There wasn’t a dry eye on the court. No. 4 Oregon and No. 7 Oregon State met at half court ahead of a 1 p.m. (PT) tip-off at Gill Coliseum.
The huddle was to pray. To pray as one for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Maria, who had passed in a helicopter roughly an hour before tip-off.
For the man who had a signature move that most tried to copy off and on the court, stepping back and yelling “Kobe!”, today the world mourns and celebrates you and your daughter Gianna Maria.
There was one player who was not on the court for warm ups: Sabrina Ionescu. Surrounded by head coach Kelly Graves, associate coach Mark Campbell, her family, senior associate athletic director Lisa Peterson and senior guard Minyon Moore, Ionescu tried to collect herself.
The @OregonWBB team broke the huddle with a lot of tears in their eyes re: the Kobe news. Sabrina is still in the locker room collecting herself. He was a fan of the program and brought his daughters to Duck games in LA. pic.twitter.com/TOIadNDCOL— Ryan Thorburn (@rgduckfootball) January 26, 2020
Sabrina and Kobe have struck a connection and real friendship these past fews years. Kobe attended Oregon’s games when the Ducks were in Southern California to play USC; he came up to Long Beach State on December 14, 2019; he has critiqued Sabrina’s game on his show ‘Detail’ and has supported women’s sports and women’s basketball.
In her letter to The Players Tribune back on April 6, 2019, when Sabrina announced she would forgo the WNBA Draft and return to Oregon for her senior season, Ionescu wrote about Kobe:
"And as I kept watching that video over and over, again and again — there’s two main thoughts that were going through my head. One: Kobe got me. He just nailed my game, dead to rights. He was analyzing my pick-and-roll, pointing out specific plays where I should have finished with my left hand instead of my right….. the whole deal. Every analysis was so spot on. It was like seeing genius at work."
This one hit a little deeper for Ionescu.
She paid tribute to Mamba and his daughter with “Forever 24” written on her shoes today.
It was difficult. Sabrina never did go out and warm up. It was touch and go. I know her family was there trying to help her through it. It’s like losing a family member. And I know every body is touched in some way or inspired by Kobe Bryant but it really hit home to this team. — head coach Kelly Graves
Ionescu trotted out with the Ducks with 12 minutes and 34 seconds until tip-off.
There was a moment of silence for Kobe before the national anthem. In front of a sold out crowd at Gill Coliseum, some were hearing the news for the first time. The only thing you could hear in the entire arena was the soft hum of the air conditioning unit.
Sabrina Ionescu mourns her friend Kobe Bryant ahead of her game against Oregon State. pic.twitter.com/urdYuFSNW5— espnW (@espnW) January 26, 2020
Sitting two rows behind the Oregon bench, sporting a #20 Nike green Ionescu jersey, was Sabrina’s father. In an interview before the game with ESPN, he told reporters the advice he gave to Sabrina:
Of all the times you worked with him, of all the phone calls. You deserve to play for him and his legacy. Go out and do it today. Go out and play for Kobe. — Ionescu’s father.
ESPN talked with Sabrina Ionescu's father before the game.— Kevin Wade (@KwadeSays) January 26, 2020
He told Sabrina, “Of all the times you worked with him, of all the phone calls. You deserve to play for him and his legacy. Go out and do it today. Go out and play for Kobe” pic.twitter.com/xqccxvTwrB
And she did. And the Ducks did.
For the first time in the Kelly Graves and Sabrina Ionescu era at Oregon, the Ducks have won in Corvallis over the Oregon State Beavers.
The trio of senior Sabrina Ionescu, senior Ruthy Hebard and junior Satou Sabally combined for 48 of Oregon 66 total points. It was a first half that needed every bit of these three. Ionescu finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Hebard with another double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds. And Sabally with 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
The Ducks found themselves down at halftime, 37-34 to the Beavers. Graves went with more of a defensive lineup in the third quarter: Jaz Shelley, Taylor Chavez, Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard. With these five on the floor, Oregon held a 12-0 run and held the Beavers scoreless for seven minutes in the fourth quarter. Oregon finished the quarter holding Oregon State to only eight points on 3-of-12 from the field and 1-of-5 from three-point range.
A big part of the third quarter was Oregon State senior point guard Mikayla Pivec picking up her fourth personal foul. Pivec was a huge spark for the Beavers on both ends of the court, but picking up her fourth foul forced her to switch her game and play more cautiously.
This third quarter spark was enough to lift No. 4 Oregon (17-2, 7-1 Pac-12) past No. 7 Oregon State (16-4, 4-4 Pac-12) 66-57 in Gill Coliseum.
But the win is bittersweet on a day where a role model and friend had passed.
I’m proud of the team who stepped up for their sister Sabrina and helped her. — Graves
At some point, every one of her teammates came up and said to Sabrina, “We’re going to do this for you.”
When the game clock hit 00:00, the emotions flooded back in. A visibly sad Ionescu made her way through a two-question post game interview with ESPN before heading the locker room and eventually back to Eugene.
I mean, everything I do, I do it for him obviously. Really close friend and this season’s for him. — Sabrina Ionescu
With a heavy heart and watery eyes, this season is for Mamba.