It was widely expected that life without Ruthy Hebard, the reigning national power forward of the year, was going to be difficult. Sidelined with a bone bruise on her left knee, the Ducks needed to find a way to replace Hebard’s 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, with Hebard in street clothes and a thin bench to begin with, Oregon suffered back-to-back losses for the first time all season, falling to UCLA 74-69 at home.
“I’m quite disappointed,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said following the loss. “I didn’t think we were very good tonight, didn’t play with a lot of intensity.”
Erin Boley led the Ducks with 20 points, knocking down 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 8-of-11 overall.
Still struggling shooting the ball, Sabrina Ionescu finished with 18 points, eight assist and six rebounds. She shot 7-of-15 from the floor and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc, before fouling out in the final minute and storming off the court.
But Ionescu’s offensive struggles were a microcosm of what Oregon’s been going through the past three games.
After averaging over 90 points per game, the Ducks have been held to 69.3 points over the previous three contests, going 1-2 over that span.
“We’ve really struggled to shoot the ball the last couple of games,” Graves said.
Satou Sabally and Maite Cazorla combined for 21 points on 9-of-26 shooting, 1-for 12 from beyond the arc. Cazorla got off to a great start with nine points in the opening frame but struggled from there — Sabally was nonexistent on the offensive end all evening, missing all seven of her three-point attempts before fouling out in the end.
With the 6-foot-4 Hebard out, UCLA’s Kennedy Burke had herself a career night, finishing with 29 points (12-of-17 shooting) and eight rebounds. Japreece Dean added 14 points and nine assists while Lajahna Drummer chipped in a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I give UCLA a lot of credit, they wanted it more than us, you could tell,” Graves said.
It appeared early on that the Ducks weren’t going to miss Hebard, jumping out to a 23-12 lead after the first quarter, shooting 62.5-percent in the opening frame. A 12-2 run midway through the second quarter gave Oregon a 42-20 lead as the Ducks appeared to be in complete control of the game and executing their offense at a premium.
But the thin bench hurt in the end as Oregon struggled over the final three minutes, being outscored 7-0 to give the Bruins hope.
"Of course we missed Ruthy," Boley said. "But at the same time, we have to step up in certain areas. We have to do a better job of rebounding."
UCLA came out firing in the second half, scoring the first five points before Ionescu’s layup got the Ducks on the board. When the Bruins cut the deficit to seven late in the third quarter, Ionescu answered the bell for the Ducks, knocking down a deep three-pointer. But much like the first half, Oregon gassed out and the Bruins ended the quarter on a 5-0 run, taking the momentum heading into the fourth.
"The third quarter we just lost some intensity defensively,” Graves said. "And then offensively we've been a mess for a while. Teams like this who switch, those are the nights you need to have your hammer. If you have Ruthy inside, they have no match for that. And we didn't."
UCLA began the quarter on an 11-3 run, taking its first lead since early in the first quarter before Cazorla ended the run with a layup.
The teams traded runs late in the fourth, but Oregon eventually found itself down 70-66 with under a minute to play. Drawing up a play on the other end, Ionescu ignited the home crowd with a deep three-pointer off the wing to cut the deficit to one, 70-69, with 35 seconds to play.
After a pair of Bruins free throws, the Ducks tried a tricky inbounds play but it didn’t go as planned as Sabally panicked and shot an off-balanced jumper that never had a chance, ending up in the hands of UCLA.
The Ducks appeared to get a second chance when UCLA missed both of its free throws following Sabally’s miss but Burke beat Oregon’s Oti Gildon (six points, eight rebounds) to the ball, prompting a foul by Ionescu and sending her to the bench, thus ending the game.
"Would’ve been nice to have her (Hebard) on that last free throw," Graves said of Burke’s offensive rebound. "But come on, those are plays we’ve gotta make… we don’t have an excuse… gotta make that play.”
The Ducks have their final home game of the season on Sunday, hosting USC at 11 a.m. on senior night. Oregon will try to snap its two-game losing streak against a Trojans squad that won’t back down.
"Well if this doesn’t light a fire under them, I don’t know what does," Graves said. "That should be enough, seeing another team walk off victorious on our court. First time it’s happened this year, so we’ll see what they’re made of."