Photo by Troy Wayrynen / USA Today
Oregon Basketball

Final Four Bound

March 31, 2019

Oregon 88

Mississippi State 84

Searching for their first Final Four in school history, the second-seeded Oregon Ducks battled the top seed, Mississippi State, in Portland. A trip to Tampa Bay was on the line. Oregon and MSU met once before this year in Eugene, when the Ducks took down the Bulldogs 82-74 in a hard-fought battle. They were led that time by Sabrina Ionescu and her 29 points.

Sunday would be a battle for almost all the marbles, and both teams came out ready to play.

In the first quarter, the plan of attack for both teams was clear: MSU hounded the paint, led by star Teaira McCowan, who at 6-7 towers over Oregon’s frontline. The all-time leading rebounder in the NCAA Tournament grabbed 5 rebounds in the first quarter, compared to Oregon’s 7 -- as a team.

The Bulldogs also featured Anriel Howard, who got off to a hot start with 9 first quarter points. Oregon relied on its outside game, going 5-8 on three-pointers, led by Satou Sabally and Ionescu who both hit two, with Maite Cazorla hitting one.

Although a tough task, Oregon was able to fend off the Bulldogs, heading into the second quarter down just 21-19. 

Oregon’s approach to the second quarter was very similar to the first, as the Ducks relied on outside scoring. Oregon only connected on three shots from beyond the arc, but it was able to connect from the midrange area at will.

Ionescu and Sabally were once again at the helm. The two combined for 13 points in the quarter, with Ionescu scoring 9 points on 4-5 shooting.

Ionescu took advantage of a severe size mismatch, allowing her to get whatever shot she wanted. As for Mississippi State, the Bulldogs kept the same mentality on offense but struggled to convert as effectively.

McCowan was dominant again, as she scored 7 points and grabbed 5 rebounds. But the next leading scorer for the Bulldogs managed just 3 points.

MSU would go on to shoot just 38% from the floor in the second quarter, missing five consecutive shots heading into the locker room. Oregon went into half with a 40-38 lead.

With potentially one more half left in the season, the Ducks made some changes to their offense in hopes of confusing Mississippi State.

Oregon attacked McCowan early and often. Ionescu and Hebard ran pick-and-rolls almost every possession trying to tire McCowan or force her into foul trouble.

Hebard dominated in the low post, scoring 10 points on 4-5 shooting for the Ducks, but otherwise Oregon’s offense struggled shooting the ball in the third. The Ducks managed to shoot just 38% in the quarter, with Ionescu and Sabally -- the focal points of Oregon’s offense earlier -- combined to shoot just 2-9.

Mississippi State’s third quarter featured a diverse offensive attack as each of their starters were able to score. The Bulldogs shot much better than the Ducks, going 8-14 or 57% from the field.

Despite the discrepancy of shooting percentages, Oregon benefited from MSU’s foul trouble. Meanwhile, Oregon shot 7-10 from the charity stripe, heading into the fourth quarter tied at 59 a piece. 

In the final quarter of the season for one of the teams, Ionescu made sure that it would not be Oregon. The potential National Player of the Year poured in 14 points and added 2 assists, shooting a scorching hot 5-6 from the floor, including a massive three-pointer from the top of the key to essentially put the game out of reach.

Oregon exploded for 29 points in the fourth quarter, the most all day, as the trio of Sabally, Cazorla and Erin Boley combined for 15. For most of the quarter, the offense for both sides were clicking, with the Bulldogs scoring 25 points themselves.

Oregon would hold on at the end, thanks to clutch free throws from first Boley and rightfully so, Ionescu, to ice the game.

Oregon reaches its first Final Four. The Ducks will face either overall No. 1 Baylor or second-seeded Iowa.

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