TAMPA, Fla. – Two fouls in the first quarter, another two in the second half.
That’s how Oregon’s Satou Sabally found herself in foul trouble in the Final Four.
The sophomore guard, who’s started all but nine games of her career at Oregon, played just 22 minutes in the Ducks’ final game of the 2018-19 season as Oregon fell to Baylor in the national semifinal.
“I knew before: every possession matters, it's going to come down to the important shots, important drives,” she said. “I mean, most importantly don't foul stupid. I don't know, I got to be there for my team. That's going to stick with me. That's going to hurt for a while.
In nine games this season, Sabally committed at least four fouls, including Oregon’s late-season, lone home loss to UCLA where she fouled out and last Sunday’s Elite Eight victory over Mississippi State.
Still, Sabally’s limited minutes were critical in Oregon’s near-upset, scoring almost a quarter of Oregon’s points, in just over a half of the game off 42.8 percent shooting and bookending a noteworthy sophomore season.
She was one of five finalists for the Cheryl Miller national small forward of the year award and averaged 16.6 points on the season, leading the team in scoring behind junior Sabrina Ionescu. Her average 6.6 rebounds almost doubled her rebounding average from her freshman year.
“Satou hit shots after not being able to get in her groove so that speaks volumes about her guts and ambition and her will to win,” junior Sabrina Ionescu said on Friday night.
Sabally’s fouls remind us of what she is, a second-year with growing edges playing on one of the best teams in the nation.
Even this season, Sabally grew out of spot-up shooting and driving to being someone who creates opportunities for her teammates, as Oregon head coach Kelly Graves noted after Oregon’s loss.
“Well, Satou has just matured right before our eyes,” Graves said. “I think for her to continue to grow as a player, she's now got to be a creator for others, not just for herself. She will. That's all natural development.”
She also continues to become a defensive threat for the Ducks with 35 blocks on the season; now, she just needs to clean up on defense to stay out of foul trouble.
And next year it’ll matter even more. With Oregon’s starting point guard Maite Cazorla graduating and Ionescu potentially leaving a year early for the WNBA, underclassman will look to veterans like Ruthy Hebard and Sabally. Underclassmen including Sabally’s younger sister Nyara Sabally who’s coming off the bench after redshirting this season following an ACL injury.
“She has helped me a lot this year,” Nyara said. “I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this whole sitting-out thing for a year if she wasn’t here. She’s was a great support.”
With a Final Four game now in her arsenal, Sabally will need to be a leading outside scorer and play-maker for Oregon come next season.
“I think you're seeing a future star there,” Graves said.
Follow Sierra Webster on Twitter @WebsterSierraE