Kelly Graves

Oregon WBB appearing more like a perennial national contender by the minute

Oregon WBB appearing more like a perennial national contender by the minute

Fresh off a Final Four run, the Oregon women’s basketball program is proving that not only do they belong among the best in the nation, the Ducks are built to last.

Expected to be the strong favorite to win the national title in 2019-20, UO’s roster is locked and loaded for years to come. Coach Kelly Graves was tasked with replacing several outgoing Ducks (Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard) and answered with an exceptional month of recruiting.

Yesterday, Kylee Watson, the nation’s No. 18 overall prospect, announced her commitment to Oregon. The powerful post player committed to Oregon over Notre Dame and UCLA.

The 6-foot-3 forward is the fifth Oregon commit for the class of 2020, which is shaping up to be the nation’s No. 1 class.

The back-to-back Pac-12 Conference regular season champions have had a flaming hot month on the recruiting trail. Not only does Oregon have five commitments, which is three more than any other team (Notre Dame has two), but the athletes are picking the Ducks from all over the country (four of the five are not from the west coast). 

Four of the nation’s top 23 prospects have committed to Oregon. No other program has more than one.

Joining Watson is Sydney Parish, the nation’s No. 11 overall prospect and the No. 1 guard in the class of 2020, according to ESPNW. As irreplaceable as the triple-double queen is, Parrish has all the tools to pick up and lead the Ducks when Ionescu turns pro.

The elite guard was Oregon’s first verbal commitment for the 2020 class and has been an active recruiter for the Ducks.

Rounding out the 2020 commitments is; forward Angela Dugalic (No. 22), guard Maddie Scherr (No. 23) and point guard Te-Hina PaoPao (No. 40).

It’s safe to say UO has discarded its “newbie” title among the nation’s elite.

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. 3: "Morale is high" in Tampa Bay

Twinning with Sabrina Ionescu Pt. 3: "Morale is high" in Tampa Bay

Eddy Ionescu, Sabrina's twin brother, takes fans along in his journey to Oregon’s first Women’s Final Four in Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.

"There are Duck fans literally everywhere," Eddy said. "On the plane with me, all around here! Morale is super high."

Eddy booked his return flight to Eugene, Oregon on Monday, in confidence in his sister and the Ducks. 

After transferring from City College of San Francisco,  Eddy is now Sabrina’s roommate in Eugene. Eddy stands at 6-foot-5, six inches taller than his sister and 18 minutes younger. The shooting guard hopes to walk on the Ducks men’s basketball team, loves Oregon already and thought it would rain more in Eugene. Of course, the two hoopers live a stone’s throw away from Matthew Knight Arena.

Eddy’s unique perspective gives incredible insight into Sabrina’s past as a first-generation Romanian and future, as she weighs the decision to go professional or not.

In part one of this series, we get to know Sabrina through her twin’s eyes via rapid fire questions.

In part two, Eddy helps answer the question "what's next for Sabrina?"

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.

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

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

Sabrina Ionescu’s resume is long and exceptional: Two-time Pac-12 Conference player of the year; back-to-back First-Team All-American; National Player of the Year candidate; NCAA career triple-double record holder (18); probable No. 1 overall WNBA pick and owns too many UO program records to count.

The junior is a brilliant mentor in the University of Oregon community, a strong Christian, a devoted daughter and a twin.

Her twin title, obviously not chosen, is just as prominent in her life as any of the other accolades. After transferring from City College of San Francisco, twin brother Eddy is now Sabrina’s roommate in Eugene, Oregon. Eddy stands at 6-foot-5, six inches taller than his sister and 18 minutes younger. The shooting guard hopes to walk on the Ducks men’s basketball team, loves Oregon already and thought it would rain more in Eugene. Of course, the two hoopers live a stone’s throw away from Matthew Knight Arena.

Eddy’s unique perspective gives incredible insight into Sabrina’s past as a first-generation Romanian and future, as she weighs the decision to go professional or not. In part one of this series, we get to know Sabrina through her twin’s eyes via rapid fire questions.

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

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

Does Sabrina have any pregame traditions? 

