No. 3 Oregon relies on depth to beat No. 7 UCLA, 80-66

Erin Boley and Sabrina Ionescu defend Michaela Onyenwere. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Erin Boley and Sabrina Ionescu defend Michaela Onyenwere. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

Los Angeles – No. 3 Oregon showcased their depth and weaponry Friday in pulling away from No. 7 UCLA, 80-66, for their 11th straight win.

Ruthy Hebard led the Ducks with 30 points and 17 rebounds – her 12th double-double this year and the third time this season she has scored 30 or more. Coach Kelly Graves said the game plan was to get the ball to the senior forward.

“We felt they really weren’t going to have an answer there,” Graves said. “And that proved to be right….(she had) a heck of a game.”

Senior guard Sabrina Ionescu, who notched her 1,000th career assist in the game, usually commands the spotlight, along with versatile junior forward Satou Sabally. Graves said it was Hebard’s time to shine against the Bruins.

“I think sometimes we forget about Ruthy,” he said. “Satou is an elite player and Sabrina gets so much attention. But Ruthy’s been pretty damned good for four years. And without Ruthy, Sabrina isn’t Sabrina, and she’d be the first to admit that.”

Ionescu’s assist record, coupled with her 2,000-plus career points, makes her only the second player – women or men – in Division I history to reach both marks. The first was Courtney Vandersloot, whom Graves coached at Gonzaga. He said he was “blessed” to have coached both athletes.

“Eight years of my coaching career have been with those two at the point,” Graves said. “Both were surrounded by elite talent.”

Ionescu finished with 18 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, with most of her damage done in the first half. It was Hebard who speared Oregon in quelling a fourth-quarter UCLA run that saw them cut a 26-point visitor lead in the third quarter to 10 with 2:06 to go. Hebard grabbed seven of her rebounds in the last frame.

Ruthy Hebard powers up a bucket. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.
Ruthy Hebard powers up a bucket. Maria Noble/WomensHoopsWorld.

“It was great to see her have a good game,” Graves said.

The Bruins were hampered by a slow start, from which they never fully recovered. The Ducks held them to 11 percent shooting in the first quarter, and led 22-8 at the end of the frame. The hosts outscored their opponents in the third and fourth periods, but Oregon won the rebounds battle, and scored more points in the paint.

“We came out tentative and worried about the wrong things,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “We let our offensive frustration affect our defensive intensity and energy, and that’s what we’ve got to figure out, is why we weren’t present in the first quarter.”

“Take away the first quarter and it’s a tie game throughout the rest of the three quarters. We’ve proven we can play at that level, but we didn’t sustain it, and we didn’t bring it in that first quarter.”

Michaela Onyenwere led the Bruins with 23 points, while Japreece Dean added 14.

Oregon padded their Pac-12 lead with the win, holding a one-game advantage over No. 8 Stanford with five games remaining. The defending regular-season conference champions have won eight games against ranked opponents and five against top 10 teams.

In November, the then-No. 1 Ducks lost to No. 8 Louisville. They lost again last month to Arizona State. Graves said his team grew from the losses.

“We learned that if we’re not sharp and don’t play hard, we can be beat,” he said. “At Arizona State, we blew a big lead late. I think that’s what galvanized this team. I think we’ve played a lot harder since then.”

“We’ve been playing really good basketball. When you look at the numbers, offensively and defensively, we’re the most efficient team in the country. All of these tough (Pac-12) teams – and Cori’s has a chance to be in the Final Four – it challenges us to be our best. We can’t take a night off. This is a tough league….this is a dog fight – it’s crazy.”

Close, for one, believes in the Ducks.

“I think Oregon’s a Final Four team,” she said. “They’re playing the best basketball in the country right now, and that’s not taking anything away from (No. 1) South Carolina or (No. 2) Baylor, who are both really good teams. Oregon is really skilled and really talented.”

Graves acknowleged that the Ducks were better in the first two quarters of the game against UCLA.

“That first half was some good basketball,” he said. “We made a good basketball team struggle, and luckily held on.”

He said Oregon’s goal is to win the Pac-12 championship, and said his team doesn’t look past any opponent.

“You have to (take it one game at a time),” Graves said. “If we lose on Sunday, this game means nothing.”

UCLA, now third in the conference, takes on No. 11 Oregon State Monday on ESPN2. The Beavers were upset Friday by USC. The Ducks take on the Trojans Sunday.

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