LAS VEGAS—Call it a clean sweep. The Oregon Ducks are the 2019-20 Pac-12 regular season and tournament champions after collecting their third victory of the season over the Stanford Cardinal in Sunday’s title game.
The trio of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Minyon Moore outscored the Cardinal, combining for 65 points on 22-of-32 shooting. Stanford’s decision to sag off Moore, as they did in their previous matchup, backfired. The grad transfer scored a season-high 21 points, connecting on four of her five 3-point attempts.
“On the biggest night, on the biggest stage, she was able to step up her game,” Kelly Graves said. “That changed the whole game. By her making those shots, yeah we know what Stanford was trying to do. And it wasn’t gonna work because she stepped up to that challenge.”
“Teams have obviously helped off on me,” Moore added. “I know that it kind of hurts our offense and our inside game with Ruthy. I took it to heart and shot the shots tonight.”
Ionescu was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Kiana Williams, Lexie Hull, Aari McDonald and Michaela Onyenwere joined Hebard on the All-Tournament Team. Ionescu scored 15 of her 20 points in the second quarter as her team outscored the Cardinal 29-9.
“We just really struggled after that [first quarter],” Tara VanDerveer said. “Give Oregon the credit. They’re a terrific team…Kiana led the way for us playing almost every minute in this tournament, really puts our team on her back every single game. I hope that this is a very positive motivation for our team looking forward to playing in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t know that any game that we would play in the tournament would be any harder.”
Williams (21 points, 7-15 FG) didn’t get much help offensively. Lexie Hull went 2-for-13 from the field after dropping 28 points in Saturday’s semifinal victory over UCLA. But the sophomore has taken a big step forward, nearly tripling her scoring average to emerge as Stanford’s No. 2 scorer.
“Lexie’s a great player,” Williams said postgame. “She’s a two-way player. She takes on the scoring role sometimes then also guards the other’s teams best perimeter player. She’s had a really good sophomore year…She struggled tonight but I’m really proud of Lexie, proud of our team.”
The Ducks are the nation’s top offense for a second consecutive season. Through Sunday, they’re scoring 123.5 points per 100 possessions—9.2 points better than South Dakota at 114.3. That gap between the top two spots is the largest anywhere on the offensive efficiency leaderboard per Her Hoop Stats.
But Oregon isn’t just outscoring teams anymore, and they’re the first to admit it.
“We’ve relied on our offense a lot,” Ionescu said. “We haven’t been able to rely on our defense. Last year we realized that we fell short due to the fact that we didn’t defend better.”
Oregon ranked 235th, 136th and 191st nationally in defensive efficiency in the last three seasons. Through 33 games this season, the Ducks are allowing just 84.2 points per 100 possessions, catapulting into the top 50. And as impressive as that senior trio was on Sunday, Graves was quick to highlight the two-way impact made by two of his top reserves along with Moore, their culture-setter.
“We have a couple of players that come off the bench, Jaz Shelley and Taylor Chavez, who lift us defensively,” Graves said of the two guards who each shot north of 40 percent from deep this season. “Not just offensively. They lift our defense. But Minyon gets a lot of the credit. It’s been Minyon. She’s slowing transition down. We gave up no transition points to one of the best transition offensive teams in the country today…That was our number one key tonight. Minyon’s the one that’s slowing the ball down in transition.”
The Cardinal scored 1.116 points per possession in transition this season according to Synergy Sports, trailing only Arkansas, Oregon, UConn and Maine in overall efficiency.
“Number two, she’s our best talker,” Graves added on Moore. “Number three, she’s a bulldog and is tough as nails. If you’re not holding up your end of the bargain defensively, she’s gonna let you hear it. She’s the one that has really driven that bus. Everyone else has hopped on. And I think now we’ve seen the benefits of playing both ends of the floor.”
Both Charlie Creme and Russell Steinberg have Stanford as a No. 2 seed in their latest editions of Bracketology. Despite the youth and injuries to Haley Jones, DiJonai Carrington and Maya Dodson, the Cardinal managed a 27-6 overall record and top-three Pac-12 finish. Any team is in an excellent place heading into the tournament if losing to these Ducks is one of their biggest ‘shortcomings’.
Graves struck an excellent balance postgame, unafraid to highlight the strengths and accomplishments of his team while crediting Stanford as the league’s gold standard.
“They’ve set a high bar for this conference for many years,” he said. “They have helped everybody else elevate the league. It’s not that they’re coming back to us. We’re all elevating. That’s due to coach VanDerveer and her great team.”
And VanDerveer is right. Her team won’t face a tougher challenge in the NCAA Tournament than they already have thus far by running into the Ducks three times. How non-Pac-12 foes handle their depth up front, and how well those players perform, make for a fascinating storyline in March.
Nadia Fingall has been a rock all season coming off an ACL tear and ranks third in minutes played behind Williams and Lexie Hull. Four capable players can fill those remaining minutes up front. Alyssa Jerome is adjusting to a new role. Freshmen Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel have performed in big moments. They’re thrilled to have Dodson (foot) back in the lineup; Sunday was just her ninth game of the season. VanDerveer sees ample opportunity for each of them rather than a challenge to find enough minutes to go around.
“Because Maya’s just coming back, she really is, I’m not gonna say limited, but her stamina is not where she can go more than two or three minutes at a time,” VanDerveer explained. “And she’s working really hard and running the floor really hard. That’s a good situation for freshmen not to have to play too much where their bodies break down. Nadia is having a great senior year.
“There’s plenty of time for them to get valuable minutes…Ashten playing 18, 20 minutes is what it’s gonna be. We’ve actually moved Alyssa to the 3 a little bit. So I think there’s 20 minutes for each of our post players.”
The Ducks entered the season as a top title favorite. They haven’t disappointed; this group found an even higher gear. A Final Four rematch with Baylor, or a clash with fellow Final Four favorite South Carolina, looms.
Everybody else will be taking aim at that trio. Those three projected No. 1 seeds are clear favorites to get to New Orleans, and Stanford will likely run right into, possibly even through, some of the most capable challengers.
- Our Pac-12 tournament day three notebook:
- Our Pac-12 tournament day two notebook:
- Our Pac-12 tournament day one notebook:
- The previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12′ on UCLA’s loss to UW and Oregon clinching a share of the title with a second win over Stanford:
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