Bridgeport, Conn. – Oregon stunned Maryland with a dominating performance in Sweet 16 play Saturday, 77-63, to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time in program history.
Freshman Sabrina Ionescu led five Ducks in double figures with 21 points, while freshman Ruthy Hebard added 16 and Maite Cazorla, 15, in a game that the No. 10 seeds lead for over 31 minutes.
Oregon outscored the Terps in every quarter, and had four fewer turnovers and made all but one free throw, while Maryland struggled at the charity stripe. Other stats between the two teams were fairly even, but the young Ducks controlled the tempo of the game.
“We just buckled down on defense, and we got back in transition and tried to stop their easy transition buckets,” Ionescu said. “We did what we do offensively. We got it side-top-side, pounded it down low to the bigs and did what we usually do.”
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said his team couldn’t have played better.
“Offensively we wanted to, like Sabrina likes to say, side-top-side,” he said. “We kept moving the basketball and making them defend. You know, we just – really, I thought defensively and tempo-wise, we played about as good a game as we can play, because to beat them you’ve got to lessen the number of possessions.”
The teams traded baskets for most of the first quarter, with the Ducks taking a 17-16 lead to end it. An Ionescu three-pointer at 3:42 in the third gave them a 29-23 advantage, and shit hit another trey with 30 seconds left to put Oregon up 37-36 at halftime.
The two teams traded scoring runs until midway through the third quarter, when the Ducks went on a tear and inflated their lead to as much as 14. They were ahead 59-47 going into the final period. The fourth quarter was another battle of runs, with Oregon putting the pedal to the metal in the last 3:19 to outscore their opponents, 8-0, which included crucial free throws.
Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough each had 16 points for Maryland.
Terps coach Brenda Frese said her team pushed too hard.
“We weren’t patient,” Frese said. “I mean, we talked about moving the ball and being able to cut and penetrate to kick. I thought they did a much better job on our dribble penetration and being physical than we were able to do. Every time they penetrated on us, they got wide-open kicks and dump-downs against our defense.”
Ionescu said her team came into regional play feeling loose.
“I don’t think we’re really nervous,” she said. “We have nothing to lose. It’s kind of fun to see. We all laugh and giggle and are really excited to be here and enjoy this opportunity that we have. So I think we continue to…work hard, and good things will come to us.”
In the second game of the day, Connecticut overcame a slow start to beat UCLA, 86-71. Napheesa Collier led four Huskies with 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Gabby Williams had 17 and Saniya Chong, 16. It was the smallest margin of victory for the No. 1 seed all season.
Jordin Canada led the Bruins with 20 points and 11 assists; Monique Billings added 17 points and 16 rebounds; and Kari Korver had 15 points – all on three-point shots.
“Today was a struggle for us,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “Even when we got up 20, I didn’t think it was like being up 20 against somebody else, where you know it’s going to go from 20 to 30. I never had that feeling.”
“It was a grind for our guys. We felt it a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
UCLA coach Cori Close said lack of rebounding cost them.
“You have to win the possessions battle,” she said. “Yes, I think we did OK, but we only took care of half of it. WE took care of the ball, but we needed to take care of the rebounding and second-chance opportunities. We needed to get some more of those opportunities.”
“The fact they get so many second-shot opportunities – what a compliment to their perseverance.”
Oregon and Connecticut will face off Monday for the right to go to the Final Four.