CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu played with a heavy heart Sunday against No. 7 Oregon State.
The Ducks’ All-American senior guard learned that her close friend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning, a few hours before tip-off of a much-anticipated matchup of Top 10 teams. Bryant attended an Oregon game on Dec. 14 at Long Beach State.
Ionescu was in tears during a pregame moment of silence honoring Bryant, and then scored 19 points and played all 40 minutes to lead No. 4 Oregon (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) to a 66-57 victory before a sell-out crowd at Gill Coliseum.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said Ionescu never considered not playing in the game.
“I know it was really hard on her,” Graves said. “To see her go out and her teammates battle for her and play (with) the kind of spirit and enthusiasm and intensity that Kobe Bryant always played the game I think was an incredible testament to a really championship-character filled team.”
Players from both teams gathered together at mid-court and offered a prayer for Bryant and his family. Oregon State guard Aleah Goodman gave Ionescu a hug.
“Obviously Kobe was a huge influence for all of us,” Goodman said. “He’s been my favorite player growing up. What he’s done for women’s basketball alone was huge.”
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said “Kobe to them is what Michael Jordan was to me.”
“He’s an example of somebody that you probably pattern if not your game after, the way you compete and how you want to hold yourself as the ultimate competitor,” Rueck said. “Obviously one of the best athletes ever.”
Oregon players were not made available to the media postgame, but Ionescu was emotional after the game in a TV interview about the death of Bryant, who had mentored her.
“Everything I do, I do it for him. This season is for him,” she said.
Ionescu also had “”Forever 24” and a heart on her shoes.
Less than 48 hours after Oregon defeated Oregon State 76-64 in Eugene behind Ionescu’s 23 points and nine assists, it was more of the same in the rematch.
Oregon swept Oregon State (16-4, 4-4) for first time since the 2009-10 season, a year before Rueck became the Beavers’ head coach and began to turn the program around. The Beavers had won the previous nine Civil War matchups in Corvallis.
Mikayla Pivec scored 20 points and had 12 rebounds to lead the Beavers (16-4, 4-4), who have lost three games in a row for the first time since the 2013-14 season. She was the only Oregon State player to score in double figures.
Oregon scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to take its biggest lead at 59-45. Oregon State made a brief run.
An inside basket by Taylor Jones followed by Kat Tudor’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 59-50 with 4:20 remaining. But Jaz Shelley’s 3-pointer stopped the Beavers’ momentum.
Oregon State did not get closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Satou Sabally scored 16 points and Ruthy Heard added 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Ducks, who had a 40-31 advance on the boards.
“That was a good hard-fought win, especially defensively” said Graves, who led Oregon to its first Final Four appearance last season. “I thought we were on point today and that won the game for us.”
The Ducks, who trailed 37-34 at halftime, outscored Oregon State 18-8 in the third quarter to take a 52-45 advantage.
Oregon State struggled to get open looks throughout the second half against the Ducks’ man-to-man defense.
Pivec, who scored 15 points in the first half, picked up her fourth foul at 2:20 of the third quarter with the Ducks leading by two points. Oregon outscored the Beavers 5-0 the remainder of the quarter with Pivec on the bench.
“We’re ready to continue growing and be the best that we can be,” Pivec said.
Oregon: The Ducks have won five games in a row and with a sweep of Oregon State, along with a rout of Stanford last week, they are in excellent position to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Oregon State: The Beavers were swept in the Civil War and are 0-3 against teams ranked in the Top 10 this season.
Oregon will be at Utah on Thursday
Oregon State will be Colorado on Thursday