Ducks’ Ionescu prefers to avoid the spotlight and just win
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Sabrina Ionescu doesn’t have a lot of time for hobbies right now.
Oregon’s star freshman guard seemed a bit taken aback when she was asked what she likes to do when she’s not playing. It’s basketball season, after all, and Ionescu is all about basketball.
”Off the court?” she asked almost rhetorically, laughing a bit.
Oregon’s 5-foot-10 guard is a driving force behind the Ducks’ shot at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005. Oregon (18-12, 8-10) looks to bolster its chances by winning at this week’s Pac-12 tournament.
Ionescu, named the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year on Tuesday, has made a splash in the league with four triple-doubles through her first 26 college games. She leads the nation in the category and is just two shy of the NCAA record.
Overall, she’s averaging 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists for the Ducks, who are making distinct progress in coach Kelly Graves’ third year as head coach. She missed a handful of games earlier this season because of a broken thumb on her shooting hand.
Ionescu is about as humble as they come about her success. She deflects questions about the triple-doubles, saying they’re just not that important to her.
”Winning is what matters to me,” she said. ”Getting a triple-double has never really been my goal. I just try to do whatever I need to do to help us win.”
Ionescu is one of three freshmen in Graves’ starting lineup, joining forwards Ruthy Hebard and Mallory McGwire. Hebard, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska, leads the Ducks in scoring with an average of 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds.
”They’ve got a lot of really talented young players. Ionescu, Hebard, they’re just freshmen and they’re doing awesome. We’ll have our work cut out for us for years up here,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Hebard and Ionescu were the only freshmen named to the All-Pac-12 team Tuesday.
Ionescu was a standout at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California, earning the Gatorade Player of the Year honor in the state. She averaged 25.3 points, 8.8 assists, 7.6 rebounds and 4.5 steals in leading Miramonte to a 32-1 record her senior season.
Considered one of the top prospects in the nation, she patiently watched as her peers across the nation committed to colleges. Signing day came and went, Ionescu took her time.
When she did decide, it was with little fanfare and no big announcement at her school, fitting of her unassuming character. She just went to Eugene.
”I really just randomly showed up,” she said. ”I didn’t tell anyone. They just knew why I was there.”
Ionescu and the rest of the Ducks will be challenged this week when the team heads to Seattle for the conference tournament at Key Arena. Oregon has not won a Pac-12 tournament game since 2008.
The Ducks, the sixth seed, will play the No. 11 seed, Arizona, in the late game Thursday night. The Wildcats finished the regular season 14-15 overall and 5-13 in conference play.
Oregon defeated Arizona 79-65 earlier this season in Tucson. But in last year’s tournament, the Wildcats upset Oregon 74-68. The Ducks were hurt when they lost top scorer Jillian Alleyne to a knee injury late in the season.
A win would boost Oregon’s bid for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. With losses in their final three games, the Ducks may have hurt their chances slightly, but many believe that the strength of schedule in the conference, along with a key upset of UCLA, will push Oregon into the Big Dance for the first time in more than a decade.
Ionescu hopes it will be the start of something big for the Ducks.
”I think it will show that we are building something great here,” she said. ”We continue to believe the vision the coaches have for us and what we can achieve. So I think it would be cool for us to get that win and get farther than we have since 2005.”