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.

First Herbert, then Ionescu: The time for Oregon Duck titles is now

First Herbert, then Ionescu: The time for Oregon Duck titles is now

“Loss fatigue”… Have you heard of it? Some Oregon Ducks fans may be currently experiencing it like a persistent cold after Oregon women’s basketball came * this close * to a chance at its first national title. After missing 11 of their final 12 baskets, Oregon was inches away from beating top-overall seeded Baylor, who advanced to beat Notre Dame to claim the crown.

Sigh.

No doubt the Ducks community is very proud of the women’s team, who appeared in the program's first Final Four. However, * this close * doesn’t equal a national championship trophy. The University of Oregon hasn’t won a national championship in a sport besides track and field, cross country or golf since 1939 when men’s basketball won the first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Always the shiny (green, yellow, white, chrome, etc) contenders, never the champs?

2019 is the year that gives Oregon fans an excuse to dream of rings.

Two Oregon star athletes passed on the opportunity to turn professional and earn a paycheck because they thought the opportunities at Oregon were greater. It takes a certain player mold to take that risk and the Ducks are blessed with two elite athletes who could lead their teams to great success.

Yes, the paychecks were vastly different amounts, but guard Sabrina Ionescu and quarterback Justin Herbert both decided to walk away from the money on the table with the hope to accomplish more in Eugene, Oregon.

Projected to be the No. 1 pick in WNBA draft, Ionescu had 24 hours following Oregon’s loss to declare for the draft. The junior is chasing her own records already; holding the NCAA record for career triple-doubles with 18 and earning back-to-back Pac-12 Conference player of the year and first-team All-American honors.

Smashing goals is what she does. 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.

With one more accolade in mind, the Oregon star opted to stay at Oregon.

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

With Ionescu’s return, Oregon has certainly cemented its foothold in the national spotlight and could enter the 2019-20 season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll.

Her influence is larger than rankings and she is one-of-a-kind in the Oregon community. Her relatability is palpable and personality vibrant; kids, men and women wait after Oregon games for autographs and photos.

Those who chanted “One more year!” to Ionescu as the Ducks cut the nets in the Moda Center after winning the Portland Regional, got their wish.

“We have unfinished business. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Ionescu wrote in the Players Tribune. “My teammates and I, our coaches, our fans, this program — we’re not going on a ‘run,’ you know what I mean?? We’re not doing one of those things where, like, a team appears out of the blue, on the backs of a few good players, and then makes some noise for a season or two before heading back underground.

“Nah. This isn’t that. We’re building something special in Eugene.”

Ionescu’s return solidifies that the Oregon women’s basketball program has elevated it’s standard and discarded its “newbie” title among the nation’s elite. The Ducks return most of their team and a very determined Ionescu… The countdown to next season is on.

The countdown to watch Herbert, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels, is much shorter.

As a projected top 10 draft pick, why resist the NFL and give up literally millions of dollars? As Herbert said, “Nothing could pull me away from the opportunities that we have in front of us.”

Herbert took a risk by returning. The 2019 quarterback class is viewed as relatively weak and Herbert’s measurables alone would have made him one of the first quarterbacks off the board. However, there may be some reward for his risk, as some teams are already pondering if it’s worth it to wait to draft a quarterback in 2020.

Freakishly fast and athletic, returning for his senior season gives Herbert the opportunity to further develop his decision-making, accuracy and improve as an NFL prospect. 

The Eugene-native has a chance to play with his younger brother Patrick Herbert, a four-star tight end. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, freshman Patrick Herbert’s strength is catching the ball in traffic. You could be hearing a lot of “Herbert to Herbert” ringing through Autzen Stadium.

[READ: Takeaways from Oregon football Hillsboro scrimmage: changed physiques, freshmen highlights and Duck “celebrities”]

Herbert’s decision to return provides him a chance to lead the Ducks back to national prominence and change the course of his legacy. A once dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, he wasn’t even an All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick in 2018.

Oregon is likely be the favorite in the north division and the conference for 2019. The Ducks enter year two under head coach Mario Cristobal with a veteran offensive line, running back weapons CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, an influx of young talent at receiver, eight returning starters on defense and a few extraordinary freshman who could make instant impacts. Oregon's leading tacker each of the last three seasons, inside linebacker Troy Dye, will also return for his senior season. 

I’m not predicting that Oregon will win the National Championship next season, a Pac-12 title ring is much more likely. However, the urgency is on for Oregon football to take the next step and to make the most of Herbert’s senior season in the same way Oregon maximized Marcus Mariota’s return five years ago.

Mariota elected to stay for his redshirt junior season and subsequently won the program’s first Heisman Trophy, led Oregon to a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory and a trip to the National Championship game. Once again, the Ducks were * this close * to taking the first ever college football playoff crown.

Is 2019 the year Oregon loses * this close * from its vocabulary? Is 2019 the year Ducks fans can burn all the signs that have the “O” logo with “number of national championships” below it?

The answer is yes if you ask Ionescu or Herbert… and that is probably the cure to any “loss fatigue” you are feeling.

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.

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.

First sell out of the season goes to Oregon women's basketball

First sell out of the season goes to Oregon women's basketball

I hope you already bought your tickets to this weekend's Civil War, because it is officially sold out. 

No. 3 Oregon women's basketball owns the first sell out of the season (women or men) at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. for the upcoming game vs. No. 9 Oregon State. 

It will be second sellout in arena history for the women's program. The other was the Matthew Knight Arena debut against Oregon State during the 2010-11 season. 

The highest attendance for a men's game at home this season was also against Oregon State; 11,204 attendance on Jan. 5. 

The Oregon women look to extend the nation's longest active winning streak to 17 games vs. the Beavers on Friday. By the way, the Ducks are gaining national recognition after a dominant weekend in the Bay Area

Oregon women's basketball gain national recognition

Oregon women's basketball gain national recognition

The Ducks are gaining national recognition after a dominant weekend in the Bay Area.

Oregon women’s basketball extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games on Sunday by destroying then No. 11 Stanford by 40 points and obliterating California last Wednesday. In the latest AP top-25 poll, the Ducks (23-1, 12-0 Pac-12) remained steady at No. 3 but gained three first-place votes.

Guard Sabrina Ionescu earned Pac-12 Player of the Week due to her contributions in the pair of road wins. The junior averaged 27 points while shooting 62.9 percent from the field and 75 percent from three-point range. The weekly honor is her second of the season and her eighth-career weekly honor, which ties the third-most in Pac-12 history. 

The lone undefeated team in the Pac-12 Conference, the Ducks went from 632 total points to 653 points this week.

Oregon is just behind No. 2 Louisville (23-1), who also received three first-place votes and 664 total points. Baylor (21-1) continues to reign on top, with 22 first-place votes and 694 total points.

Coming off of shooting a blistering 75 percent from three against Stanford, the Ducks welcome in Civil War week.

Oregon hosts No. 9 Oregon State, the next highest Pac-12 team in the AP Poll, in Eugene on Friday night. The Ducks will then meet the Beavers again on Monday night in Corvallis. Stay tuned for more coverage.