Exactly 23 months ago, Sabrina Ionescu had the ball against Cal — the No. 20 team in the country — at Haas Pavilion. With the score tied at 66, Oregon was in desperate need of victory after beginning conference play 0-3.
Ionescu, then a freshman, came through and hit an off-balance, buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Ducks the huge victory.
That game, and that moment, served as the initial spark that became the fire that is now Oregon — the No. 3 ranked team in the nation after back-to-back Elite Eight finishes. Personally, that game paved the way for Ionescu’s ascension to stardom, currently with a Pac-12 player of the year, first-team all-American and national point guard player of the year awards.
Fast forward to the present and Ionescu found herself at Haas Pavilion again, this time as the favorite taking on a pesky Cal squad. Fueled by her 27 points, five assists and four rebounds, Oregon ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 15 games with a 105-82 victory over the Golden Bears.
"They made us pay every single time we did something wrong and they make you pay sometimes when you do it right," Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Playing near her hometown of Walnut Creek, Ionescu scored nine points in the opening four minutes to set the tone as the Ducks (22-1, 11-0 Pac-12) jumped out to a 14-1 lead, eventually taking a 26-17 after the first quarter.
While Ionescu acknowledges the pleasure she gets out of playing close to home, she made it clear where her true home lies, saying “it's (Haas) definitely a home environment. But Matt Knight Arena is home. This isn't home."
Despite the deficit, Cal (14-8, 5-6 Pac-12) refused to go away as all-American candidate Kristine Anigwe (23 points, 18 rebounds) helped lead the comeback. Anigwe’s layup 4:16 left in the second quarter capped a 12-5 run, giving the Golden Bears the lead.
But the Ducks responded, closing the half on an 11-2 run as Satou Sabally and Oti Gildon combined for eight points.
"Offensively we got off to such a good start and it appeared like it would be easy. It never is of course," Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. "I thought the last couple minutes of the first half were huge... we regained momentum."
Sabally was particularly impressive, finishing with a game-high 31 points and a team-high nine rebounds. She finished 10-of-15 from the floor and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc, using a big third quarter to help ignite the Ducks across the finish line.
Oregon knocked down six three-pointers in the third, two each by Sabally and Erin Boley (11 points), to extend its lead to 71-54. Ionescu, just like she did two years ago, hit the dagger three-pointer with three seconds left, completely taking the air out of Haas Pavilion.
The Ducks extended their lead in the fourth quarter, knocking down five more three-pointers, including three by Sabally.
With the win, the stage is set for Oregon’s showdown with No. 11 Stanford (19-3, 9-2 Pac-12), a 61-44 winner over No. 7 Oregon State tonight. Tipoff is at 1 p.m. on Sunday and will be aired on ESPN2.