SPOKANE, Wash. — Two years, two trips to the Elite Eight.
This is a trend that Oregon could get used to.
For the second time in as many years, the Ducks are Elite Eight bound. They dispatched No. 11-seeded Central Michigan 83-69 Saturday at Spokane Arena
Paced by Ruthy Hebard’s double-double (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Sabrina Ionescu’s near triple-double (16 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists), Oregon used contributions from up and down its roster to jump on Central Michigan (30-5) early. The Chippewas put up a fight with a furious third-quarter run but failed to make up the ground they had lost in a first half that Oregon dominated.
In the end, Oregon (33-4) was just better.
“I think when you lose a basketball game, and you did everything that you could possibly do,” Central Michigan head coach Sue Guevara said, “sometimes you just lose to a better team.”
Oregon ultimately decided the game in the first half and third quarter. The Ducks held a 40-25 lead at the break that could have been more had Presley Hudson not hit a wild 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.
The Chippewas shot just 29.7 percent from the field before springing alive in the third quarter, where Hudson almost single-handedly got them back in the game. She had a hand in their first 10 points of the quarter, scoring eight and assisting on the other. With 4 minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter, Central Michigan had Oregon’s double-digit lead down to nine.
“Second half we got a little lax,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “They started hitting some threes.
“[We] kind of let them off the hook a little bit when we had a chance to really kind of separate from them for good.”
For as well as the Chippewas played in the third quarter, Oregon remained composed and closed the quarter with a decisive 11-2 run that extended its lead to 18. The Chippewas gave Oregon their best shot in the third and Oregon still extended its halftime lead by 3.
“We just couldn’t get over that hump,” Guevara said, though it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.
After Oregon limited Central Michigan’s two top scorers, Hudson and Tinara Moore, to just seven point combined in the first half, the two accounted for 31 of the Chippewas’ 44 second-half points. Hudson scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half while Tinara Moore had 19 of her 23, and eight of her 14 rebounds, over the final 20 minutes.
But while that duo thrived in the second half, the Chippewas’ depth, or lack thereof, finally cost them. Each of Central Michigan’s starters logged over 31 minutes of play while only three reserves entered the game, with the most prolific performance coming from Kyra Bussell who scored two points in nine minutes.
Oregon didn’t use its bench much either, but the Ducks got all they needed out of junior Oti Gildon. She proved integral Oregon’s run at the end of the third quarter as she scored six of Oregon’s last 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, including two crucial offensive boards, over the final 3:37 of the quarter.
She finished the game with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, and exited the game late in the fourth to the loudest ovation of the day from a local crowd that had seen her win two state titles in high school just up the road at Gonzaga Prep.
“It’s always nice to hear familiar voices in the crowd yelling and cheering you on,” Gildon said. “I knew I needed to step up for the team.”
Now the No. 2-seeded Ducks prepare for No. 1-seeded Notre Dame, which defeated No. 4-seeded Texas A&M 90-84 just prior to Oregon’s game. The Ducks have a day to scout and practice before facing the Irish on Monday at 6 p.m. for another shot at program history.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris