A great season for the Ducks, but two wins short.
TAMPA — The Oregon Ducks did achieve their goal to reach a Final Four. But the journey ended Friday at the hands of the Baylor Lady Bears.
Baylor scored 48 points in the paint en route to a 72-67 win to advance to Sunday’s national championship game.
The women’s college basketball and WNBA worlds will now eagerly await an answer to the same question: Will Sabrina Ionescu stay or will she go?
The All-American guard is eligible to declare for this month’s WNBA Draft, where she’s expected to be a lottery pick.
More from NCAA
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, April 6: Stanford defeats Arizona in a tightly contested matchup to win the national title
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 30: UConn and Baylor deliver a classic battle of storied programs
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 26: Louisville and Texas A&M survive and advance
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 23: Highlights from the first round of the NCAA Tournament
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, March 16: Tournament bracket released
If Ionescu returns to Oregon for her senior season, she’ll rejoin Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally, Erin Boley & co. as one of the top contenders to make next year’s Final Four.
Her answer postgame on if she had considered next season at all?
Ionescu shot 6-of-24 from the field Friday and just 2-of-11 inside the arc, often tightly contested by Baylor’s DiDi Richards. Hebard had a quiet night offensively, attempting just four shots.
Baylor’s tandem of Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown, even if indirectly, affected every Oregon offensive possession. If Ionescu did turn the corner toward the basket, she’d likely have to finish over Brown.
Cox’s instincts to protect the basket got the best of her at times, mainly when matched up with Boley, who shot 4-of-12 from deep.
But Cox patrols the paint for a reason. Some teams have a shot-blocking presence similar to what Brown and Cox represent to Baylor. No other team in the country has two of them.
“Where we ultimately got hurt tonight was some depth inside,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “We’ve got Nyara Sabally, who will be one of the best players in the country, sitting on that bench [due to a season-ending knee injury] who loves to bang, likes to be in those kind of moments.”
Oregon shot 12-of-32 from deep as a team. Baylor missed all three of their 3-point attempts. Was it fair to characterize this as a severe contrast of styles? Did Oregon look to trade threes for twos?
“I don’t think we were too reliant,” Ionescu said. “Those are shots we usually make. They were good looks. I don’t think we really forced too many threes up. We didn’t hit them tonight, but we’re going to learn from it.”
“Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t get Ruthy [Hebard] involved as much as we wanted to. That hurt us,” Graves added. “32 three-pointers is too many for us. We’re more comfortable in the 25 to 28 range.
“I just thought we shot a few too many, a couple not so good ones. But that’s what they were giving us tonight. If we have a normal shooting night, those threes for twos are more successful.
“But I don’t think that’s where the game was lost. I thought we had a couple of defensive breakdowns late. Even though the boards were relatively within reason, they made some key offensive rebounds late.”
Mere availability hurt the Ducks as well. Sabally (22 minutes played) was mired in foul trouble throughout the evening, picking up a second foul early in the first quarter, another late in the third and her fourth right at the start of the final period. The sophomore forward finished with 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
“I’m going to mature from this game,” Sabally said. “I knew before every possession matters, it’s going to come down to the important shots, important drives. 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.”
Oregon was hurting much of the night for a second source of offense due to Sabally’s foul trouble. Hebard never got it going in the post or rolling to the rim. Maite Cazorla hit a key 3-pointer over Brown early in the fourth but was unable to puncture the Baylor defense to score consistently in Sabally’s stead.
“We continue to learn,” Ionescu said. “We were put in positions we haven’t been put before. But I think this is just going to make us more hungry. We got to this stage that our program has never got to. So I think learning through this game and learning through the previous years, it’s just going to get us ready to want to come back.”
With or without Ionescu in tow for the 2019-20 campaign, the Ducks will eagerly await Nyara Sabally’s collegiate debut to add depth and a new dynamic to the frontcourt that already includes Boley, Hebard and Satou Sabally.
“We’re going to look back on this as a tremendous season and another step,” Graves said. “It always hurts. It does and it should. But this was a tremendous season. I think what we’ve done for basketball in the state of Oregon is incredible. Again, you see all three of these players up here, a lot more, this is a program that’s not going anywhere. It’s only a program that’s going to get better.”
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.