EDDY: She always has to take a nap before a game.

Even early and super late games?

EDDY: Every game unless it’s like at 11 a.m.

What is your sister’s junk food weakness?

EDDY: Ice cream.

What is the hashtag that best describes Sabrina?

EDDY: #Franchise

Her most used emoji?

EDDY: Crying laughing face

Go to dance move?

EDDY, laughs: Sabrina doesn’t dance.

Favorite cartoon character?

EDDY: Minnie

Why does she wear number 20?

EDDY: It was one of the first numbers given to her. So she stuck with it.

Who is better at singing karaoke?

EDDY: Me, absolutely.

What is your go-to song?

EDDY: Gosh, that’s a hard one. Michael Buble.

Did you know he’s coming to perform in Portland?

EDDY: YES! I know, I know. I talked to Sabrina about going.

Who takes more selfies? 

EDDY: Sabrina.

You used to communicate basketball plays to one another in Romanian, are you still fluent in Romanian?

EDDY: We still are fluent in Romanian and we still speak to each other in Romanian. In terms of basketball, I don’t speak to her while she’s playing in Romanian. Not anymore, at least.

What’s the best slang term?

EDDY: It’s kind of hard to say, but in English it means the little bug doesn’t go to the water often. Which means you can’t continue to do a bad habit over an over again because eventually it’ll bite you in the ass. By the way, you can take out the word “ass” in this interview.

Hell no, I like the personality and realness. 3 words, describe your sister, go!

EDDY: Funny, competitive and enthusiastic.

Who would win in a free throw competition?

EDDY: Me.

What about a 3-pt competition?

EDDY: It depends on the day. It’s about 50-50. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sounds like you two are very competitive. When was the last time you played HORSE?

EDDY: Not too long ago. Maybe like a month ago.

Who won?

EDDY: I won the first game, she won the second game and we couldn’t play a third because we were in Matthew Knight Arena and they had to turn the lights off.

Who is cleaner?

EDDY: We are both pretty clean. I would say me, though. I’m kind of OCD.

Steph Curry calls Sabrina the walking triple-double, what do you call her? 

EDDY, laughs: My sister.

What does she call you?

EDDY: She calls me “Ed."

A game of pickup basketball and you can pick literally anyone in the world, who is first?

EDDY: First in the world, hmmm… I’d probably take Kobe Bryant.

Where does Sabrina land on the list?

EDDY: In the starting five. She would be my point guard.

Is Oregon becoming a basketball school?

Is Oregon becoming a basketball school?

The mesmerizing site of Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu dropping threes at will Sunday afternoon against Mississippi State in the Elite Eight was only surpassed by the euphoric celebration that followed the Ducks' hard-fought 88-84 win that sent the program to its first Final Four. 

A few days prior to the women's historical victory, the Oregon men's team narrowly lost 53-49 to No. 1 seed Virginia in the Sweet 16. That came nearly a week after UO clobbered the field in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., two years after the program reached the Final Four and three years after a run to the Elite Eight.

All of this recent success on the hardwood, which includes the women's run to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, begs the question: Is Oregon becoming a basketball school?

During the same four-season time frame that includes Oregon's greatest combined achievements in both men's and women's basketball, the football program fell on hard times. The Ducks are on their third coach since 2016, have not sniffed a conference title and have just one bowl victory, which came in a very forgettable 7-6 win over Michigan State last December in the Redbox Bowl.

Since reaching the college football national title game following the 2014 season, Oregon fired a legacy football staff in 2016 after going 4-8, ended up with their seventh choice as head coach in Willie Taggart, who ultimately left UO after one season for Florida State and now UO has relatively unproven Mario Cristobal at the helm. Over on the basketball side: men's coach Dana Altman and women's coach Kelly Graves are proven commodities with long track records of success. Cristobal has a career record of 36-53. Compare that to Graves (496-211 at UO, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's) and Altman (645-339 at UO, Creighton, Kansas State and Marshall).

The two most prominent athletes between basketball and football over the past three years are Dillon Brooks, the best player on the men's Final Four team, and current women's superstar, Ionescu, who will lead the Ducks (33-4) against Baylor (35-1) at 4 p.m., Friday in Tampa, Fla. 

Don't bring up quarterback Justin Herbert. Yes, he will be a first-round pick in the NFL next year. Yes, football is a bigger deal than basketball in this country. But Herbert has yet to achieve the level of greatness both Brooks and Ionescu enjoyed at Oregon. And Sabrina isn't done. 

Yes, I'm abandoning style protocol and referring to her by her first name. Sabrina's performance on Sunday - 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds - further enhanced her legendary status to the point where she is worthy of the single-name mention. Sabrina. That's it. Nothing else is needed. Just like with Marcus, LaMichael and Joey in the Oregon football world. 

Those three men led the Ducks to their greatest seasons ever. Quarterback Joey Harrington led UO to the 2002 Fiesta Bowl win and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Running back LaMichael James led the Ducks to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game and placed third in the Heisman balloting. Quarterback Marcus Mariota guided UO to the 2015 national championship game and received Oregon's first Heisman Trophy. Those three belong on the Mt. Rushmore of Oregon football  with the fourth representative open for debate.  

But that 2014 season with Marcus leading the way seems like eons ago. The landscape of the Pac-12 and college football have so dramatically changed that the once fabled "blur offense" became just another fast-paced scheme and the run of dizzying success UO enjoyed from 2007 through 2014 came to a screeching halt. 

Cristobal is attempting to resuscitate that success and got off to a solid start last season by going 9-4, albeit with a very weak schedule. A highly-rated recruiting class bodes well for the Ducks' future on the gridiron but there are certainly no guarantees that the Ducks will once again taste national-level success in the near future. 

Cristobal can't ultimately be judged until after his fourth season when he has had three years to assemble talent recruited under his guidance. 

Meanwhile, the men's and women's basketball programs already appear to be set up for long-term success. Altman has proven that he can reshape and develop rosters on the fly as good as almost anyone in the country. Graves has tapped into the international recruiting scene to create a strong pipeline of elite talent flowing into Eugene. 

It wasn't long ago that the basketball programs were mere diversions to pass the time until the summer recreation months that led to what mattered most - football. Not anymore. 

The women's basketball team will be strong again next season. Altman has another great recruiting class heading in to join a strong group of returners.

Football? Well, Herbert is back for his senior season. So there is hope there for great success. We shall see. 

So maybe the question isn't if Oregon is becoming a basketball school, but rather has it already done so?

Minor, almost mockable: NCAA serves penalties for Oregon Ducks' violations

Minor, almost mockable: NCAA serves penalties for Oregon Ducks' violations

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced Oregon committed violations in men’s and women’s basketball, women’s track and field and football.

The violations and the penalties are very minor…. Almost mockable, considering the level of corruption that exists around the nation in NCAA college sports.

The stiffest penalty? NCAA put Oregon Athletics on two years probation from Dec. 5, 2018, to Dec. 4, 2020. A team already on probation for violations can get substantially worse penalties for similar infractions. Probation can have a negative impact on recruiting and could make the federal NCAA basketball corruption case, that Oregon was mentioned in, more interesting. 

To summarize, Oregon committed violations by having basketball staff show up at practices and voluntary workouts when they weren’t allowed, a professor who allowed a track and field athlete to submit coursework after the course had ended (which he said he would do for any student, regardless of athlete status), and a football electronic presentation that included each prospect’s name, statistics and a high school highlight video displayed in the football equipment area.

Relatively tame infractions that were mostly self-reported. What’s next? The Oregon Golf team penalized for having too many golf tees per bag? I kid, but if you are a worried Duck fan… Don’t be. 

Here are the violations and penalties:

Women’s basketball

The NCAA ruled that coach Kelly Graves failed to monitor his program and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance by allowing an assistant strength and conditioning coach to participate in on-court activities.

Graves will serve a two-game suspension this season and must reduce the number of countable coaches by one at regular practice for 10 hours during the 2018-19 season (self-imposed by the university). Also, the school must pay a $5,000 fine plus one percent of the women’s basketball budgets.

