One way the heart of a champion can be measured is how they play against some of the toughest circumstances put upon them
That’s what faced the Oregon women’s team as they found out an hour before the Civil War that NBA legend and friend of the program Kobe Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash.
Facing the Beavers in Corvallis was going to be difficult enough, but with heavy hearts, the Ducks were able to complete the season sweep of their rivals for the first time in a decade with a 66-57 win.
“Certainly it was a great effort by my team and I’m really proud of them for the win here. We haven’t won here. Nobody on the team or the staff has won here so that was a big deal,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said.
Oregon is now 17-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play. Oregon State suffered its third straight defeat, the first such streak for the Beavers since 2014. OSU dropped to 16-4 overall and just 4-4 in Pac-12 action.
Sabrina Ionescu led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds. Satou Sabally torched OSU with 17 points, including 13 in the first half. Ruthy Hebard added 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“Kobe was a close personal friend with Sabrina. They struck up a friendship over the couple of years, with Kobe and his family,” Graves said. “They were communicating a few times a week. They’re friends. I know it was hard on her and to see her go out and her teammates battled for her and to play with the way with the kind of spirit and enthusiasm and intensity that Kobe Bryant always played the game.
Mikayla Pivic scored 20 for Oregon State, but she was the only player to be in double figures for the home Beavers.
After a first half that went back-and-forth and saw OSU take 37-34 halftime lead, the Ducks came out and played their best half of defense to hold OSU to just 20 second half points.
Ionescu scored just six points in the first half as she might have had other important things on her mind and understandably so. But she was a lot more aggressive after the break. She scored six points in the first five minutes of the third quarter to give the Ducks a 42-39 lead.
It was a lead they wouldn’t let go of.
On the other end of the floor, Oregon went to a zone and its length was able to stifle the Beavers’ scoring output. They just scored eight points in the quarter and had a six-minute scoring drought.
The Ducks were able to get the ball inside to Hebard where she outscored OSU by herself 9-8. Oregon also pounded the offensive glass, bringing down 12 in the second half alone.
Thanks to its defense, Oregon was able to methodically extend the lead. When Minyon Moore laid the ball in off of a turnover, the Ducks had their biggest advantage at 59-45 with just 5:50 left.
Kat Tudor’s three-pointer briefly cut the deficit to 59-50 with 4:20 left, but Jaz Shelley’s long three on the next possession ended any possible momentum the Beavers might get.
Oregon ran the shot clock down, extended possessions with offensive board and made free throws down the stretch to hold on.
Now the Ducks will back on the road to face Utah Jan. 30 and Colorado Feb. 1 before making a cross-country trip and play one of the best teams in the nation, UConn, Feb. 3.
That will make it three games in the span of five days, all away from Matthew Knight Arena.
~ Don Smalley