EUGENE, Ore. — Carroll’s quick trip to the state of Oregon wrapped up with a pretty rare opportunity for the Saints on Sunday. Carroll played the University of Oregon, an NCAA Division I opponent and Pac-12 powerhouse, in an exhibition game at Matthew Knight Arena, falling to the Ducks 88-57.
“I’m really proud of the players with how hard they fought,” Saints head coach Rachelle Sayers said. “They came in with great energy and confidence. They didn’t come in afraid to play, they didn’t come in star struck, they came in and played loose. They really embraced the opportunity that was in front of us. I think that was really the message to them, that this is an amazing opportunity. There are a lot of people that would love a chance to step out on this floor and do what we’re doing today.”
Sunday’s exhibition, which counted as a win for Oregon, was put together quickly. Both the Ducks and Saints had games canceled prior to the Christmas holiday. Sayers knew her team would be in Oregon for a game against Willamette. That contest was rescheduled for New Year’s Day because of travel issues, and with Oregon’s contests against Utah and Colorado postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, the meeting between Oregon and Carroll came together.
“I’ve known [Oregon head coach] Kelly Graves for a long time,” Sayers said. “He was at Gonzaga when I was at Weber State when I first met him. I knew they had lost a game prior to Christmas and I just sent him a text and said, ‘hey we’re in Oregon for a single game, we lost a game, if you want to play, we’ll play you.’ At that point, he didn’t know if they had their Utah game or their Colorado game. Then our [Willamette] game got moved and it was kinda off the table. Walking through Costco on Thursday morning, he called me and said, ‘hey can you make this work, we’d love to play you…’
“I don’t know that we had confirmation that our flights were changed and we were playing until Friday afternoon just before we flew out to come play Willamette. It was super quick. Really happy that we were able to do it. The nice thing is we’re able to get back tonight and get ready for conference.”
The game was Oregon’s first since Dec. 18 and represented Carroll’s last scheduled non-league game of the regular-season as the Saints will resume Frontier Conference play on Thursday against Montana Tech.
Carroll battled with the Ducks. A Jamie Pickens lay-up with 4:06 left in the first half cut Oregon’s advantage to just eight points after it grew to as much as 16 points in the opening 20 minutes. A Pickens 3-pointer opened the scoring for Carroll on Sunday and gave the Saints an early 3-2 lead over their Division I foes.
Oregon, utilizing a full-court press in the first quarter, reeled off 15-straight points and led 17-3 with 6:15 left in the first quarter.
Carroll’s aforementioned eight-point first-half deficit grew to 15 points by the halftime buzzer. After holding even with Oregon in the second and third quarters, Carroll was out-scored 17-5 in the final 10 minutes, pushing the Ducks’ margin of victory past 30 points.
For the Saints, however, Sunday was about much more than the scoreboard. The rare opportunity for an NAIA basketball team to play a Pac-12 opponent was not lost on Sayers or anyone on Carroll’s travel roster. For the players, who watch Oregon on TV and understand the caliber of a team that made the NCAA’s Sweet 16 last year, Sunday’s exhibition was special.
That is why Sayers wanted to get everyone that made the trip into the game, and even better, all 11 Saints that played scored, including Pickens who finished with a team-high 12 points and Jaidyn Lyman who contributed 11 points.
“That was our main goal, that everybody gets in and that everybody is able to experience this,” Sayers said. “This is like Jaidyn Lyman’s dream to be out on that court. She loves Oregon and she’s a big-time basketball junky, she watches a ton of basketball and knows all their players. For her to be able to get that start and get out there and play like she did, I’m just super happy for her.”
Thirteen games remain on Carroll’s regular-season schedule. They are all conference games and the next two are at home. Carroll tipped off Frontier play with wins over Montana State Northern and Montana Western in early-December, but this coming Thursday begins the stretch run for the Saints.
A 7-8 Orediggers team and 12-1 Rocky Mountain College squad await Carroll later this week as the Saints look to extend their seven-game winning streak and 7-1 record inside the PE Center this season.
“Super excited to get into conference,” Sayers said. “These guys have been looking forward to conference play for a long time. They understand that this was fun and this was exciting but playing here and playing well means nothing if we don’t back it up with protecting our home court against Tech and Rocky. Tech has proven that they’re a very good team, they lost by single digits to Westmont…
“Rocky has only lost one game and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We know that the preseason doesn’t matter, what we did yesterday doesn’t matter. We’ve gotta turn around and continue to get better and be able to protect our home court this weekend.”
Tip off against Tech on Thursday is scheduled for 5 p.m.