribble….It’s just not a style we see very often in the Pac 12. So, it’s going to be difficult.”
He also pointed out that while his current team does not have much NCAA tournament experience, South Dakota has three veterans with tournament experience.
“We’re going to have to play really well.”