Eugene – The song, “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons blared throughout Matthew Knight Arena at halftime, with Oregon leading Seattle U 48-16 up to that point.
The Spokane regional No. 2-seed Ducks went on to pummel the Redhawks 88-45 in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament. Oregon improved to 9-13 all time in NCAA tournament play and are now 10-0 against Seattle U all-time.
Sophomore Sabrina Ionescu led the Ducks by notching the tenth triple-double of her career: 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. She broke the NCAA record of eight in December.
Ruthy Hebard had 12 points and nine rebounds for Oregon, while Lexi Bando and Maite Cazorla added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Ducks did whatever it took to make Seattle U uncomfortable on the offensive end, and they clamped down on the defensive end as well, forcing nine turnovers in the first half and 13 for the game. The hosts scored 19 points alone off of turnovers and steals.
“They really wanted to compete, and I thought that was a good sign,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “I thought defensively we were on point, and we got some easy transition (buckets).”
The Ducks also dove on the floor and did whatever it took to maintain ball possession.
“Going for every loose ball was big, because if you don’t go for loose balls, then they go in transition,” Oregon sophomore Oti Gildon said.
Graves echoed those statements.
“When I saw our team diving for loose balls early in that game, I could tell this wasn’t just another game and go through the motions,” he said.
Offensively, they were in sync all night long, and had 23 team assists to the Redhawks’ eight.
Ionescu’s triple-double, at 21 seconds into the fourth quarter, was the first in NCAA Tournament history.
All triple-doubles are essentially the same, she said.
“No, it does not feel any different. We won an NCAA game, so that feels different – especially on our own court, which is really cool,” Ionescu said.
The crowd of 7,040 gave her a standing ovation when she checked out of the game.
— Derek Tahara (@DerekTahara) March 17, 2018
But she might not have been the star of the game.
Freshman Aina Ayuso had another ankle breaker, which had the crowd buzzing.
Here’s a video of the ankle breaker from Ayuso (via @ncaawbb).
Good things happen when you don't pick up your dribble! ? pic.twitter.com/vHBqm8TQHz
— NCAA Women's BKB (@ncaawbb) March 17, 2018
“I don’t know. I was just playing and it just happened,” Ayuso said of her ankle-breaking crossover.
Alexis Montgomery led Seattle U, which made their first tourney appearance in program history, with 14 points. The entire squad shot only 32.3 percent from the field, including a dismal 5.3 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think we were a little bit nervous about being at the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history,” coach Suzy Balcomb said. “It was pretty evident in the first quarter. I think the rim was about the size of a penny for us and it was a huge peach basket for Oregon.”
Height played a big factor in how the Redhawks struggled to find an offensive rhythm. With the Ducks starting two 6-4 players, it was difficult for Seattle U players to rebound the ball and get any flow going. Oregon out-rebounded their opponents, 45-26, including 13 offensive rebounds.
“When you give up four or five inches on every single position, you have to be flawless,” Barcomb said. “We weren’t executing what we were trying to do.”
Oregon will play Minnesota on at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Ducks, seeded tenth in their regional last year, did not get to host first and second rounds then, but did this year because of their strong season. It is a privilege not lost on players.
“I think it’s really cool and it’s an advantage to just have fans and to be able to sleep in our own beds,” Cazorla said.
The defense of Oregon will have to step up against a high-powered Minnesota offense, ranked third in Division I.
“They have a lot of scorers……..so we just need to make sure we have help-side [defense] and keep our players in front of us to be able to stop them down the stretch,” reserve Oti Gildon said.