Baylor Bears

Despite defeat, newcomer Ducks are built to last

Despite defeat, newcomer Ducks are built to last

Oregon entered it’s first ever Final Four as the “unproven” new kid on the block and an 8.5-point underdog. UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor are Final Four perennial powerhouses and have won eight of the past 10 national titles. Before 2017, Oregon had never reached the Elite Eight.

The Ducks’ season ended in the national semifinals to Baylor, 72-67, in a gritty battle of contrast in styles that featured 12 ties and 12 lead changes. However, despite defeat, the back-to-back Pac-12 regular season champions proved that not only do they belong among the best in the nation, the Ducks are built to last.

To get to Tampa Bay, Oregon (33-5) broke through the Final Four barrier, in coach Kelly Graves’ fifth season, by upsetting two-time defending national runner up No. 1 seed Mississippi State in the Portland Regional.

[READ: Twitter reacts to Oregon’s 72-67 loss to Baylor in the Final Four]

Despite his pregame message to his team to “have fun," Graves had a plan against the Bears (36-1), who had a major size advantage over the Ducks.

In the first two quarters, Oregon was able to limit Baylor’s high-low game and attempts to hammer the ball deep in toward the basket to 20 points in the paint. The Ducks, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, leaned on their strength, making 8-of-17 (47 percent) from beyond the arc. 

Shockingly, guard Sabrina Ionescu and forward Ruthy Hebard did not score in the first quarter. Ionescu heated up in the second quarter to score 12 points, including a four-point play to send Oregon into the locker room with a 34-33 halftime lead.

The battle of the Bears’ size and the Ducks’ deep strokes was as good as advertised. In the first half alone, the tight game had five lead changes and five ties.

The Ducks opened the second half with a couple of made three-pointers, but Baylor answered with an 8-0 run to surge ahead 45-40. Both teams shined doing what they do best. Through three quarters, Oregon scored 30 points from three-pointers and Baylor scored 36 points in the paint. Baylor did not score a three-pointer in the game, attempting only three.

In the fourth quarter, the Ducks put on a pick-and-roll clinic before going cold at the wrong time.

Forward Satou Sabally tied the game with a clutch three-pointer with 1:20 left to play in the game. Oregon missed on the next possession and was forced to foul. Five days after making their last seven field-goal attempts to beat Mississippi State, the Ducks missed 11 of their last 12 from the floor, sealing the victory for Baylor to advance to the National Championship game.

Despite going 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter, Ionescu lead the team with 18 points. Sabally added 16 points and forward Erin Boley scored 14 points.

It was a tremendous game competed between two of the top programs and the Ducks are here to stay. Whether Ionescu declares for the WNBA Draft or returns for her senior season, the Oregon women’s basketball program has elevated it’s standard and discarded its newbie title among the nation’s elite. With two seniors graduating and a strong recruiting class, Graves has taken the Ducks to new heights and the countdown to next season is on.  

"We’ve got a lot coming back," Graves said. "This is gonna be a team that's loaded."

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 2: "She's left her mark" but what's next?

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 2: "She's left her mark" but what's next?

Confetti fell as the Oregon women’s basketball team cut down the nets, grinning ear to ear after earning the program’s first ever trip to the Final Four. The Ducks (33-4) beat Mississippi State in the Portland Regional to book their tickets to Tampa Bay, Florida.

That’s when it started.

“One more year!” chants echoed through Moda Center from loud and proud Ducks fans.

It’s no secret that quickly after Oregon’s run for a National Championship, junior Sabrina Ionescu has a professional decision to make. You may have already read the Duck star guard told reporters still has “no idea” whether or not she’ll enter WNBA Draft, which occurs in six days.

“I don’t really like to talk to her too much about it to be honest because there are so many people that constantly ask her that question,” twin brother Eddy Ionescu said. “Whatever she does, I know our family and the community will be in her corner 100 percent of the way."

As her twin, roommate and best friend, Eddy’s insight gives a unique perspective on Sabrina’s future as the deadline to declare for the WNBA Draft creeps in. The two-time Pac-12 Conference player of the year has 48 hours after the National Championship game to make her intentions known.

[READ: Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 1: Rapid fire with her brother]

Did Eddy always think his sister would be the probable top overall pick in the WNBA Draft? No. The twins are first-generation Romanian, their parents didn’t play sports and competition was slim growing up in Walnut Creek, California. Their love for basketball bloomed on a playground out of an attempt from their father to wear out the energetic twins after a long day of work. Eddy and Sabrina averaged 30-40 points per game in middle school. If your last name wasn’t Ionescu, you weren’t scoring.

