Oregon came into Sunday knowing it didn’t want to share the Pac-12 championship with anyone. Standing in the Ducks way was No. 21 Arizona State, who was coming off an upset victory over No. 9 Oregon State two days ago and playing on senior night.
For three quarters, it looked like the Sun Devils were going to spoil Oregon’s chances but that’s when Sabrina Ionescu, the best player in America according to her coach, took over for the Ducks (27-3, 16-2 Pac-12).
"That's why she's the player of the year," Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said. "She does that kind of stuff."
Ionescu scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, leading Oregon to a 66-59 victory over Arizona State and clinch back-to-back championships.
Despite entering the fourth quarter trailing by four (50-46), Oregon never lost faith with its veteran group, knowing it had what it would take to pull out the win.
"Our championship mettle was tested today, no question about it," Graves said. "We lost momentum... had no momentum. We dug a little deeper and got it done."
Ionescu got it started with three quick points before a Satou Sabally jumper cut the deficit to one. After Sabally grabbed a rebound on Arizona State’s next possession, Ionescu got fouled on a layup attempt and sank both free throws, giving Oregon a 53-52 lead with 6:32 to play.
The Ducks extended that lead to four on their next possession when Ionescu drove to but stopped in the paint and kicked out to a wide open Sabally, who nailed her third three-pointer of the game.
Kianna Ibis, celebrating her senior night, kept the Sun Devils (19-9, 10-7 Pac-12) in it when she knocked down a three-pointer to make it a one-point game with 3:19 to go. But the Ducks refused to be taken over as Ionescu and Sabally made layups on the next two possessions.
Arizona State still had a chance late in the game, trailing by three with under a minute left following a Charnea Johnson-Chapman jumper. But with ice running through her veins, Ionescu drilled a jumper from the elbow to close out the game.
"We fought adversity throughout the game, and that's what helped us win ultimately," Ionescu said. "We just had to pick it up and get stops defensively and get in rhythm offensively and stay together."
Ionescu finished with a team-high 19 points, adding six rebounds and four assists — Sabally added 18 points and six rebounds. Maite Cazorla was much more assertive offensively, finishing with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 3-of-4 from deep.
The game favored the Sun Devils in the first quarter, holding the nation’s top offense to just 13 points as they were able to slow down the Ducks in transition.
Oregon got going in the second quarter, finishing with 20 points as Erin Boley and Cazorla combined for 12 points in the frame, each knocking down a three-pointer. But Arizona State stayed with the Ducks, allowing Oregon to take a 33-29 lead at the break.
Arizona State and Ibis took over at the end of the third quarter, finishing on a 7-0 run as Ibis scored nine of her team’s final 11 points. She finished with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-23 shooting, adding eight rebounds.
Reili Richardson was held scoreless for Arizona State but finished with nine rebounds and seven assists while Robbi Ryan added 12 points.
Ruthy Hebard, the nation’s leader in field goal percentage, was held to just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, but she finished with a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Ducks are primed to be in the Portland Region of the NCAA tournament, making the road to the Final Four all within the state of Oregon. The Ducks now turn their attention to next week’s Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, where a good showing could have them as a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.