Photo by Allan Johnstone
Oregon Basketball

Ducks Upset Mississippi State

December 19, 2018
857

This game was circled on calendars across the nation as two women’s basketball powerhouses met up in Eugene in a true heavyweight match-up.

Mississippi State has been an extremely successful program over the past 10 years and a program that finished last year's regular season a perfect 30-0. Well, the Bulldogs will not repeat that feat in 2018-19, as the Oregon Ducks won Tuesday in convincing fashion, 82-74.

In a game of two high scoring teams, defense reigned supreme, as Oregon went old school with their defensive tactics. I’ll get a bit more into that later, but I would like to point out the crowd that came out to watch the Ducks march to victory.

The final attendance count was 8,951, making tonight’s game the second-largest crowd to watch a women’s basketball game, and the fifth-largest crowd to enter Matthew Knight. A truly great scene was encapsulated with a truly great win from the Ducks.

Let’s jump right in to the recap.

Good:

There are a couple of names that could lead off this segment. Sabrina Ionescu had a great game, finishing with 29 points. Maite Cazorla was all over the place, playing fantastic defense and attacking the rim with no fear. Ruthy Hebard and friends held Teaira McCowan to 5 points on just five shots. Taylor Chavez won’t come up big in the stat sheet but her defense and conditioning to run around on defense and play basically man-to-man defense was a huge positive.

But after all of that, only one name stuck out the most, and that was Kelly Graves. Coach Graves came into this game wondering how he could stop McCowan after she torched Oregon for 35 points in last year's match-up. And he reached deep into his bag of tricks in order to do so.

Graves implemented a triangle-and-two defense, and it confused the heck out of Mississippi State for a long time. Basically, the triangle is formed by your two frontcourt starters dropping down on the low block, and a guard sitting just above the free throw line to form a triangle. The two players leftover play man-to-man on two opposing players.

One of the two Oregon defenders ran side to side on the court chasing Mississippi State’s Chloe Bibby away from the three-point line. Bibby was truly State’s best shooter, as players not named Bibby went 2-8 from downtown.

When the ball was fed to McCowan on the the low block, another Oregon defender would immediately leave her assignment and double team her. Graves was willing to live with State’s uncontested jumpers because of their inability to shoot. If they wanted to step up and hit mid-range jump shots, so be it.

As I wrote in the preview, McCowan is a dominant player, averaging just under19 points and 12 rebounds per game. Oregon held her to 5 points and 11 rebounds – pretty good if I do say so myself. Graves did a masterful job orchestrating this defense and preparing each player for it.

Next up has to be Ionescu. Quick! Did you know Ionescu only shot 27 percent from the floor tonight? Well she did, and it didn’t matter. It was not the prettiest shooting night from Sabrina, but the shots that went in mattered, especially those from the free throw line, where she went a perfect 17-17.

Sabrina ended the game with 29 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. She truly put on a heroic effort tonight, and played hard on both ends of the floor. Ionescu and Hebard implemented a high pick-and-roll option the entire game, trying their hardest to get McCowan out of the paint -- and it worked more often than not. McCowan seemed to struggle with lateral agility, and Ionescu was able to go right by her for the layup or dump a pass off to Hebard if McCowan overcommitted. Sabrina was truly a floor general tonight, and easily the MVP of those who were on the court.

Hats off to Hebard tonight. She was faced with a daunting task leading up to this game, but she seized her moment and played hard all night long. She didn’t have the prettiest of stat lines, going for 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, but it was her defensive intensity that made her so vital to this game.

Ruthy gave McCowan a battle every single time they were in the low block, and never made anything easy for the 6-7 all-American. Whenever McCowan caught a ball, Hebard was right up next to her, making it almost impossible for McCowan to turn and shoot -- unless it was a rushed shot.

Holding a truly dominant center like McCowan to just 5 shots is a true testament to Hebard’s efforts tonight. Not to overstate it, but she truly made every little thing hard for McCowan. She fought for every rebound, lose ball, and everything in between. It was truly an inspiring performance.

Where would the Ducks be if it weren’t for Cazorla. Cazorla finished with 20 points and 5 assists, but she played like she was the best player on the court tonight. And that attitude she brought was evident right from the opening tip, as Oregon’s first points of the game were from a strong rim run from Cazorla.

Cazorla and Hebard ran that same high pick-and-roll against McCowan, and many times she just turned on the afterburners and drove right past everyone for an easy lay in. They were strong takes every single time as well, she played with no fear and it showed.

Cazorla was also huge on the defensive side of the ball, as she would be called upon to be one of the defenders who had to chase one of the women on Mississippi State, and she was up to the task every time. This was arguably her best game of the year, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Chavez finished with only 7 points, but when her time came early in the second half – after Satou Sabally came out with three fouls – she seized the moment.

Chavez was everywhere defensively, as she had the role of covering Bibby for most of the second half. Bibby only took two field goal attempts in the second half of that game, and it was all because of Chavez’s effort.

Each time Bibby came off of an off-ball screen, Chavez was right on her, giving Bibby barely enough room to breath; often she couldn’t get any shot off. I had wrote in my preview that Bibby was the only player who could shoot for Mississippi State, and Chavez didn’t let her shoot one bit.

Oregon’s free throw shooting won this game, as they went a combined 27-28 from the line, good for 96.4 percent. This was such a big part of their win, as was their shot selection. Oregon drove to the rim looking for fouls, and ended up fouling two Miss. State players out.

Bad:

Yes, I know, it was a great game but there were some bad things to happen. Namely turnovers. That was really about it. And the turnovers I want to talk about are very specifically inbounding turnovers.

Oregon must have had 3 to 5 turnovers inbounding from its own baseline tonight, including one that caused a huge momentum shift at the end of the first half. The Ducks just can’t be doing that. The total turnover number wasn’t that bad, finishing with just 11, but Graves will probably make it a point of emphasis at the next practice to run sets for full court press.

Both Sabally and Erin Boley had lackluster days at the office, but at least Boley was vital to getting the Ducks off to a hot start, and Sabally was really helpful in the first half on defending McCowan.

I’m really nitpicking here, but I couldn’t put their performances under the good category. Would I like to see more production from them? Sure. But Oregon won, so, it’s fine by me.

Ugly:

After a game like this, there are no ugly moments. Well, maybe the refs at points. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

Another great win for the Ducks, and Oregon should be moving back up in the rankings. Oregon’s next game is Thursday, December 20,, as the Ducks take on Air Force. Rumor has it Kelly Graves will likely begin to serve his two-game suspension required under the NCAA penalties given out a few weeks ago.

 

 
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