Men’s Basketball

The NCAA ruled that the director of basketball operations participated in and observed voluntary workouts, which is a violation. 

As a penalty, that individual received a two-year show-cause order from the NCAA. The men’s basketball program must reduce the number of countable coaches by one at regular practice for 5 hours during the 2018-19 season (self-imposed by the university). Also, the school must pay a fine of one percent of the program’s budget.

Track and Field

The NCAA found an adjunct instructor changed a course grade for a women’s track and field student-athlete, which allowed her to maintain her eligibility and earn her degree.

The professor stated this was due to the system not allowing him to give the athlete an incomplete, with the grade coming following the submission of said coursework.

Oregon's senior vice provost for academic affairs said the athlete did not violate the school's misconduct policy, and the professor said he would have made the same accommodation for any student regardless of athlete status. 

Oregon must vacate all records compiled while the athlete was ineligible.

Oregon Football

Lastly, the NCAA ruled the football program gained a recruiting advantage when it impermissibly displayed personalized statistics of visiting recruits during unofficial and official visits on a new electronic reader board in the football facility.

Oregon athletics self reported the violations above. All in all, not much to worry about, Duck fans… Except maybe those golf tees (kidding!).

Oregon making history before the season even begins

usatsi_10731894.jpg
USA Today Img

Oregon making history before the season even begins

The Ducks are making history before the college basketball season even begins.

For the first time in Oregon program history, both the Oregon men’s and women’s basketball teams were selected to win the Pac-12 conference this season via Pac-12 preseason coaches polls.

Ladies first

After back-to-back Elite 8 finishes and a Pac-12 championship title last season, the Ducks come into this season ranked No. 5, according to the USA Today Coaches poll. The triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu and her partner in crime Ruthy Hebard return for their junior seasons alongside senior Maite Cazorla, reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Satou Sabally,and senior Oti Gildon.

The new kids on the block for head coach Kelly Graves this season include Arizona Player of the Year guard Taylor Chavez, redshirt-sophomore Erin Boley (sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules), and Nyara Sabally, the younger sister of Satou Sabally.

One thing that stands out right away is the depth and overall team number. Graves only has 10 players listed on his roster for this season. Should be interesting to watch for especially when trying to make a deep tourney run late in the season. 

In an interview at Pac-12 media day, Ionescu said, “I think experience helps a lot. Everyone knows how close we were to making the jump last year and everyone wants it more than ever. Expectations are high within the team as well, not just from the outside." 

Now for the men 

After a final four finish in 2016, and a rather disappointing NIT tournament finish in 2017, the men return this season with a fresh new look with some fresh new faces. Oregon finishing on top of the Pac at the end of the season may have something to do with the No. 4 recruiting class lead by freshman 7 ft. tall Bol-Bol coming to Eugene. Head coach Dana Altman and his staff have made incredible moves this offseason on the recruiting trail landing another five-star recruit in Louis King, Miles Norris, and Will Richardson. 

But let’s not forget about the returners on Altman’s squad: junior guard Payton Pritchard, sophomore Victor Bailey Jr., redshirt senior Paul White, and sophomore Kenny Wooten. 

This is going to be quite an exciting year ahead at Matthew Knight Arena.

Ruthy is ruthless in Ducks' Sweet 16 victory

usatsi_10731549.jpg
USA Today Img.

Ruthy is ruthless in Ducks' Sweet 16 victory

How Oregon won: A bit of nerves perhaps in the opening minutes, for the Oregon Ducks settled in nicely in this NCAA Sweet 16 matchup against the Central Michigan Chippewas. Lead by sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard down low, on both sides of the court, the No. 2 Ducks cruised to an 83-69 win over No. 11 Central Michigan and punch their ticket into the Elite 8.

It took awhile for both team to get settled in. Two hot-shooting three-point teams, and neither hit a three-pointer until halfway through the first quarter. Hebard established her game early. Her teammates found her down low, one or two dribbles to get to her right side, and then a high-percentage layup, the shot she has mastered so much this season. 33 times in a row, in fact. Hebard records her second double-double of the post-season tournament with 23 points and 14 rebounds. She needed four more blocks for a triple-double.