Watching Sabrina’s game transition to high school, Eddy began to realize her potential.

“I just kept setting that bar higher and higher for her and she kept shooting it out of the water,” Eddy said.

Eddy played basketball for two seasons at City College of San Francisco before transferring to University of Oregon, where the 6-foot-5 guard hopes to walk on to the UO men’s team. Every morning right out of bed, the twins shoot together in the gym before any team workouts or class. Two things have shocked Eddy about Eugene, Oregon; he thought it would rain more and his sensational sister.

“Now that I get to see, hear and watch her do her thing; it’s absolutely breathtaking,” Eddy said. “It’s sometimes surreal, I don’t believe that the things that she does is possible."

As one of college basketball’s most dynamic all-around stars, Ionescu is basically chasing her own records at this point. Her staggering numbers have led to back-to-back First-Team All-American honors and 18 career triple-doubles, the most in men’s and women’s college basketball history. Even more wild? She has a year of eligibility remaining.

What more could the National Player of the Year candidate accomplish in her senior year at Oregon? Her goal when she signed with Oregon as ESPN’s No. 4 ranked recruit was to change the program. The 5-foot-11 guard dreamed the Ducks would sell out Matthew Knight Arena and battle with the NCAA’s best on a national stage. She’s checked both those boxes; The women’s team owned the first sell out of the season for the Civil War in February and is taking on No. 1 overall seed Baylor in the Final Four on Friday.

“I think she’s left her mark,” Eddy said. “Now her only goal is to win an NCAA championship for her team and the university."

Considering the incredible competitor smashes every goal she’s set, I wouldn’t bet against Sabrina. But regardless of this weekend’s outcome, with or without a national title on her resume, she has to decide if her legacy at Oregon has come to a close.

“There are obvious benefits to both,” Eddy said. “She can stay at school with her friends and have the full college experience. Then as a hooper, your dream is always to play professionally, so once you make it to the point where you get to make that decision to stay or go, it’s a big deal."

Play for free until someone is willing to pay you… Right?

Maybe that’s true for men, but last year’s top women’s rookie salary was $52,564, and on average, WNBA players make $71,635. That’s Sabrina’s money to take and it’s certainly better than nothing, but the amount seems much less than what she’s worth.

However, if she continues to build her personal brand, there may be more cash in endorsement deals (cough, Nike, cough), while still getting to play the game she loves, battling to be the best in the nation with her friends and earn her master's degree (which Coach Graves said she’s been accepted into) at Oregon.

Ionescu, who is currently signed up for UO spring classes, could seek a loss of value and/or catastrophic injury insurance policy, which would relatively keep her safe if her value fell in the draft.

Nationally, she’s become a sensation or as Steph Curry calls her, the “walking triple-double." She’s beginning to use her platform as an outlet to voice her desire for equal sports opportunities, calling attention to the lack of women’s coverage. It feels like her buzz is just beginning, with a major opportunity to grow. 

Will her brand flourish more in the WNBA or as a top NCAA competitor at “Nike University?"

If your ultimate dream is to be a pro, why risk a potential injury?

If you’ve accomplished all your goals, is it time to move on or set the bar higher?

You and I might think we know the answers to these questions. But it’s Sabrina’s decision, not ours and not Eddy’s, who booked his return flight from Florida for Monday in confidence in the Ducks. 

“The only advice that I gave her was to take her time making the decision. She needs to look at both options,” Eddy said. “At the end of the day I just want her to make her own decision with what makes her happy."

Stay tuned as Eddy plans to take fans along in his journey to Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.

Report: Lubick to take co-offensive coordinator job at Baylor

Report: Lubick to take co-offensive coordinator job at Baylor

Former Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick has accepted a co-offensive coordinator position with Baylor after originally being headed to Ole Miss to coach wide receivers, according to multiple reports.

Lubick coached wide receivers at UO from 2013 through 2015 before becoming the Ducks' offensive coordinator in 2016.

He will join Baylor's staff headed by new coach Matt Rhule, reportedly a top target of Oregon's before he left Temple to take over the Bears, leading to the Ducks hiring Willie Taggart.

Former Oregon quarterbacks coach David Yost recently accepted the job of offensive coordinator at Utah State.