Ducks roll to fifth-straight victory with 60-point blowout of Southern Utah
If you thought that the Ducks might come out with some rust in their first game in seven days, you’d be sorely mistaken.
Especially when Sabrina Ionescu is steering the ship.
Oregon’s attention was shifted toward the classroom over the past week for final exams. Even so, Ionescu and the No. 9 Ducks didn’t skip a beat on the hardwood, blowing past Southern Utah 98-38 in a nonconference matchup on Saturday.
“I loved our energy early,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “We just wanted to get our kids jumpstarted. They responded. That was a really good effort by them.”
Once again, it was the Ionescu show at Matthew Knight Arena. In her first game since tying the Ducks’ single-game record with 14 assists in a 114-87 win over Weber State, Ionescu came out firing. The sophomore scored 16 points in the first quarter on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field.
The Ducks followed Ionescu’s lead, especially on the defensive end, holing Southern Utah to just 16 points in the first half alone. After leading 26-12 at the end of the first quarter, Oregon locked down defensively, limiting the Thunderbirds to just four second-quarter points to take an overwhelming 57-16 lead into the half.
“We’re definitely passing the ball well, and getting open shots and making our shots,” Ruthy Hebard said.
While Ionescu didn’t score any more points after her first quarter outburst, the Walnut Creek native added 12 assists and four rebounds to her 16 points.
Ionescu still remains one triple-double away from tying the NCAA record, and she’s still just a sophomore.
In a blowout game in which she easily could’ve chased that, Ionescu didn’t force anything. Simply put, Ionescu is just providing whatever is needed.
“We’re watching a phenomenal player and competitor,” Graves said. “She doesn’t need to score to feed her ego. She does whatever it takes to make the team successful.”
While Ionescu had it going to start the game, it was Lexi Bando that had the hot hand to start the second half. The senior hit a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter to finish with a game-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
“We want to set the tone,” Bando said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
Ruthy Hebard pitched in 13 points, and Mallory McGwire finished in double digits with 10 points. Eleven of the twelve players to enter the game found the scoreboard for the Ducks, who shot 50 percent from the field. Oregon was even more efficient from behind the arc, hitting 14-of-26 (53.8 percent) 3-pointers attempted.
It was an all-around effort for a Ducks team that looks as deep and as strong as they ever have in Graves’ tenure as head coach. Since losing to No. 5 Louisville in the Preseason WNIT championship game, the Ducks have put up video game numbers, going 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 37.6 points.
“We’re maturing as a basketball team,” said Graves. “This team is getting better. And that’s scary.”
They’ll continue to mature on Wednesday, when they take on No. 6 Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi. The Bulldogs defeated the Ducks last season, and later went on to shock the sporting world by taking down Connecticut in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Follow Cole Kundich on Twitter @CKundich
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