Late in the fourth quarter, No. 5 Oregon found itself against the ropes with No. 19 Arizona State charging hard. The Sun Devils were in the amidst of a 16-6 run, knocking down three-pointer in their last three possessions, including two by Taya Hanson.
With 1:52 remaining, Hanson lined up for a corner three-pointer following a quick outlet. Out of nowhere came Satou Sabally, Oregon’s 6-foot-4 swing, to block the shot.
Although the Sun Devils would score later in the possession to make it a one-point game, the message by Sabally had been sent. The Ducks weren’t going to roll over — and they didn’t.
Oregon (16-1, 5-0 Pac-12) outscored Arizona State 8-3 the rest of the way, holding on for the 77-71 victory on Friday night.
"That was a huge play," Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said of the block. "We needed it at that moment.”
No. 5 Oregon outlasts No. 19 Arizona State 77-71 to stay perfect in the Pac-12
Sabally’s block was a testament to the maturation process the sophomore has undergone over the past year. Despite her off-shooting night (2-of-10, eight points), Sabally didn’t let that deter her from playing great defense. She led the team with seven rebounds and four blocks, none bigger that her last.
“A transition ‘3’ like that when we’re running back on defense could have changed the outcome of the game,” Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu said. “The girl who shot it is a great shooter. We’re lucky Satou chased that ball down from half court and got a big-time block. That’s what she does for us.”
Ionescu scored a team-high 31 points (10-of-20) while knocking down 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Although her one assist was a season low, the Ducks needed her to score against one of the better defenses in the conference, finishing with 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
“We knew they would come out and fight to the very end… we knew this was going to be a ball game no matter how much we got up on them” Ionescu said. “I think we did a great job and staying poised and hitting shots that we needed to make in order to win this game.”
While Ionescu was the star on the stat sheet, point guard Maite Cazorla was essential to the victory.
Cazorla was an extremely efficient 6-of-9 from the field, 3-of-5 from deep for 16 points. She also finished with just one turnover despite dealing with Arizona State’s pressure for much of the second half.
“Maite was great, I thought she was great down the stretch,” Graves said. “When they (Arizona State) were making that run, I thought she gave us a solid effort, a calming influence.”
The Sun Devils (12-5, 3-3 Pac-12) jumped out to a quick start, leading 16-10 midway through the first quarter. Following an Arizona State three-pointer that silenced the crowd, Cazorla calmly dribbled up and knocked down a three-pointer on the next possession, igniting a 10-0 run to end the quarter.
The Ducks lead grew to 11 before Arizona State mounted one more charge in the half. A bucket by the Sun Devils’ Kianna Ibis (team-high 22 points) cut Oregon’s lead to six, Cazorla drilled a three-pointer with 13 seconds left to give the Ducks a 38-29 lead at the break.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair with neither the Ducks pulling away or the Sun Devils closing the gap, setting the stage for the Arizona State’s run and Sabally’s block in the fourth.
Arizona State came into the game as one of the Pac-12’s stingiest defenses, but it couldn’t contain the Ducks. Although Oregon scored just 77 points, the Ducks still shot 50-percent (26-for-52) from the field and 40-percent (6-for-15) from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, they limited the Sun Devils to 43.5-percent (30-for-69) from the field and 34.8-percent (8-for-23) from three-point territory.
Oregon finishes out its homestand with a Sunday afternoon game against Arizona (13-4, 3-3 Pac-12). Tipoff is set for noon.