Elite Eight notebook: ND head coach Muffet McGraw lauds Ionescu and Hebard, international Ducks embrace Big Dance

SPOKANE, Wash. — Oregon advanced to its second Elite Eight in program history after defeating No. 11-seeded Central Michigan 83-69 on Saturday. Now, the Ducks (33-4) turn their attention toward No. 1-seeded Notre Dame (32-3), which advanced to the Elite Eight with a 90-84 win over No. 4-seeded Texas A&M. …

SPOKANE, Wash. — Oregon advanced to its second Elite Eight in program history after defeating No. 11-seeded Central Michigan 83-69 on Saturday. Now, the Ducks (33-4) turn their attention toward No. 1-seeded Notre Dame (32-3), which advanced to the Elite Eight with a 90-84 win over No. 4-seeded Texas A&M.

Oregon and Notre Dame play on Monday (6 p.m. PT, ESPN) for a spot in the Final Four.

Although the practices were closed, both teams participated in media availabilities on Sunday. Here are notes from those availabilities.

Muffet with high praise for Ionescu, Hebard

In her 36 years at the helm of the Irish, Muffet McGraw has coached her fair share of standout players. During her tenure, she’s coached 2015 espnW National Player of the Year Jewell Loyd, four-time All-American Skylar Diggins, and 2001 Naismith Player of the Year Ruth Riley, among a plethora of others.

It’s safe to say that McGraw recognizes talent when she sees it, and on Sunday she had high praise for two Oregon’s two stars: Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard.

“Sabrina is just a phenomenal player, just phenomenal,” McGraw said. “So difficult to guard. I’ve never seen a player, especially so young, already got the record for triple-doubles, but the assists is what’s so impressive to me.

“I’ve had some pretty good point guards, some good guards, but to look at the number of assists she has, really it’s a challenge to figure out how to defend them.”

This season, as a sophomore, Ionescu set the NCAA record for triple-doubles with ten. Hebard, also a sophomore, owns an NCAA record of her own: over a stretch this season, she made 33 consecutive field goals. The previous record was 30.

“To have that kind of record, I think that’s really phenomenal. She’s probably shattered the record,” McGraw said. “You know she’s going to score when she gets the ball. The question is, can you stop her from getting it. That’s going to be the challenge.”

Big Dance a continent away

The NCAA Tournament is often lauded as one of the greatest events in all of sports. Not so much, though, outside of the U.S.

Neither Maite Cazorla nor Satou Sabally, who grew up in Spain and Germany, respectively, watched the NCAA Tournament growing up. Now, each is part are of a deep run into March, which has caused some late nights for their families back home.

“My family usually stays up and watch the game,” Cazorla said. “It’s usually 2 a.m. there.”

“Yeah, my mom, my grandma, my grandpa, they are all watching the games at night,” Sabally said.

While she admitted she didn’t know much about college basketball before arriving at Oregon this season, Sabally took an added interest in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

“Last year I started watching college basketball,” she said with a laugh. “I bought the ESPN pass for it, just for March Madness.”

Westbeld’s ankle

Kathryn Westbeld was an unlikely hero in Notre Dame’s win over Texas A&M. She was questionable for Saturdays and sported a walking boot throughout the week after spraining her ankle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Cal State Northridge. She ended up playing 32 minutes against the Aggies on essentially one leg but hit a midrange jumper late in the fourth quarter that ultimately sealed the victory for the Irish.

Westbeld should play against Oregon on Monday but said she’s still dealing with discomfort in her ankle.

“I mean, it feels a little bit better each day,” she said on Sunday. “The swelling goes down. Bruising kind of turns color. It’s kind of interesting to see what it looks like the next day.”

The 6-2 senior forward is averaging 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds this season.

Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris


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