Oregon battles, Stanford breezes to set up top-seeded Pac-12 Final

Oregon players react to their win over UCLA as the final buzzer sounds. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.
Oregon players react to their win over UCLA as the final buzzer sounds. Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics.

The matchup is set.

The top-two seeds will face off once more.

And while both have their tickets to the NCAA Tournament all but punched, Oregon and Stanford will play Sunday for the title of Pac-12 champions.

For the Ducks, it will be their first-ever appearance in the title game. For Stanford, it will be No. 15 (and they only lost two of them).

Both teams had very different Saturday nights to earn their spots.

Oregon mounted a frantic late comeback in the evening’s first semifinal, outscoring UCLA 13-2 down the stretch to claim its spot with a 65-62 victory over the Bruins.

Jordin Canada had 19 points to lead all scorers in the losing effort, while Sabrina Ionescu finished with a team-high 17 for the Ducks. Ionescu was one of four Oregon players to finish in double figures, and combined with Ruthy Hebard (15), Maite Cazorla (14), and Lexi Bando (11) for 57 of the Ducks’ 65 points.

Oregon trailed by as many 13 in the second-quarter, but ended on a 13-2 run to cut the gap to just two at the break.

“It gave us a little bit of momentum,” coach Kelly Graves said.

The teams traded baskets for much of the third — with neither side leading by more than four — before the Bruins pulled ahead by eight with just over six minutes to go.

A jumper by Kennedy Burke with 5:28 left would be the last points UCLA scored on the night.

“We knew we had to get stops and not let Jordin get open driving lanes, because we knew she was going to try to take over the game, and get the ball in her hands late,” Ionsecu said.

And as the Ducks made their run, they did so without freshman phenom Satou Sabally, who left the game at the 6:05 mark after taking an apparent hit to the pelvis. Her status for Sunday is unclear.

Meanwhile, the Bruins couldn’t overcome a cold finish from the field, shooting under 30 percent in the fourth quarter, and ended the game 0-for-its-last-7 from the field.

“Right now, we’re really hurting, but in the midst of hurting, I’m really proud,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said. “They fought their butts off, they grew from the time in Eugene to here. They were relentless. They were locked in. They fought like crazy.”

Down three with seconds to go, Canada tried to find Monique Billings in the post, and ended up passing to Japreece Dean for a three-point attempt that bounced off.

“We were trying to get isolation for a three or a quick drive to the basket,” she said. “[I] didn’t make a good decision trying to pass to Mo on the inside.”

Billings finished with 18 points, while Kennedy Burke had 14.

UCLA remains likely if not guaranteed to nab a host seed for the NCAA Tournament, as they were ranked in the top 15 all season long. Graves said the Bruins are, “a Final Four-caliber team with Final Four-caliber athletes and coaching staff.”

For Stanford, the bigger roadblock to the title game proved to be their 69-59 quarterfinal matchup against USC, as the Cardinal had little trouble dispatching an Arizona State team playing its third game in as many nights.

The Sun Devils were held to a season-low three points in the first quarter, something that would prove to be a sign of offensive struggles to come in a 58-46 Stanford win.

“I don’t know if it was fatigue or tension,” Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Maybe it was a little bit of both.”

Pac-12 All-Freshman pick Kiana Williams nearly kept pace with the Sun Devils for three quarters, scoring all of her game-high 24 points before sitting for the duration of the fourth. Alanna Smith was the only other Stanford player to finish in double figures with 13, while Kiara Russell finished with a team-high 12 for Arizona State. The Sun Devils ended the night shooting just 31 percent from the field, its second-lowest of the season.

“We took good shots,” Russell said. “But we weren’t hitting them.”

The Cardinal led by 12 after 10 minutes, and held a 14-point lead at halftime, after leading by as many as 20 in the second quarter.

Stanford pushed the lead to as many as 26 in the second half, while a late Arizona State run was merely cosmetic to the final score, with Williams, Brittany McPhee and Kaylee Johnson all on the bench for the Cardinal. Vanderveer said the ability to sit that trio went beyond having them fresh for Sunday.

“It’s not just resting them,” she said. “But you’re not exposing them to getting hurt.”

The tournament final that Stanford’s and Oregon’s victories sets up promises to be a compelling one. The Cardinal was one of two conference foes to knock off the Ducks in the regular season, handing them a 78-65 defeat in Eugene on Feb. 4. Oregon was without Lexi Bando in that game.

When asked if she had any preference for playing Arizona State or Stanford, Ionescu was coy, saying she had none. But, she said, Stanford would make for a good game.

“I know we would definitely like another shot at them,” she said. “I don’t think we played our best game, so that was kind of a hard pill to swallow to lose to them.”

VanDerveer said the Ducks provide the “ultimate challenge,” of a great inside and outside game. And though most of her starters sat in the fourth on Saturday, that obviously won’t happen again.

“We’re not going to rest anybody tomorrow,” she said. “We’re going to bring it, so everybody’s got to be ready to go.”

The Championship game will be at 6 p.m. on ESPN.


  • Oregon’s seven personal fouls were its fewest of the season
  • The loss was just UCLA’s second when leading after three quarters
  • Stanford improved to 42-4 in Pac-12 Tournament games
  • Arizona State’s 18 first-half points were a season-low for the Sun Devils
  • Kiana Williams had a career/season-high nine made field goals and six made 3-pointers for the Cardinal
  • Attendance: 6,889 (second-highest for a tournament semifinal round)