Photo by Scott Boldt
Oregon Women's Basketball

Season Recap: Oregon WBB

March 25, 2020
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Preseason No. 1 Oregon opened up the season with an exhibition game against Team USA. Like most observers, I was just hoping to watch the Ducks compete and stay relatively close to the Olympians, but they ended up doing the impossible and beat them, 93-86.

Sabrina Ionescu had 30 points and 7 assists, and Satou Sabally added 25 points and 6 rebounds. It was truly something magical, and it showed the world just what this team was capable of.

Oregon cruised through its first six regular season games, including a 81-64 win over 17th-ranked Syracuse. The very impressive start kept Oregon atop the AP poll.

Oregon suffered its first loss of the season in the Virgin Islands against Louisville, which was ranked eighth, 72-62. The Ducks' 10th straight game on the road was especially frustrating, as the nation's No. 1 scoring team could not get anything going on offense, hitting just 6 of 35 three-pointers.

It was a wake-up call to the favorite to win the national championship. The Ducks went back to practice and figured it out in a hurry.

They promptly reeled off seven straight wins, including their first three conference games. They were dominating almost every advanced metric on the offensive side of the ball. They weren’t just beating teams; they were crushing them on both ends of the courts. Whatever questions that surrounded this team quickly evaporated.

Until a road trip to Tempe, where Arizona State teams had been a real thorn in the side for Oregon teams of all stripes this year.

Oregon were heavy favorites, but Arizona State used a 30-point fourth quarter to stun the Ducks, 72-66. Arizona State played bully-ball and just overpowered the Ducks physically for a loss that pushed Oregon out of AP's top three.

In the second game of the road trip, Oregon trailed after one quarter but answered back by beating 18th-ranked Arizona 71-64. The run was on.

The biggest game of the season was next: Oregon hosting No. 3 Stanford on ESPN. The Ducks clearly wanted to show everyone just how good they were; I don’t recall a game where I’ve seen a top-5 team get beaten as badly as Stanford did in this one.

Oregon dominated, 87-55. Ionescu had 37 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. She was unstoppable all over the court and was hitting circus shots. It was awesome seeing Oregon put the beat-down on Stanford, and Oregon stormed back into national conversation.

And the Oregon rampage was just getting started. The Ducks beat seventh-ranked Oregon State at home and on the road – in the same weekend. They stomped Utah and Colorado on what can be a troublesome swing through The Rockies.

Then, the next biggest test of the season: No. 4 Connecticut in Gampel Pavilion. And the Ducks beat the brakes off UConn, 74-56.

Ruthy Hebard dominated with 22 points and 12 rebounds to pace a great team effort that saw all five starters score in double-figures. The game really did feel like the passing of the torch in college basketball, as it was powerhouse UConn’s worst loss since 2013 and its biggest-ever at Gampel.

Top-25 teams kept trying to knock off the Ducks, but with absolutely no success. After smothering UConn, they rattled off wins against 12th-ranked Arizona, 19th-ranked Arizona State and seventh-ranked UCLA – that last one on the road. And they won those three games by a combined 78 points.

They were playing at their absolute peak. No team had any chance.

Oregon won five more games to cap the regular season, including going into Stanford and beating the Cardinal 74-66. Sabrina had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists that night, her first-ever triple-double against Stanford as well as her first against a top-10 team.

The win in Palo Alto all but sealed up the regular season Pac-12 championship for Oregon. It was a great night to be a Duck – especially Ionescu, who became the first collegian ever to total 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

Oregon entered the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 1 seed, then rolled past Utah and Arizona to face Stanford for the title. The third time proved the charm, as the Ducks dominated 89-56. Minyon Moore, Hebard and Sabrina all topped 20 points to set up what seemed certain to be a magical postseason run.

It’s a shame that we never got to see it.

The Ducks were the best women’s team in program history, seemingly a shoe-in at least to get to the Final Four. They had a championship roster, a championship coach, and a superstar senior who refused to lose.

I’m not saying this team would’ve won the championship – top-ranked South Carolina loomed on the horizon -- but it sure did feel that something special was in the works. And now we’ll never know.

What we do know is just how hard these women worked at being the best players and the best people. Ionescu and Co. have done so much for women’s basketball in Eugene, where attendance averaged nearly 11,000, and they brought national media attention to the sport as a whole.

Ionescu, the projected No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, is sure to have a huge impact in the pros. But what she did at Oregon will be remembered for all time.

 
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