Sabrina Ionescu helps No. 9 Oregon beat Southern Utah 98-38
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Lexi Bando’s pithy take on Oregon’s mindset for each opponent put some arch in her coach’s eyebrows.
”You’ve got to punch `em in the face, as aggressive as that sounds,” the senior guard said. ”We don’t want to be the ones being punched in the face. We want to set the tone.”
Kelly Graves couldn’t argue with the result.
”I loved our energy right from the start,” the Ducks’ fourth-year coach said. ”We just wanted to get our kids jump-started and they responded.”
Sabrina Ionescu had 16 points and 12 assists, and Bando scored 17 points to help No. 9 Oregon overpower Southern Utah 98-38 on Saturday.
Ionescu had her fifth double-double of the season and the Ducks (8-1) won their fifth in a row. Ruthy Hebard added 13 points, and Mallory McGwire had 10.
”This team’s getting better,” Graves said, ”and that’s scary.”
Breanu Reid had 11 points for the Thunderbirds (1-8). They have lost five straight.
Ionescu did all her scoring in the first quarter and had her double-double early in the third period. After tying Oregon’s assists record with 14 against Weber State, Ionescu has 26 assists with no turnovers in her last two games.
She also had six steals and four rebounds in 23 minutes.
”Sabrina is very coachable, but she plays her own game,” Graves said. ”We’re watching a phenomenal player and competitor. She doesn’t need to score to feed her ego. She does whatever it takes to make the team successful.”
Bando made 4 of 6 3-pointers, the Ducks were 14 of 26 beyond the arc and finished 36 of 72 overall with 30 assists. Oregon held a 49-30 rebounding edge behind Hebard’s nine.
The Ducks outscored Southern Utah 31-4 in the second quarter and led 57-16 at the half.
Still, what pleased Graves most was the way his team started the third quarter with a 21-6 run before he gave his starting unit the rest of the game off.
”We’re maturing as a basketball team,” he said. ”In fact, offensively we were even better in the first three or four minutes (of the third quarter) than we were in the first half.”
The Thunderbirds shot 15 of 56 (26.8 percent) overall and 2 of 16 from 3-point range.
Oregon swept its five-game homestand and now hits the road to face the first of three consecutive Southeastern Conference teams. After visiting No. 6 Mississippi State, the Ducks host Mississippi before a rematch with Texas A&M in Las Vegas.
Oregon, which matched its highest ranking ever by rising one spot to No. 9 this week, could top that with No. 7 UCLA’s 87-72 loss at unranked Oklahoma State on Saturday.
HE SAID IT
Oregon’s next opponent, Mississippi State, ended UConn’s historic 111-game winning streak at the Final Four last year after the Huskies had stopped the Ducks’ improbable run with a 90-52 romp in the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs also had beaten Oregon early in the season at a holiday tournament in Hawaii, so Graves knows them well. ”No. 1, they are really tough,” he said. ”They are tough mentally and physically, and No. 2, they guard. … Off the record, I would say we tired UConn out (in the regional final), so they weren’t as sharp the next game, but not many people buy that theory.”
Southern Utah: Plays its second of five consecutive road games at Grand Canyon on Dec. 18.
Oregon: Plays at No. 6 Mississippi State on Wednesday night in its first road game since losing at then-No. 5 Louisville on Nov. 19.