The Oregon Ducks (29-4) played their third game this season against the UCLA Bruins (24-7) and once again the result was thrilling, evenly matched and ultimately a Duck victory.
When these teams first met in January it took a deep Lexi Bando three to finally lift the then No.9 Ducks to a 70-61 victory over the then No.14 Bruins in a game that was tied with only 2 minutes and 10 seconds left in regulation.
Then, in one of the most important games in Oregon Women’s Basketball history, the PAC-12 powerhouses met again-this time in Eugene. The top-ten matchup was an up and down affair for the Ducks. After building a 57-41 lead at the half, Jordin Canada and Monique Billings scored 26 points each to force an impressive comeback. However, Sabrina Ionescu lived up to her hype by taking control in overtime and leading her team to a 101-94 win.
This third matchup between the Ducks and Bruins carried a lot of opportunity for both teams. For the Bruins it was an opportunity for revenge against the conference favorites, and for the Ducks this was an opportunity to earn their first ever trip to the PAC-12 Tournament Championship Game.
Canada started the scoring with a triple and then the race began. Canada was the top scorer in the game with 19 points. She also played ferocious defense, earning 4 steals and causing general havoc to the Ducks’ passing lanes all night long. Though she had a hard time with the three (3-8) against the Ducks tenacious D.
Ionescu missed a couple of easy layups and a jumper in the opening minutes, potentially due to early game jitters, but redeemed herself minutes later with a triple. Ionescu was Oregon’s MVP with 17 points, 5 Assists, 3 Rebounds and 2 steals. She was also 4-6 from three-point range and played nearly the entire game.
But you can’t talk about the effectiveness of Ionescu without a shoutout to Ruthy Hebard. Hebard was not as consistent as she usually is (she shot 6-10 from the field) which suggests she’s human and not a scoring robot, though she still put up great numbers against the stellar defense of Monique Billings. Hebard had 15 points, 4 blocks and 13 of the teams 31 rebounds.
Oregon struggled to find their offensive rhythm against the Bruins for most of the first half. With a little over four minutes left in the second quarter, the Ducks were down 32-19. Then the Bruins’ hot streak got cold, so Oregon’s sharpshooters took full advantage.
Bando, then Ionescu, then Cazorla all drained threes as UCLA fell victim to an Oregon 13-2 run. A clutch Bando shot put the Ducks only two points behind the Bruins at the half.
Oregon continued their run into the start of the half with a Hebard layup. Then Cazorla hit another triple which gave the Ducks their first lead since midway through the first quarter, but the lead was fleeting and the third quarter would prove a back-and-forth affair ending at 51-48 with Oregon trailing.
Then the game began to slip away from them. With six minutes remaining in the final quarter, Billings and Canada combined for 9 points and the Bruins led 60-52. Luckily, Lexi Bando had two more three pointers up her sleeve. The Senior would finish with 11 points and 3-5 from deep.
The Bruins did not score in the last five minutes of the game due to Hebard’s defensive rebound ability and the Ducks focused defense. Maite Cazorla would cap off her impressive performance (14 Pts, 4 Reb, 3 Stl, 2 Ast) by retaking the lead with 1:06 left on the clock.
Oti Gildon found herself wide open under the basket after a Canada turnover and Ionescu wasted no time getting the ball to her for an uncontested layup. Although Gildon only played 13 minutes, her 4 points were crucial considering they all took place in the final minutes. Her layup would seal the 65-62 Duck victory after a failed attempt to tie by Japreece Dean,
Now the top two seeds will face off when No.1 Oregon and No.2 Stanford compete tomorrow at 6pm in the PAC-12 Tournament Championship Game.
Stanford (22-9) defeated ASU 58-46 and is the only PAC-12 team that Oregon has not beat this season.