SEATTLE — The Oregon women's basketball team followed up its regular-season Pac-12 title by winning the Pac-12 Tournament in dominant fashion Sunday, getting a title-game record 36 points from conference player of the year Sabrina Ionescu and knocking off perennial Pac-12 power Stanford, 77-57, in KeyArena.
The sixth-ranked and top-seeded Ducks (30-4) avenged one of their only two conference losses this season, and turned into into a rout after squandering a halftime lead against the Cardinal in the regular season. Oregon seems all but assured of earning at least a No. 2 seed into the NCAA Tournament when pairings are announced March 12, and of hosting the first two rounds of tournament play the following weekend.
"I think we had some unfinished business," Ionescu said, referring to Stanford's 78-65 win in Eugene exactly one month earlier, in which the Cardinal trailed by nine at halftime before storming back to win. "I think our team was ready to come out from the start, and we played great basketball, on the defensive end as well as offensively."
How It Happened: Oregon's primary focus defensively was to limit opportunities for Stanford's three-point sharp-shooter, Kiana Williams. The freshman guard nailed a deep three-pointer on the opening possession, sparking a 6-of-7 shooting performance by the Cardinal to start the game. But after Stanford took a 15-11 lead, the Ducks held the Cardinal without a field goal for the next 8:24 of the game, and never trailed again.
Ionescu, the tournament's most outstanding player, scored 12 of Oregon's last 14 points of the first quarter, including a three-point play to put the Ducks up 18-17 after one. Then she opened the second with a three-pointer and a steal-and-layup transition bucket, giving her 17 points to match Stanford's team total, as Oregon led 23-17.
"I saw a little twinkle in her eye coming off the bus today, and at shootaround and the pregame meal," UO coach Kelly Graves said. "She had a different look about her. I didn't know what that was going to translate into, but now I know the look."
The Cardinal ended its stretch without a field goal, clawing back within 23-21. But Lexi Bando hit a three-pointer and Maite Cazorla added another that beat the shot-clock buzzer, helping Oregon build a 31-24 halftime lead. In the locker room, the Ducks were confident but quiet, perhaps aware that they'd been in a similar position in Eugene a month earlier, and didn't finish off the Cardinal.
In that game a month earlier, Bando didn't play while injured, and Pac-12 freshman of the year Satou Sabally endured a 1-of-8 three-point shooting night. On Sunday, Sabally hit two three-pointers during a 10-4 run by the Ducks to open the second half. The Cardinal weren't quite done, clawing back within 41-33 on another three by Williams. But at the other end, Ionescu had a shot blocked, and responded by getting off the floor, tracking down the ball, stripping the Stanford dribbler and turning it into a transition layin.
That was the first of four straight Oregon field goals made by Ionescu to close out the third quarter, at which point Oregon led 54-43. With the Ducks eliminating their three-point threats, Stanford turned to post Alanna Smith for 10 fourth-quarter points. But that wasn't nearly enough to stop what had become a tidal wave of Oregon offense.
Ionescu scored to give the Ducks their biggest lead to that point at 60-45, and tie Candice Wiggins' Pac-12 title game record of 30 points. Her next basket, a three-pointer, broke Wiggins' record and put the Ducks up by 19, and her last was yet another three to put the Ducks up 20 for the first time.
"I tell you, when you have somebody like Sabrina, she shines the brightest in the biggest moments," Graves said. "And that's part of her competitive greatness."
Who Stood Out: Ionescu made 14-of-24 shots for her 36 points, one shy of the Pac-12 Tournament single-game record for any round of the tournament, set by Stanford alum and former UO assistant Nicole Powell. She added four rebounds, four assists and four steals, setting the active tone Oregon wanted against Stanford's perimeter players. Sabally fought through the pain of her semifinal injury to score 12 points, and Ruthy Hebard added 11 points with nine rebounds. Maite Cazorla added 10 points, six assists and four rebounds, plus a pair of steals.
What It Means: A season of firsts continues for the Ducks, as they won the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time, and reached the 30-win plateau for the first time.
Up Next: The Ducks returned home Sunday and now wait a week to find out their NCAA Tournament destination.
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