DUCKS 88 - BULLDOGS 84
The #2 seed Oregon Ducks (33-4, 16-2) have earned their first ever trip to the Final Four after defeating the #1 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (33-3, 15-1) by a score of 88 to 48. Fans in Portland were treated to a spectacular show as the game went back and forth, ultimately concluding with some clutch play by Oregon’s starters to seal the win.
The Ducks reached a point of no return; after three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight, the fans and players of the Oregon Women’s Basketball team would not be satisfied with another postseason exit before the Final Four.
With the level of talent and chemistry that Coach Kelly Graves has built with this historic roster it’s a fare assumption that now is their best shot at making a run at a national championship. And with the possibility of this being Sabrina Ionescu’s final season as a Duck, the Oregon faithful were hoping for a memorable showing from the Nation’s best player and, once again, she did not disappoint.
Things started off with a score by Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan after she rebounded her own miss, a sign of things to come as the 6’7 superstar continued her domination of the paint and boards. Maite Cazorla responded by taking the lead with a triple and we were off to the races.
The first quarter saw seven lead changes before the Bulldogs were able to build a seven-point lead at the 3:27 mark, their largest of the game. It didn’t take McCowan long to make her presence known, finishing the first quarter with fiver rebounds, five points, two blocks and an assist. Fortunately, Oregon once again found their magic touch from downtown, connecting on five triples in the opening quarter and clawing their way to within two points.
Ionescu hit a jumper early in the second to tie it up 21-21. The teams then traded buckets for the remainder of the half, never building a larger lead than three-points. Down by one with 59 seconds left before halftime, Ionescu drained a three that would give the Ducks a 40-38 lead that would hold into the third quarter.
*Sabrina Ionescu (40 min) 31 PTS - 7 REB - 8 AST - 1 STL - 12/20 FG - 5/8 3PT - 2/2 FT
*Satou Sabally (40 min) 22 PTS - 7 REB - 3 AST - 3 BLK - 7/15 FG - 3/8 3PT - 5/6 FT
*Ruthy Hebard (33 min) 14 PTS - 5 REB - 1 AST - 2 BLK - 6/8 FG - 2/4 FT
*Maite Cazorla (40 min) 11 PTS - 1 REB - 6 AST - 4/9 FG - 3/4 3PT
*Erin Boley (29 min) 8 PTS - 2 REB - 1 STL - 2/6 FG - 2/6 3PT - 2/2 FT
Oti Gildon (12 min) 2 PTS - 1 REB - 1/1 FG
Lydia Giomi (6 min) 1 REB
MISSISSIPPI STATE STARTERS
Teaira McCowan (39 min) 19 PTS - 15 REB - 2 AST - 4 BLK - 6/10 FG - 7/8 FT
Anriel Howard (39 min) 18 PTS - 6 REB - 3 AST - 1 STL - 7/14 FG - 2/4 3PT - 2/4 FT
Jazzmun Holmes (39 min) 15 PTS - 3 REB - 13 AST - 1 BLK - 2 STL - 6/14 FG - 3/3 FT
Andra Espinoza-Hunter (38 min) 12 PTS - 4/9 FG - 4/7 3PT
Jordan Danberry (29 min) 12 PTS - 3 REB - 2 AST - 1 BLK - 5/11 FG - 2/2 FT
After shooting just 43.1% from the floor and 20.0% from three-point land against South Dakota State, Oregon looked like their old selves again, finishing with a 54.2% field goal average and hitting 50% of their three-pointers against Mississippi State.
Ruthy Hebard scored first in the third quarter, followed by a layup by Ionescu, but just as the Ducks thought they were beginning to pull away a three-pointer by Andra Espinoza-Hunter once again made it a one-score game. This pattern of building a lead only to have it abruptly cut down continued until Mississippi State tied it at 50-50 with a jumper by Jordan Danberry.
Hebard briefly took back the momentum with an and-one, but the Bulldogs eventually positioned themselves on top with 2:42 left in the quarter. Oregon’s previous luck with the longball vanished in the third quarter while Mississippi State was beginning to heat up. But after scoring just four points in the first half, Hebard tallied nine in the third, including the game-tying layup right before the beginning of the final quarter.
After missing all seven of her shots against South Dakota State, Erin Boley played a pivotal role in the beginning of the fourth, setting up an early score with a steal and then expanding the Duck lead to five with a much needed triple.
Anriel Howard scored four straight to cut the lead to one, then Satou Sabally and Bre’Amber Scott traded triples. Ionescu joined in on the fun by hitting a three-pointer of her own, giving the Ducks a 70-66 lead with 5:33 left.
The final couple of minutes will go down in Oregon Women’s Basketball lore: After future WNBA superstar McCowan hit both of her free throws, the score was 78 to 75 in favor of the Ducks. An unfortunate charging penalty by Sabally gave the ball back to the Bulldogs, but with the ball in McCowan’s hands, Hebard delivered a hardy block that put the crowd in a frenzy.
Moments later, Scott grabbed the offensive rebound but once again Hebard was there to swat the ball and grab the rebound. Up by three with 1:13 left in the game, Ionescu nailed a beautiful three-pointer that put the Ducks up by six. Amber cut the lead to four, but Cazorla sunk a confident shot from downtown.
A late triple by the persistent Espinoza-Hunter gave the Bulldogs hope by cutting the lead to four with 13 seconds left, but the Ducks fought hard to inbound the ball and ended the game by hitting their free throws.
Ionescu’s 31 points will certainly make the headlines, but this was a complete team effort. Four different Duck starters scored in the double-digits and the team as a whole hit 13 three-pointers. Defending McCowan was also a team effort, often involving up to three different Oregon players at once.
The large majority of the crowd stayed afterwards to cheer on the Ducks as they received their honors and Final Four trophy, and as Ionescu cut down her portion of the net, a group of diehards cheered, “One more year! One more year!” which made the Duck legend crack a coy smile.
Mississippi State is a damn good team... that Oregon has now beaten twice. It’s dangerous not to respect a competitor, especially one as talented as Iowa or Baylor, but the Ducks should go into this next week knowing they can beat any team in the country.
NEXT UP: Baylor/Iowa
3/5, Friday, 4 PM PT, Tampa Bay, ESPN