Portland, OR – A third straight trip to the Elite Eight was the magic charm for the Oregon women. In one of the better played games you will see, men or women, the Ducks outlasted the Mississippi State Bulldogs 88-84 in front of 11,534 fans to head to their first Final Four. Sabrina Ionescu, named the most outstanding player of the regional, was at her best, scoring 31 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds while only committing two turnovers. Ionescu received help from Satou Sabally (22 points, seven rebounds), Ruthy Hebard (14 points, five rebounds) and Matie Cazorla (11 points, six assists, one turnover). Teaira McCowan led the Bulldogs with 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Anriel Howard added 18 pomts and six rebounds while point guard Jazzmun Holmes scored 15 points, and astoundingly, dished out 13 assists while committing no turnovers.
The key sequence of the game came with under two minutes remaining when Hebard blocked two shots on the same possession, first on a McCowan lay-up and then on the subsequent offensive rebound by Bre’Amber Scott. Ionescu followed with a key three-pointer to put Oregon in front 81-75 with 1:12 remaining. After Scott scored to cut the lead to four points, Cazorla drained a three-pointer with 35.4 seconds remaining to give Oregon a seven-point lead and effectively put the game away.
The game was tied at 59 entering the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs’ Howard made two free throws to cut Oregon’s lead to 64-63. Then Sabally drained a three-pointer which was matched by a three-pointer from Scott. Ionescu hit a three-pointer that was matched by a three-point play by Holmes. After Sabally scored on a lay-up, Howard missed a shot inside and Ionescu followed with a lay-up giving Oregon some separation at 74-69 with 4:07 remaining.
In the fourth quarter when the game was on the line Oregon came through hitting 10-of-14 shots from the field including 5-of-7 three-pointers. They also made all four of their free throws. Oregon needed to shoot better than their 4-of-20 effort from deep against South Dakota State in the regional semifinal to have a chance to win. They did that. For the game the Ducks shot 54.2 percent from the field while draining 50 percent (13-of-26) of their three-point attempts. The Bulldogs were good offensively as well, just not quite as good as Oregon. They shot 48.4 percent from the field and 8-of-13 (57 percent) from deep. There wasn’t much to separate the teams. The Ducks made five more three-pointers, including the important late threes, which was an important factor deciding the game. Oregon’s pick and rolls were effective with Hebard and Sabally both rolling for lay-ups several times after feeds from Ionescu and Cazorla.
The game was extremely well-played throughout with only a combined 14 turnovers (eight by Oregon) committed. As Oregon’s coach Kelly Graves commented “That was as well-played a basketball game as I think you’re going to find anywhere. I thought that is about as good as women’s basketball can get.” Mississippi State’s coach Vic Schaffer said “I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a game where we turned it over six times and we didn’t win. I’ve never had that happen in 34 years in coaching… my point guard had 13 and zero. I don’t think I’ve ever had that either.”
Points in the paint were even at 30 while the Bulldogs had a two-point edge in second chance points. McCowan was limited to seven points and five rebounds in the second half as Oregon effectively triple-teamed her, daring Mississippi State to beat them with their other players. The Bulldogs adjusted effectively but Oregon made the important plays down the stretch to close the game out.
The first half was played at an extremely high level and very efficiently offensively by both teams. Oregon took a 40-38 lead into the break as Ionescu was at the top of her form, scoring 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and connecting on 3-of-5 three-pointers. The last of her 3s with 59 seconds remaining gave the Ducks their two-point halftime lead. Sabally made her first four shots, went 4-of-8 overall and scored ten points. The 6-7 McCowan was a load for Oregon to defend inside. She scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting, grabbed ten rebounds and blocked two shots. She helped limit the Ducks’ Hebard to 12 first half minutes due to her being called for two fouls.
Oregon shot 55.2 percent in the half (16-of-29) and connected on 8-of-15 three-point attempts. The Bulldogs shot 45.2 percent (14-of-31) and made 4-of-7 from deep. There were only six turnovers in the half, four by Oregon and the teams battled evenly on the boards with the Bulldogs having a one rebound advantage.
Oregon advances to the Final Four in Tampa, Florida and will play Friday against the winner of the Baylor-Iowa game. The other game will feature UConn against the winner of the Notre Dame-Stanford regional final.