Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) celebrates the victory with forward Ruthy Hebard (24). Oregon Ducks women’s basketball takes on Portland State University in the first round of the NCAA Championship at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. on March 22, 2019. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Early in the third quarter, Oregon junior Sabrina Ionescu knocked down a 30-foot-plus shot-clock-buzzer-beating 3-pointer. On her way back down the court, she tripped running backwards and fell, laughing as she got back up.

The shot was overall inconsequential as the Ducks led by 26 points with eight minutes left in the third quarter, but is a testament to the level of elite basketball Oregon is capable of and the non-stop intensity of its attention-grabbing guard.

The No. 2-seed Ducks made the first round of the NCAA Tournament look easy, and fun, blowing past No. 15-seed Portland State 78-40 in Matt Knight Arena Friday night.

“When we play our best is when we’re having fun and we’re laughing, when Sab’s (Ionescu) ya’ know, being Sabrina,” junior Ruthy Hebard said, laughing. “I think we came out focused, and when we’re focused, we have fun and it’s just a domino effect and we just play great." 

Coming off a Pac-12 tournament championship loss to Stanford, the Ducks looked more like themselves tonight than they did in Las Vegas for the conference tournament, especially sophomore Satou Sabally.

After averaging just eight points in Oregon’s three Pac-12 tournament games, the German sophomore put up 21 points, off 8-of-12 shooting, including four from beyond the arc. She also posted a game and career-high 16 rebounds for a double-double. 

“When Satou plays like that, we become a different team,” head coach Kelly Graves said.

Hebard scored a game-high 22 points and snagged 11 rebounds for a double-double of her own. She and Sabally went for a combined 43 points and 27 rebounds, over half of Oregon’s effort. Ionescu added 12 points, eight assists and four rebounds.

Despite a slow, sloppy first couple of minutes, Oregon outscored Portland State 22-15 in the first quarter, the highest-scoring quarter for both teams. Graves said he was disappointed in his teams’ first-quarter defensive effort, as the Vikings tied with the Ducks twice in that quarter.

Late in the quarter, Sabally drained a 3-pointer and then stole the ball for a runaway layup to put the Ducks up five points, spurring a 9-2 run to end the quarter.

The Ducks slipped into a familiar routine, forcing turnovers, snatching steals and grabbing rebounds. In the first half, they earned nine steals compared to just three from the Vikings, and scored 10 points off of turnovers.

Oregon ran away in the third on a 12-0 run, even with a scoreless quarter from Sabally, and shut down the Vikings’ offense down for the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second half. 

In her first NCAA appearance, redshirt sophomore Lydia Giomi showed up big for the Ducks in the third quarter with five points, as many as Ionescu, to send the Ducks into the third up 32-points. She finished with seven points, one shy of her season-high.

With two-and-a-half minutes left and up 40-points, Oregon starters Ionescu, Hebard and Sabally sat on the bench, singing along to Smash Mouth’s Rockstar, which was playing in the arena during a media timeout.

Oregon hopes to carry this energy, and perhaps a little more focus, into Sunday’s 6 p.m. PT second-round game against No. 10 Indiana at Matt Knight Arena.

Follow Sierra Webster on Twitter @WebsterSierraE.

Sierra Webster is a sports reporter covering women's basketball, soccer and track and field. Find her work at www.sierrawebster.com. Contact: [email protected]

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