In Oregon’s arguably most highly-anticipated game of the season, the No. 7 Ducks (9-1) upset the No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs 82-74 Tuesday night in front of a near-9,000-person crowd at Matthew Knight Arena.
With the help of Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu’s free-throw dominance and the Ducks’ strategic shooting, Oregon ended Mississippi State’s streak of 46 regular-season non-conference wins. The Oregon win marked the first loss for the Bulldogs (10-1) this season.
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s game:
Free-throw? No problem.
Noticing that she wasn’t making her normal shots in the first half, Ionescu knew she had to put her efforts elsewhere — 15-feet from the basket to be exact.
After going only 3-of-8 on field goal attempts in the first half, the guard focused her attention on free-throws for the second half.
“I was getting good looks, but I just wasn’t hitting them, so I knew that I had to find another way to score in order to contribute to the offensive end,” Ionescu said. “I have been practicing on improving my free-throw percentage for games like this.”
Out of her 29 total points, which tied her season-high set earlier this month, 17 came from the line. The perfect stat of 17-of-17 free throws is a career-high for the junior and a Pac-12 record as well.
A battle of the nation’s top-scoring teams
Going into the night’s matchup, Oregon and Mississippi State were ranked the top-two scoring teams in the nation with only a tenth of a percent separation between the two (Oregon ranked first with 92.4 percent).
The Ducks reminded the Bulldogs why they’re No. 1 by outscoring Mississippi State in turnovers (18-9), points in the paint (36-28), fast breaks (10-9) and points off the bench (7-4).
Oregon shot over 60 percent in the first half and held Mississippi State to under 50, including a two-minute scoreless drought.
Finding success on the free-throw line in the second half, Oregon created an 11-point lead three times by going 21-of-22 from the line.
At the end of the game, the two teams were just as close to each other as they had begun. Oregon out-shot Mississippi State by one percent with a mark of 51 percent. The teams’ top scorers were also separated by one as well, Ionescu with 29 points and Mississippi State’s Anriel Howard with 30.
Offense runs deep
While Oregon’s usual leading scorer fell quiet in the first half, point guard Maite Cazorla fueled Oregon’s attack.
The senior led the Oregon team with 12 points in the first half. In her third career game against the Bulldogs, Cazorla scored in the double-digits for the third time, with a season-high 20-point total in tonight’s game.
“We give Sabrina a lot of credit, and deservingly so, but I thought Maite set the tone early,” Graves said. “She did such a good job of attacking the basket early in game, and I thought that was the key.”
Facing the most physical game of her Oregon career thus far, freshman Taylor Chavez stepped up to the pressure. Chavez played a career-high 29 minutes, putting up a total of seven points including one of Oregon’s only five three-pointers of the game.
“We all believe in Taylor, there is no question,” Graves said. “For a freshman to do what she did tonight, on that kind of stage, is incredible.”
Oregon’s will remain at Matthew Knight Arena for its next matchup against Air Force Thursday morning at 11 a.m.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni