Oregon routs Minnesota, 101-73, to punch Sweet 16 ticket

Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu initiate the fast break for Oregon. Photo by Eric Evans Photography.
Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu initiate the fast break for Oregon. Photo by Eric Evans Photography.

Eugene – Last year Oregon was a tenth seed in their regional in the NCAA Tournament, and blew through the bracket to crash the Elite 8. This year’s No. 10 seed, Minnesota, was hoping to do the same to the No. 2 Ducks Sunday. But behind banner performances by their two stars, the hosts were too much, and routed the Gophers, 101-73.

Sabrina Ionescu led Oregon with 29 points and nine assists, and Ruthy Hebard put up 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Carlie Wagner finished with 20 points for Minnesota, while Destiny Pitts had 17.

Both teams came into the first quarter with a point to prove, started the game on a tear and traded baskets for all ten minutes. The Ducks led 30-22 at the break. The Gophers kept pace with Oregon through the second quarter, meeting their 21 points with 14 of their own.

From the end of the second and into the first minute of the third, the Ducks went on 16-0 run, leaving Minnesota scrambling. They went on to score another seven for a total of 13 points in the first two minutes of the second half while Minnesota only scored three. Oregon never looked back.

“I was just in the flow of the game. People were getting me the ball in a position for me to score, which was nice to see,” Ionescu said. “Ruthy played well inside, and I was getting her the ball, and vice-versa.”

In Friday’s opening round game against Green Bay, the Gophers trailed by 10 at half, rallied and came back to win 89-77. But the Ducks, who have been ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, proved to be too tall of an order for the visitors. Coach Marlene Stollings said her team was out-hustled by a bigger team.

“I don’t think that it was that we didn’t try – I think it’s just that they’re that powerful,” Stollings said.

Minnesota senior Carlie Wagner said she and her team found it hard to keep pace with fast-moving Oregon.

“We just defensively started relaxing and not getting to shooters and moving as well,” Wagner said. “I think our intensity dropped off a little bit towards the end of that first half.”

Four years ago, both Ducks coach Kelly Graves and Stollings inherited teams that desperately needed rebuilding. This season Stollings took the Gophers to the Tournament for the second time in her tenure, and some have projected Oregon into the Final Four.

Last fall Graves was recruiting in Minnesota and stopped by a Gopher practice, where Stollings shared a drill with him.

“Oregon is a tremendous team,” Stollings said. “I would be shocked if they’re not playing in the Final Four and going for a championship. They move the ball as well as…..UConn in what I’ve seen this year.”

Duck senior guard Lexi Bando originally committed to play for Graves at Gonzaga, but followed him to Oregon when he got the job there. Also graduating this year is Justine Hall. Graves had high praise for both players.

“They’ve left a legacy that Duck fans will remember forever,” he said. “Lexi, especially, because she was here the first year, and we took our lumps that first year but we built something special.”

A season-high 7,576 fans came to Matthew Knight Arena to cheer on their team.

Oregon advances to play in the Spokane regional this weekend, where they will play the winner of tonight’s Ohio State-Central Michigan matchup.