Oregon downs Indiana for third straight Sweet 16 trip

Ruthy Hebard powers through the Indiana defense to score. Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics.
Ruthy Hebard powers through the Indiana defense to score. Photo courtesy of Indiana Athletics.

Eugene – Behind Sabrina Ionescu’s NCAA record 18th career-triple double, the Oregon Ducks out-muscled Indiana, 91-68, Sunday to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.

The junior had 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for her eighth such outing this season alone. But both Ionescu and her teammates said her individual performance was secondary to the win.

“I knew I had three rebounds in the third quarter, and I wasn’t really happy with that, so I knew I had to get more, and I had people telling me, ‘you need to rebound, you need to rebound,'” Ionescu said. “So I looked up saw that I needed a few more. But that’s not what I was hunting. I just knew that we were in the lead and that we were playing well.”

Satou Sabally, who scored 19 points, credited Ionescu for her team-first approach.

“That’s the special thing about Sabrina – she really does not care about the stats,” Sabally said. “She’s not the kind of person that’s hunting stats. That’s what makes her unique, and she’s probably the greatest teammate I’ve ever played with just because of her aggressiveness and ambition.”

Erin Boley added 14 points for the Ducks, and Ruthy Hebard 10 points, as they steadily out-paced the Hoosiers in every quarter, beginning with a 9-0 run in the second. Indiana point guard Bendu Yeaney went down with an apparent left Achilles injury at 3:04 in the third period, which caused her team to struggle down the stretch, as she did not return.

“I think it definitely hurt us defensively,” said Jaelynn Penn, who was one of four Hoosiers in double figures, with 15 points. “She’s one of our best on-guard defenders. Of course offensively having her on the court, having her be able to make jump shots and take baskets from the rim is something she’s really good at. But we just tried to fight without her and do our best.”

Oregon coach Kelly Graves said he and his team were thrilled to return to the final 16, which will send them to the nearby Portland regional this weekend.

“We’re really excited to be here,” he said. “This was a hard-fought game, no question about it. This was one of our goals….this is three years in a row now….and we want to keep it going. We didn’t talk about it too much as a team. We were really focused on taking it just one game at a time, but it’s going to be special to go up there.”

Two of the other teams headed to the Northwest to decide the Final Four – Arizona State and Mississippi State – are quite familiar to the Ducks, as are both of the possible final opponents, in Syracuse and South Dakota State.

“It’s kind of ironic because we’ll play either South Dakota State or Syracuse, both of whom we’ve played this season, and the other two teams that are already there…..we’ve already played,” Graves said. “So it’ll kind of be a reunion, which doesn’t happen too often in the Tournament.”

Indiana was selected at-large by the Women’s Basketball Selection Committee. Coach Teri Moren said that despite her team’s miscues against the Ducks, she is proud of their journey.

“We had a lot of breakdowns tonight, defensively,” she said. “I thought we got rattled there for a little bit. I thought we lost our discipline for several moments, but I loved our effort.”

“That;’s one of the things I’ve loved about this team from the beginning of the season. Why we’re sitting here tonight is because they are truly competitors. They’ve just shown time and time again their toughness and their grittiness to win ball games and be in ball games. As I said to them tonight, as good as Oregon is, maybe we could have had a chance if we shot a little bit better. But tonight Oregon was the better team.”

The respect was mutual.

“We would want any of them on our team,” Ionescu said. “They play so hard and have so much heart.”

The Portland regional tips off Friday.