Back in 2014, Oregon guards Maite Cazorla and Sabrina Ionescu met in the FIBA U17 World Cup, where the United States, featuring Ionescu, outpaced Cazorla’s Spain by just two points to win the title.
“[Ionescu] didn’t get to play much,” Cazorla said. “I just remember her; she was so skinny, so different from now, but she beat me though, I guess.”
Now, the guards, in their third season together at Oregon, have gained national recognition in what many are calling the best backcourt in the nation. The duo’s strength comes from their ability to play unselfish, smart basketball. They know which teammates want what kinds of passes and when, said Cazorla.
Cazorla and Ionescu are ranked eighth and ninth in the nation, respectively, in assist-turnovers ratio at 3.20 from Cazorla and 3.17 from Ionescu. Behind the standout backcourt, No. 4 Oregon leads the nation in assists-to-turnovers, while Ionescu leads the nation in both overall assists, 168, and assists per game, 8.4.
“We’re both super competitive and we’re both super unselfish,” Ionescu said. “I think that helps our team having two pass-first point guards.”
In their first year at Oregon together, Cazorla’s sophomore season, they led the team in average assists all the way to the program’s first Elite Eight appearance. Last season, they led their team to another Elite Eight.
Currently, Ionescu averages 8.4 assists and Cazorla averages 4.8, but their impact on the team can’t be captured in a stat line.
“Their basketball IQs are off the chart,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “I think it is the best backcourt in the nation.”
Their calmness, pick-and-roll action and ability to read movement off the ball are driving forces on Oregon’s offense, and their teammates reap the benefits of the elite pair.
“I’ve been really impressed with [Cazorla] this year,” Graves said. “Everyone else seems to be getting all the attention. If she had an ego, we might have trouble.”
Cazorla takes pressure off Ionescu, allowing her to work off ball like she does so well. Meanwhile, the Spanish star has a keen eye for an open lane and will punish any defense that gives it to her.
Both members of Oregon’s backcourt are predicted to go in this year’s WNBA draft, with Ionescu going first overall to the Las Vegas Aces in mock drafts, if she decides to leave the program a year early. Graduating senior Cazorla says her dream would be to play in the WNBA.
“She’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats,” said Graves of Cazorla. “No question about it.”
On Ionescu potentially leaving a year early, Graves said he supports whatever decision she makes.
“Either way, I’m going to love her. She’s a part of our family forever,” he said. “I’ll be the three-and-done coach.”
Follow Sierra Webster on Twitter @WebsterSierraE