The 2 seed Oregon Ducks failed to upset the 1 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish in an 84-74 loss, once again ending their tournament run in the elite eight.
Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks played three competitive quarters against the Fighting Irish, but a disastrous third quarter proved too much to overcome in the final minutes of the game. Star sophomores Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard saw a lot of success in the first half, scoring 19 and 12 points respectively, and leading the Ducks to a six point lead going into the half, 46-40.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame came out of the locker room determined to shutdown Oregon’s dynamic duo and found success in doing so. First-team all-american Ionescu scored only two points in the third quarter, off of two free throws, and Ruthy Hebard was held scoreless in the second half till the final five minutes. The Fighting Irish outscored the Ducks 9-21 in the third, and with 16 minutes left took the lead with a Marina Mabrey three-pointer.
The Ducks would trail for the rest of the game. Ionescu attempted to will her team to their first final four by shooting 22 shots, but it was apparent that the Irish’s large, physical defenders began to wear her down in the fourth. Still, Ionescu recorded an impressive stat line with 26 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Ruthy Hebard broke her scoring drought with five points in the fourth and ended the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, her third straight double-double in the tournament. Maite Cazorla scored 13 points, including eight much needed points in the second half. Satou Sabally scored nine points and led the team in three-point shooting with 2 of 5. Senior Lexi Bando scored only five points, but her steal and layup in the second, and triple in the third were momentum changers.
Notre Dame has been ravaged by injury this season, but their current starters have proven themselves as some of the nation’s elite. Four players on the Irish’ roster scored in double digits: Kathryn Westbeld (20 Pts, 7 Reb, 3 Ast), Arike Ogunbowale (19 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Ast), Jessica Shepard (18 Pts, 9 Reb, 3 Ast) and Marina Mabrey (15 Pts, 7 Reb, 7 Ast). Jackie Young ended the game with only eight points, but grabbed an impressive 13 rebounds and had six assists.
The Ducks shot 4-15 from three while the Irish only hit 3-10. Both teams shot 43.1% from the field, but the most telling stat was Notre Dame’s 51 rebounds (32 of which were defensive) to Oregon’s 29. The Irish also had a 21-10 assist to turnover ratio, though anyone who watched the game could attest to their proficient passing in the paint.
As for the Oregon Ducks, the future looks bright, All starters will return next year with the exception of senior Lexi Bando. The Ducks will also have a deep bench competing for the open spot, featuring Aina Ayuso, Mallory McGwire, Oti Gildon, Notre Dame Transfer Erin Boley, and Satou Sabally’s sister Nyara Sabally.
The Ducks have won the most games in team history, they are PAC-12 regular season champions, they won their first ever PAC-12 tournament and made it to their second straight elite eight. Expectations will be higher than ever for Kelly Graves’ young team, but it’s important to recognize what this historic Duck team has accomplished... so far.
On to the next season!