It wasn’t the storybook ending Oregon (29-4) was hoping for.
In the end, Oregon’s lack of depth caused some tired legs and late breakdowns, eventually suffering a 64-57 loss to No. 2 Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game.
“Disappointed. I thought we continued to play hard and got back in the game, and I was a little disappointed with our execution once we took the lead in the third quarter,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. “You know, we feel bad now. But hopefully we’ll learn from this and move forward.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Ducks in the beginning, as Stanford (28-4) very much looked like a team wanting to avenge its 40-point loss a month ago. The Cardinal jumped all over Oregon in the opening minutes, running out to a 13-5 lead before the Ducks found their footing, cutting it to 14-11 after six points from Sabrina Ionescu.
“When you take a loss like that, you have no choice but to learn from it. So, we were happy that we got to play Oregon today, because we wanted another chance at them,” Stanford’s Alana Smith said. “I think just from the result and how we’re all feeling right now, it just shows how badly we wanted it.”
Stanford caught fire again in the second quarter as the Ducks looked a step slow on defense the entire half, jumping out to a 31-20 lead. Oregon was able to get the deficit down single-digits (33-24) at the half thanks to Ionescu six of the team’s final eight points.
“We didn’t come out and we didn’t have any fire — they came out and you could tell they really wanted to beat us, and we were on our heels for most of the game,” Ionescu said.
Whatever Graves told his team at halftime seemed to work.
After the Cardinal scored the first five points of the quarter, Oregon began its comeback and started executing at the efficiency expected from one of the top offenses in the nation. Erin Boley and Satou Sabally ignited an 18-3 run to finish the quarter in which they combined for 11 points and three shots from beyond the arc, giving the Ducks a 42-41 lead entering the final frame.
The lead was short-lived following Smith’s jumper gave the Stanford a 48-46 lead. But Ionescu, the Pac-12 player of the year, scored five straight for the three-point lead with 5:39 remaining. Smith answered with a three-pointer of her own, starting a 16-6 Cardinal run to finish the game and clinch the tournament championship.
“You put the ball in your best player’s hand, and you let her work with another great player, and we did some good things to get back in the game with that formula,” Graves said. Just down the stretch, we had a couple of decent looks, but a couple of timely turnovers didn’t help — a lot of our sets, quite frankly, just, you know, we weren’t on point tonight.”
Ionescu finished with a game-high 27 points, adding 12 rebounds and five assists, but shot just 10-for-26. She struggled in efficiency for most of the tournament, shooting 22-of-63 (34.9-percent) from the floor and 5-of-20 (25-percent) from beyond the arc, significantly lower than her season averages.
Hebard finished with 13 points and five rebounds while Boley added 10 points and five boards, combing to shoot 8-for-19 from the floor.
After repeating as regular season champions, the Ducks couldn’t get the job done in repeating as tournament champions after being held to a season low 57 points and 33.9-percent shooting from the floor.
“The best shooting team in the country shoots 33% for a game, you’re just not going to win,” Graves said. “That’s credit to Stanford, credit to lack of execution on our part, and credit to just a night when we had some open looks and normally go and didn’t make them.”
Smith finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds en route to being named as the tournament MOP while Dijonai Carrington, the younger sister of former Oregon football player Darren Carrington, added 22 points and nine rebounds.
Both teams now must await their fate in the NCAA tournament, but are expected to be No. 2 seeds and host the first two rounds of the tournament beginning in two weeks.