TAMPA, Fla. — Ruthy Hebard couldn’t catch a break.
As Oregon’s most aggressive weapon in the paint, the 6-foot-4 forward has the ability to block out and rebound unlike any other.
She's the player the Ducks needed most against the Baylor Lady Bears: a team that rosters not one, but two big-woman threats in 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox and 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown.
But the one thing the Ducks didn’t prepare Hebard enough for was adding just as much pressure on guarding the Lady Bears' bigs as she should have playing against them offensively.
In Hebard’s final game of her junior year, she would end the season with her lowest-scoring game in over two years.
With just four points (tying her career-low set in her freshman year), nine rebounds and three steals, Hebard simply could not out-power the Baylor Lady Bears during Oregon’s loss in Friday’s national semifinal.
“Ruthy gave us 100 percent of what she has,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “What she has, I don't know. But whatever she has, I just know her. She gave all of it. It's never just that one person. It was collective. It was the team. We just didn't get it done tonight, bottom line.”
Going into Friday’s game, Oregon knew it had to stop both Cox and Brown if the Ducks wanted a chance to continue their season. The Ducks assigned both Hebard and redshirt sophomore Lydia Giomi to the mission of defending Baylor’s bigs. Hebard, one of Oregon’s starting forwards, knew the majority of the role would be placed on her.
But come Friday’s first quarter, Hebard’s game slowly fell apart. The junior got blocked, shoved and pushed inside the paint countless times by the Lady Bear bigs. She was called for traveling twice in those 10 minutes, with one call expressed loudly by players and coaches of the Baylor bench as they jumped up to signal the referee of Hebard’s wrongdoing.
“They have two of the best post players, obviously very tall, very athletic,” Sabrina Ionescu said. “They were beasts inside. But we had to adjust and we didn't.”
It wasn’t until the second quarter that she was even able to find her way to the basket in attempt of a shot. Yet, the ball was blocked by a Lady Bear and gave Hebard a stat line of just three rebounds, one steal and three caused turnovers at halftime.
Hebard earned her first points of the game about five minutes into the third quarter from the Oregon-signature pick-and-roll, assisted by Ionescu. Another pick-and-roll from Ionescu in the fourth quarter gave Hebard her second, and final, bucket of the night.
“I knew it was going to be tough inside,” Hebard said. “The guards did a great job in the pick-and-rolls, but overall it was OK.”
The Fairbanks, Alaska, native did provide strength for Oregon defense, ending with team-high rebounds and steals.
A highlight for Hebard came with four minutes and 40 seconds left in the game. Baylor had collected an offensive rebound and the ball found its way to Brown’s hands. Hebard pressured Brown forcefully and stole the ball from her in order to bring it back down to the Oregon basket. The small crowd of Oregon fans got on its feet with the unexpected momentum, only to have to it smothered a moment later with a missed Ionescu 3-pointer.
“I think in a few weeks, we’ll look back and think, ‘Gosh guys, we were in the Final Four.’ We gave Baylor a tough game and with all the stuff we accomplished this season,” Hebard said. “I know I’m so proud of everybody on this team and hopefully they are proud of themselves because we deserved to be here.”
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni