On any championship run in the NCAA tournament, there is usually one of those games where you need to find a win even though things didn’t go all that smooth.
This was that game for Oregon as the Ducks buckled down on defense to grit their way through a tough win.
Oregon, the 2-seed in the Portland Region, advanced to the Elite 8 with a 63-53 win over 6-seed South Dakota State in front of 11,324. The attendance number was more than the previous three West Regionals combined.
Awaiting the Ducks is a familiar foe and the 1-seed in Mississippi State. Oregon defeated the Bulldogs earlier 82-74 in Eugene, but that was in December and Sunday’s game will be for a trip to the Final Four.
Even though it wasn’t the offensive game Oregon coach Kelly Graves might have expected, his big three of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally all had monster games.
Ionescu was three rebounds short of another triple-double with 17 points, seven assists and 11 assists. Sabally managed 14 points and nine boards, but it was Hebard that dominated. And for the first 10 minutes of the game, it looked like it just wouldn’t be her night. She missed five of her first seven shots.
She wasn’t going to miss all night, however
The junior post was slow to get going, but once she found her touch around the rim, the Jackrabbits didn’t have a chance. Hebard scored 24 points and pulled down 14 boards. She also hit 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.
For a while, the Ducks looked like, well, the Ducks late in the second quarter and then completely took the game over after halftime. Oregon was able to outscore the Jackrabbits 18-12 to take a commanding 49-34 lead with 10 minutes left to play.
Whatever Graves said at the media timeout with 4:26 left in the second quarter, it worked. The Ducks were a different team from that time forward. They were more aggressive and even though Hebard’s shot wasn’t falling, it would just be a matter of time.
Oregon was up just three at that media break at 22-19, but then its offense seemed to click and the Ducks ended the half on a 9-2 run to go up 31-22 at the break.
Ionescu held the offense together early in the second quarter to go on a personal 8-0 run of her own. South Dakota State couldn’t stop her from driving left and making an easy 10-foot jumper. Ionescu did that exact same play three times straight.
But even then, the Ducks were struggling to get some consistent offense. Sabally hit a three and Hebard finally made some easy buckets in the key after missing four shots underneath.
It also helped that South Dakota State couldn’t buy a shot all night long.
The Jackrabbits shot just 26.7 percent from the field on 20-of-75 from the floor. They also missed 19 of their 24 three-pointers on the night.
The threes weren’t falling for Oregon either. The Ducks managed just four treys on the night out of 20 attempts. It might have been the strange backdrop from the big arena of the Moda Center, but even Oregon’s sharpshooting Erin Boley was missing the mark.
She was uncharacteristically off, missing all of her five three-point attempts and seven shot from the field overall. Oregon ended the night 25-of-58 from the floor (43 percent).
South Dakota State’s Macy Miller led the Jackrabbits with 21 points and Myah Selland wound up with 13.
Against Oregon, however, that usually doesn’t get it done and tonight in Portland, it didn’t.
~ Don Smalley