The Ducks defense came to play as well. Central Michigan comes in ranked No. 13 in 3-pt field goals attempted. Oregon coach Kelly Graves said during pregame that the Ducks must be mindful and defend the three-point line, and make sure the Ducks get on the boards because the Chippewas like to pass the ball out if they get an offensive rebound. Oregon’s defense held Central Michigan to 7-of-27 (26%) from behind the arc. Along with making sure there was a hand in the air on the Chippewas shooters, Oregon also recorded 11 total blocks, six alone coming from Hebard. Oregon will need that same defensive pressure down low against Notre Dame on Monday with their height down low.

What it means: The No. 2 Ducks are headed to the NCAA Elite 8 for back-to-back consecutive seasons and will face No. 1 Notre Dame on Monday evening in Spokane, WA. The Irish are coming off a 90-84 battle against No. 4 Texas A&M lead by starters Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale’s 25 points each.

High-flying Ducks: Sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu continues to shine when the spotlight keeps getting brighter. Ionescu was one rebound shy of her 11th career triple-double. She finished with 16 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds. Senior Lexi Bando finished with 14 points hitting 4-of-11 from three-point range. Junior Oti Gildon, playing in front of her home town fans of Spokane, came up again huge with 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench. She continues to be a stable presence off the bench for Graves.

Foul play: Gildon finished with three fouls. 

Ducks flying north to Spokane in dominant fashion

usatsi_10680273.jpg
USA Today Img.

Ducks flying north to Spokane in dominant fashion

How Oregon won: If you wanted high-scoring, fast-paced, an all-around offensive efficient battle, then you came to the right game. Two of the top-10 leading team scorers battled head-to-head in a matchup that did not disappoint with 174 total points scored. Both teams off to a hot start as buckets were raining from the ceiling of Matthew Knight Arena in front of a full house. But in the end, it was all Oregon on both sides of the court with an 101-73 victory over No. 10 Minnesota in round two of the NCAA tournament in Eugene, OR.

“Had to have been a fun game to watch for a fan to watch, it wasn’t always fun to be a coach to watch,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “I thought that first half, especially in the first quarter was, that’s high level offensive basketball…”

Offense production was there but the defense was on point tonight and picked up right where it left off Friday evening vs. No. 15 Seattle U. The Ducks held the number three team in the nation in scoring at 85.2 points per game, to just 73 points, 14 in each the second and third quarters. The Ducks defense limited the leader of the Gopher pack Kenisha Bell to just 14 points making sure that there was someone in front of her at all times in Oregon’s zone and clogging the lanes with multiple defenders there to challenge her shot.

Graves said, “I remember at the media timeout, second quarter, we talked about the first team to make a three-minute defensive stand was going to separate themselves from the others and that’s what we did.”

Ducks go on an 11-0 run to close out the first half and take a 51-36 lead. And it didn’t stop there. Oregon outscored Minnesota 30-14 in the third quarter and rode that momentum all the way until the final buzzard. 

Sabrina Ionescu was on triple-double watch by the end of the first quarter. She is on another level when the spotlight continues to get brighter. It is remarkable that with so much ice in her veins, Sabrina Ionescu can still heat up. Ionescu’s night finished just shy of yet another triple-double with 29 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Add in a step-back three-pointer, while getting fouled for the chance at am and-1 and four-point play, but missed the free throw.

What it means: The No. 2 Oregon Ducks hit the road north to Spokane, Washington to continue the next few rounds of March Madness play. The Ducks await the winner of No. 11 Central Michigan (28-4) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (27-6) to be played on Monday, March 19th. 

High-flying Ducks: Lead by Ionescu, her partner in crime sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard recorded another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. This duo combined for 21-of-28 shots from the field. Freshman Satou Sabally, who started tonight with five quick points and finished with 12 total points. 

In her final game in Matthew Knight Arena, senior and Eugene native Lexi Bando ended her career in front of Ducks fans doing what she does best: hitting three-pointers. She finished with 11 points hitting three triples.

Foul play: A very clean game from Oregon defensively found no one in any foul trouble.