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Oregon Basketball

Year In Review: Women's Basketball

April 6, 2019

A season for the history books came to a close on Friday as the Oregon women’s basketball team fell in the Final Four to the Baylor Lady Bears, 72-67.

While there are signs of sorrow and sadness around Eugene after the Ducks came so close, yet again, to a championship, this season will be one to cherish; the Ducks reached one of the highest pinnacles of women’s basketball. Each member of the 2018-19 team will be remembered as the group that shifted the women’s basketball landscape at a national scale.

The season, which began with a trip to Ruthy Hebard’s hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, saw its fair share of ups and downs.

The first big win was beating No. 18 Syracuse at home. Sabrina Ionescu started her Pac-12 Player of the Year campaign by hitting dagger three-pointers, one after the other, to rally Oregon to the win.

From there, the Ducks steamrolled the competition until landing in East Lansing, Michigan, where they would suffer their first loss of the season, 88-82 to Michigan State. The loss, suffered in early December, would humble the Ducks; AP's preseason No. 3 team suffered lost to an unranked Spartan team – the first of preseason top-10 to lose.

Oregon would fall all the way to No. 7, as the AP Poll struggles to deal with teams who aren’t the likes of UConn, Notre Dame or Baylor. Oregon is extremely new to the elite women’s basketball scene, and it would need to go on a massive winning streak to get back to the top.

And such a streak was exactly what would happen: a 17-game stretch that would bring Oregon back to No. 2 in the country -- behind only the Baylor Lady Bears, its future Final Four opponent.

Over that extremely impressive streak, Oregon had victories over No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 19 Arizona State, No. 14 Utah and No. 11 Stanford (by 40 points in Palo Alto, Oregon's first win there in decades). Lastly, they beat in-state rival and ninth-ranked Oregon State.

Along the way, Oregon fans would see some feats of greatness. Ionescu broke the all-time collegiate triple-double record for both men and women, ending the year with 18. Both Erin Boley and Satou Sabally tied the Oregon record for three-pointers in a game (9), and Hebard recorded career highs in points (34) and rebounds (18).

Every single game made it seem as if this team were capable of going the distance, of winning the national championship. The fans knew, the players knew, and -- for the first time in Oregon women’s basketball history -- the nation knew.

Then the injuries began to mount. Hebard suffered a bruised knee in the second game against Oregon State, a contest the Ducks would go onto lose. All of a sudden, after winning 17 straight, the Ducks dropped back-to-back contests to the Beavers and UCLA.

Then the Ducks lost Taylor Chavez, who broke her foot during practice, costing Oregon one of only two guards on a short bench. With just five games remaining in the regular season, some wondered if they could recover.

The loss of Hebard had clearly affected the Ducks, as they scored less than 70 points in both of their losses. But Oregon would get some good news, as Hebard’s injury kept her out of the lineup for just those two games. She returned to action against USC and played the rest of the year -- even though she wasn't 100%.

Oregon regained its groove, finishing the regular season as Pac-12 champions with a 16-2 conference record. And the Ducks had the Pac-12 Player of the Year, as Ionescu finished in the top 25 in nine statistical categories.

Oregon’s repeat regular season title was one for the books, but it really mattered only what this Oregon team would do in the postseason. The Ducks won two games in Las Vegas, but would fall victim to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game, costing them a No. 1 seed for the Portland region.

Oregon would wind up a No. 2 seed in Portland, and it dominated the first three NCAA games against Portland State, Indiana and South Dakota State. That brought up a rematch with top-seeded Mississippi State for a trip to the Final Four. Oregon would go on to beat the Bulldogs again, with Ionescu hitting a step-back three pointer to nail down the first Final Four in program history.

While in Tampa for the finals, Ionescu would be awarded the Wade Trophy as the player of the year in women’s basketball. And for the second straight year, Ionescu won the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's best point guard.

After Ionescu’s award show wrapped, the serious business began: a semifinal game against the overall No. 1 Baylor Lady Bears, winners of 27 straight. Oregon was up against it physically and athletically, but for 35 minutes the Ducks made their shots and played great defense, never trailing by more than five points.

However, Oregon appeared fatigued and struggled shooting toward the end of the game; one of the best-shooting teams in the country went 1-13 (Ionescu was 0-7) from the floor in the final minutes. Ultimately, Oregon would lose by five.

The story doesn't end there. The Ducks could return all but two players this fall: seniors Maite Cazorla and Oti Gildon, who move on knowing they forever changed the complexion of Oregon’s program.

The Ducks will await the decision of Ionescu, who if she declares for the WNBA draft could well be the league's first overall pick. If she returns, Oregon will be at worst a preseason top three team, and it would be favored to return to the 2020 Final Four in New Orleans in search of its first national championship.

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