Sabrina Ionescu scores career-best 36 points and Oregon smashes Stanford 77-57 at KeyArena to capture first Pac-12 women’s tournament title.
Through Oregon’s charmed season that yielded a regular season Pac-12 championship, the Ducks beat every Pac-12 team, save one: Stanford.
In Eugene, Ore. on Feb. 4, the blue blood team of Pac-12 women’s basketball defeated Kelly Graves’ upstart Oregon youngsters 78-65 to snap the Ducks’ bid for a school-record 15-straight home wins, and force a three-way tie – Oregon, Stanford, UCLA – for first place in the Pac-12.
That loss weighed on the top-seeded Ducks’ minds as they took the floor against second-seeded Stanford Sunday night at Key Arena in their first-ever appearance in a Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament championship game.
“Back at home, that loss stung us badly,” said Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu. “I think we had some unfinished business. We adjusted from what we did last game, and I was just ready to come out.”
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Come out she did.
Ionescu played the game of her life, scoring a career-high 36 points to power sixth-ranked Oregon to its first-ever Pac-12 tournament title in a dominant 77-57 win over No. 16 Stanford (22-10).
“Last time we played them, beating them up was a great accomplishment, and it was a Brittany McPhee show,” said Stanford coach Tara Van Derveer referencing Stanford’s star guard McPhee, a Normandy Park native who finished with 12 points. “Britt really torched them, and today, Sabrina torched us.
“She was really orchestrating everything out there. They did a really good job in their pick-and-rolls, and she made long, long threes.”
After Ionescu sank her fourth 3-pointer of the night to give Oregon (30-4) a 20-point lead on Stanford with 2:21 left, a chant rumbled up from the crowd at Key Arena: “M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P.”
To the satisfaction of the 5,387 in attendance – most of whom wore Oregon’s green and yellow – Ionescu was rewarded with the most outstanding player trophy after the game.
But really, there was no other close contender.
A masterful, well-rounded performance from the Pac-12 Player of the Year was key in helping Oregon hand the Cardinal their worst Pac-12 loss of the season.
Ionescu played 38 minutes and by the time she left the game to a standing ovation, she had four rebounds, four assists and four steals to go along with her 36 points that included four 3-pointers, and 14-of-24 shooting from the field.
Oh, and beware, Pac-12: Even though Ionescu is a second-year starter for the Ducks, she’s only a sophomore, veteran enough in her young career that her coach lauded her for her leadership, but new enough to postseason play that Graves is still developing an understanding of her game day body language.
“I was telling some people earlier that I saw a little twinkle in her eye coming off the bus today, and at shoot around and at pre-game meal,” Graves said. “She had a different look about her. I didn’t know what that was going to translate into, but now I know the look.”
Dominance. That’s what “the look” signified.
Unlike their semifinal game, when the Ducks started out shooting cold and allowed UCLA to roll to a 13-point lead, there was no lull Sunday against Stanford.
Paced by Ionescu’s 12 first quarter points, Oregon matched Stanford shot for shot through the opening frame, and steadily pulled away from the Cardinal as the game wore on.
Oregon led 31-24 at halftime, extended that lead to 54-43 at the end of the third quarter, and led by 20 as Ionescu took a seat in the final two minutes.
Ionescu gave Oregon its first lead of the game with about 30 seconds left in the first quarter, when she fought through traffic in the paint to hit a layup and draw a foul, then gamely converted the free throw to edge Oregon ahead of Stanford, 18-17.
The fired-up Ionescu was far from done. She opened the second quarter with a big 3-pointer, deftly stole the ball from Stanford’s Alanna Smith, and took it the other way for a layup to give Oregon a 23-17 lead.
“She was doing it in every phase,” Graves said. “I thought defensively she was giving us great energy that led to obviously some great offense – just her willingness to take late shot clock shots and just keep the ball in her hands the whole time.
“When you have somebody like Sabrina, she shines the brightest in the biggest moments. And she sure did that tonight. That’s part of her competitive greatness.”
Ionescu would steal and go coast-to-coast at least twice more throughout the game, and to the Cardinal, it seemed as if she were everywhere.
“It was the Ionescu show today,” VanDerveer said. “I think she’s a competitor.”
In the second half, the Cardinal tried to double or triple-team Ionescu, but managed only to force her to pass on occasion. This freed up other Ducks on offense: Satou Sabally scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half, while Ruthy Hebard had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Alanna Smith led Stanford with 17 points, but the Cardinal, which was playing for its 13th Pac-12 tournament championship, could not withstand Oregon’s steady onslaught of deadly scoring and stifling defense.
“They have a lot of balance,” Van Derveer said. “They go inside, they go outside, they had five different people hit threes. So it was a tough night.”
Oregon set a Pac-12 tournament title game record with 11 3-pointers while holding Stanford to four threes. The Ducks also capitalized on Stanford’s mistakes, scoring 24 points off turnovers, and outdoing the Cardinal 19-9 on second chance points.
“We decided to play them outside-in, tried to take away the three-point game the best we could and make them make baskets around the hoop, and we did that,” Graves said.
The Ducks now turn their attention to the NCAA Tournament. Winning the Pac-12 tournament earned Oregon the conference’s automatic berth, and there’s a strong chance they might be selected to host in the first round.
“I think we’re primed and ready for that next phase,” Graves said. “I think all the pieces are in place for us to continue this success.”