SportsWomen's Basketball

Sabrina Ionescu puts on a show as Oregon women’s basketball wins first ever Pac-12 Tournament title

SEATTLE — With under two minutes to play in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game, the section directly behind the Oregon bench stood up and began to chant “MVP” as Pac-12 player of the year and sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu dribbled the ball up the court.

“I saw a little twinkle in her eye coming off the bus today and at shootaround and at pre-game meal,” head 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 Oregon Ducks celebrate their win on the podium. The Oregon Ducks face the Stanford Cardinal in the final of the Pac-12 Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash. on Sunday, March 4, 2018. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)

Ionescu, the tournament’s MVP, scored 36 points — a Pac-12 Tournament championship game record — in Oregon’s 77-57 win over the Stanford Cardinal, giving the Ducks their first ever Pac-12 Tournament championship in the program’s first championship game appearance.

“Couldn’t be more proud,” Graves said. “This has been a season of firsts for the Ducks, and this is the first time we’ve ever won a Pac-12 Tournament Championship. It feels really neat.”

Stanford took the lead early, but Oregon turned it around quickly with a 12-point first quarter from Ionescu to give the Ducks an 18-17 lead. Oregon’s defense kept Stanford scoreless for the final five minutes, 14 seconds of the quarter.

“All three games in the tournament where I thought defensively we were terrific,” Graves said. “The energy was great.”

Ionescu scored five points in the beginning of the second quarter to get to 17 points, the same number of points the Cardinal had as a team. From there, as Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, the game became “the Ionescu show.”

The Ducks pulled away from the Cardinal in the second half with Ionescu leading the way.

“I think it was just our mindset coming in to be honest,” Ionescu said. “I think we had some unfinished business, and our coaches did a great job on the scouting. We adjusted from what we did last game, and I was just ready to come out.”

Behind Ionescu’s 4-of-10 3-point shooting, four other Ducks made 3s, including Satou Sbally’s 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Oregon shot 45.8 percent from 3-point range while the Cardinal shot 28.6 percent.

Part of that successful deep shooting from Oregon is because of senior guard Lexi Bando.

Oregon Ducks head coach Kelly Graves cuts down the net after the game. The Oregon Ducks face the Stanford Cardinal in the final of the Pac-12 Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash. on Sunday, March 4, 2018. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)

“It’s bittersweet right now,” Bando said. “Coming in my freshman year I didn’t even think this was possible and to be here now is the most incredible feeling.”

Sabally was questionable to play after leaving the semifinal against UCLA with an injury, but she played and finished with 12 points and three rebounds in 26 minutes.

“In the warm up I felt like, ‘OK, just let the pain out.’ The crowd was helping too. I just didn’t think about it,” Sabally said. “I knew that I wanted to play in the final. As soon as the buzzer went off, I knew, ‘OK I need to get everything together.’”

For Graves, the net-cutting ceremony brought some emotion out, even though he’s been there before with his previous teams. This time, it was different.

“For me to sit back there and watch them go up one by one, that’s priceless,” Graves said. “That’s why I do what I do and I truly love each and every one of them. I’m so happy for them.”

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.