Sabrina Ionescu had 17 points and made some clutch plays late and led the Ducks back from a 13-point deficit to beat a determined UCLA in the first of two Pac-12 women's basketball tournament semifinals Saturday night
Deep in the fourth quarter of Oregon’s spirited 65-62 Pac-12 semifinal win over UCLA, the rhythmic chants of “Let’s go, Ducks! Let’s go, Ducks!” that reverberated through Key Arena made the venue feel and sound like the Ducks’ home court of Matthew Knight Arena.
Trailing No. 9 UCLA by four points in the final three and a half minutes on Saturday night, the sixth-ranked, top-seeded Ducks (29-4 overall) did not disappoint their fans.
Oregon rallied to a frenetic finish, keeping UCLA (24-7) scoreless in its final seven possessions, and manufacturing a 7-0 scoring run at the end to beat the four-seed Bruins and advance to its first Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament championship game in program history. The Ducks will face Stanford in Sunday’s final that tips off at 6 p.m (ESPN2).
“That’s a Final Four-caliber team with Final Four-caliber athletes and coaching staff,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “I thought down the stretch, especially in the last half of that fourth quarter, we were tremendous defensively. They got some second shots here and there late, but we made the stops when we needed.”
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Lexi Bando swished a 3-pointer from the right baseline, Maite Cazorla came up with a big layup, and Spokane native Oti Gildon – who entered the game for an injured Satou Sabally late in the fourth quarter – sank a clutch layup to give the Ducks a three-point cushion going into the final 30 seconds.
Along the way, Pac-12 Player of the Year Sabrina Ionescu exhorted the crowd to cheer louder, waving her arms upward and looking around the arena even as she backpedaled on defense.
“It almost seemed like the whole arena was filled with Oregon fans, and it was really nice and inspiring to actually see. Yeah, I was firing them up,” said Ionescu, who led Oregon with 17 points. “They stood with us throughout the whole game. We hope they come out tomorrow and continue to help us get this win.”
Ionescu led Oregon with 17 points and was a dominant force for the Ducks in those final crucial minutes. She had the assist on Bando’s 3-pointer, then dueled UCLA’s Jordin Canada up and down the floor, stealing the ball from Canada and dishing it to Gildon for the layup.
As Japreece Dean’s desperate heave of a 3-point attempt fell short at the buzzer, the Oregon-partisan crowd roared their approval and Oregon coach Kelly Graves leaped about a foot in the air as the ecstatic Ducks rejoiced on the court.
“I don’t typically get that emotional, but that was a heck of a game,” a grinning Graves said. “We didn’t show that many signs that we were gonna win till late. It didn’t appear at times to be our day, and these guys just gutted it out, I thought, defensively.”
The Bruins made Oregon fight for every possession in the third encounter between the teams this season. UCLA started hot, but for all the sharpshooting Oregon mustered in their 37-point quarterfinal win over Colorado on Friday, the Ducks couldn’t seem to replicate the magic early against UCLA.
Oregon allowed the Bruins to jump to a 7-2 lead within 90 seconds of the opening tipoff. For most of the first half, it didn’t get much better.
A day after hitting 13 3-pointers to tie the Pac-12 tournament record, the Ducks struggled early from long range, starting out 1 of 6 from beyond the arc.
As UCLA rolled to a 13-point lead in the second quarter, Bando, Oregon’s 3-point maestro hit six threes against Colorado, missed two 3-pointers in a row as the Ducks fell into a shooting slump.
Then came the breakthrough that sparked a 13-2 Oregon run.
Ruthy Hebard, who finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, started the Ducks’ climb out of a 32-19 hole with a layup and a jumper before Bando finally sank a 3-pointer on her third attempt of the night and jubilantly pointed at Ionescu – who’d provided the assist – as she raced up court.
Bando’s shot snapped the Ducks’ long-range drought. The senior from Eugene finished with 11 points, going 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and set a new school record with 271 career threes.
“Lexi hit one of those big threes. I thought that was big for us,” Graves said. “It seems like every time she makes a three, it almost counts for four or five because it seems to give us a lift.”
Thereafter, Ionescu drained a three of her own, and Maite Cazorla hit a three from the right corner before Bando nailed a pull-up jumper as time expired to close the gap to 34-32 going into half time.
The Ducks kept their shooting going after the break, with a game-tying layup from Hebard to open scoring in the third quarter. Hebard put up two big blocks to deny UCLA on back-to-back possessions, and then Cazorla drained a three from the left corner, pumping her fist in triumph as the Ducks went up 37-34, with 8:31 left in the third to lead the game for the first time.
From that point, with things back on even footing, it became a back-and-forth dogfight between two determined teams, reminiscent of the 101-94 encounter that Oregon won in overtime against the Bruins in Eugene on Feb. 19.
“For some reason, they bring out the best in us,” Graves said. “I don’t know about a rivalry long-term, but it certainly was this year because each one of the games was a little bit epic. They all came down to the last possession or two.”
Oregon snapped UCLA dynamo Jordin Canada’s streak of five games with 20-plus points, holding her to 19. Canada had 14 points in the first half but was held scoreless in the third quarter, and the Bruins leaned on Kennedy Burke and Monique Billings to keep pace.
Burke scored six of her 14 points in the third quarter, and Billings, who finished with 18, scored six points in the first three minutes of the third quarter to help UCLA to a 51-48 lead going into the final frame.
STANFORD 58, ARIZONA STATE 46
Stanford showed once again why it’s the most consistently successful women’s basketball program in the Pac-12 with a 58-46 dismantling of Arizona State in the second Pac-12 tournament semifinal on Saturday night at Key Arena.
With the win, the second-seeded Cardinal (22-9) advance to the final to play top-seeded Oregon on Sunday evening.
Stanford got 24 points from its freshman sensation Kianna Williams and held the Sun Devils to 29 percent shooting, to clinch a berth in the final for the 15th time in the 16-year history of the tournament.
The sixth-seeded Sun Devils entered the contest against the Pac-12’s juggernaut fresh off an upset of No. 3 seed Oregon State in the quarterfinals.
But Arizona State could not figure out how to stymie Williams, who scored 11 points in the second quarter alone.
Stanford led by 26 points with 8:23 left in the game, and Williams finished 9 of 11 from the field, with six threes, despite sitting out the fourth quarter with the Cardinal’s starters.
Kiara Russell came off the bench to lead the Sun Devils with 12 points, while Charnea Johnson-Chapman had 10.