TAMPA, Fla. — There might not be another one like her.
In the biggest game of her career, Oregon junior point guard Sabrina Ionescu, just one day after being named the national point guard and the player of the year, did what she’s been doing with the Ducks for three seasons: she took over. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The shots didn’t fall this time, and the Ducks fell short of the national championship game.
“We were up when we wanted to be up and we just weren’t able to close this one out," Ionescu said. "It’s going to sting for a bit. We were one game away from a national championship and I think if we had gotten in that position I think we could have gotten it done.”
Ionescu started cold but got her groove going with a second-quarter surge. Her four-point play was certainly the highlight of her game and grabbed the attention of Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, who spoke with Ionescu during an embrace after the game.
“She said I built something really special here and I was able to be a part of that, and told me that I had a lot of grit to keep going and I was one of the best players that she’s ever witnessed,” Ionescu said.
This was by no means a dominant 18-point, four-rebound, six-assist Ionescu performance, who set the Oregon record for single-season points. She shot 6-for-24 from the field and 4-of-11 from 3-point range. At the start of the second half, assistant coach Jodie Berry walked to the court with Ionescu and told her to keep shooting.
Ionescu did, but only scored two of her 14 second-half shots. In such a tight loss — 72-67 — every shot counted. Ionescu missed her last eight shots.
The low shooting percentage in her Final Four debut doesn’t discredit her career in any way. Ionescu has proven she’s one of the best players. The awards, the records, the 18 career triple-doubles solidify that. The Final Four appearance cements it.
“It’s going to go down as one of the best seasons in history, and I think we proved that through these couple years that we’ve earned the right to be here,” Ionescu said.
All the pick-and-rolls, all the 3-pointers and all those moments where all you can say is “that’s Sabrina.” Ionescu’s impact on the program has changed the course of Oregon women’s basketball.
“She means everything,” senior Maite Cazorla said. “I’m grateful she gave us a chance because we weren't good our freshman year. She’s the best player I’ve ever played [with] and I’m just grateful to have her as a friend and as a teammate and I’m looking forward to seeing what she accomplishes.”
Now it’s decision time for Ionescu. She’s still not saying if she’s chosen to enter the WNBA Draft.
Whether she goes pro or stays for her senior season, Ionescu finally made it to the big stage of college basketball. She showed the country who she is, and who Oregon is.
“She’s one of the greatest players I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with some Australian Olympians, and she’s amazing,” guard Morgan Yaeger said. “Just her relentlessness and just eagerness to win. There was a lot of things we could have done in that last quarter, on offense on defense, but I don’t think there’s one thing you can pinpoint the game on and [Ionescu] did all she could, we did all we could, it just wasn’t our moment.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow