When two of the nation’s premier offense got together on Friday night, a high-scoring affair was expected.
Instead, fans got treated to a defensive slugfest. But in the end, it was No. 2 Oregon who proved to be too much, beating No. 6 South Dakota State to advance to the Elite Eight — the Ducks’ third time in as many years.
Oregon will meet No. 1 Mississippi State on Sunday in the finals of the Portland Region, tipoff being set for 11 a.m. PT. The Bulldogs will be looking to avenge their 82-74 loss to the Ducks in December — while the Ducks will attempt to reach their first Final Four in program history.
“Now it’s time to make our dreams a reality,” Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu said of reaching the Final Four.
Ruthy Hebard was dominant for Oregon, finishing with a double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds. It could’ve easily been more if she hadn’t missed a handful of point-blank layups, but it was still enough to help the Ducks finish with 40 points in the paint.
Ionescu also finished with a double-double, tallying 17 points and 11 assists, while adding seven rebounds. She was able to dictate the pace of the game and in typical fashion, proved to be unstoppable in the pick-and-roll game with Hebard.
Her showdown with Jackrabbit’s star Macy Miller was supposed to be one of the deciding factors of the game but it proved to be non-important as the Ducks used a total team effort on the defensive end.
Oregon held SDSU to 26.7-percent (20-of-75) shooting from the floor and 20.4-percent (5-for-24) from beyond the arc. It was an all-around effort as the Ducks did a great job of challenging the Jackrabbit three-point shooters while using their height and athleticism to make buckets down low tough to come by.
“I thought defensively we were on point, we played to the scout,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said.
Although SDSU had 18 more shots than Oregon, the Ducks showed great resiliency on the defensive end — none more proving than when they held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the final minute of the first half despite three offensive rebounds by SDSU.
"Congratulations to Oregon, (they) played well," SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston said. "They just really defended I thought very well against us. I thought controlled some of the tempo offensively."
What helped turn the tide for Ducks was the way they were able to close quarters, despite struggling in the beginning of them. In the first, Oregon ended on a 10-0 run as Ionescu scored eight straight in the end. Then in the second, the Ducks finished on an 11-3 run with Satou Sabally scoring nine during that frame.
After the game got off to a slow start with neither team able to establish a rhythm offensively, SDSU went up 12-8 following a Madison Guebert three-pointer — her only bucket of the game — before Ionescu took over. On four consecutive possessions, Ionescu got into the paint by coming off a screen and attacking the hoop. SDSU, who was refused to hedge because of Hebard rolling to the hoop, had no answer.
Oregon got off to another slow start to begin the second quarter as the Jackrabbits cut the deficit to 20-19 with just over five to play. But Sabally took over, using her 6-foot-4 frame to overpower the smaller SDSU players. After back-to-back layups off assists from Ionescu, Sabally drilled a three-pointer before finishing the half with another layup, giving the Ducks a 31-22 advantage.
The Ducks learned from their mistake sin the first half, jumping all over SDSU with a 9-2 run to begin the quarter, establishing Hebard down in the post as she scored the first six points.
From there, Oregon cruised the rest of the quarter, taking a 15-point lead into the fourth as the Jackrabbits never got within single digits the rest of the way.
Miller finished with 21 points but was held in check to 6-of-18 shooting, 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. Myah Selland added 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting as no other Jackrabbit scored in double-figures.
Sabally was solid, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds, but no other Duck scored more than six points while Erin Boley (12.9 ppg, 44.7-percent from deep) finished with zero points on 0-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
If the Ducks are to advance to the Final Four, Boley and others must step up to keep pace with Mississippi State and the nation’s second-best scoring offense.
“I was just so excited for our team. We've been working so hard all through season, even before in the off-season and summer,” Sabally said. “I'm just really proud of each player in our team. We deserve this. We know where we want to be.”