By Arnie Leshin
Oregon, also a 2nd seed, followed the UConn women into the NCAA Tournament with the Sunday night West Regional played in the friendly confines of Portland.
With the crowd strongly in their favor, the Ducks got behind junior standout Sabrina Ionescu and sent No. 1 seed Mississippi State away with an 88-84 setback to gain the basketball Final Four for the first time and now head to Tampa Bay, Fla.
Now 33-4, Oregon dressed in its bright green uniforms and picked up a game-high of 31 points from All-America Ionescu and now awaits the winner of tonight’s overall top seed Baylor game versus 2nd seeded Iowa after disposing of Mississippi State, 88-84.
Satou Sabally added 22 points and brought down seven rebounds. At the final buzzer, Ionescu jumped into teammate Ruthy Hebard’s arms and head coach Kelly Graves flashed an “O” with his hands to the crowd announced at 11,534 at the Moda Center.
The past two years had the Ducks being eliminated in the Elite Eight. This time, the Bulldogs were announced as the home team and wore their home whites, but they had instead the feeling of being the away team.
It ended Mississippi State’s chance of returning to the championship game for the third year in a row, first losing to South Carolina and then to Notre Dame, and finishing at 33-3, with two of its losses this season coming against the Ducks.
Its high game cane from 6-6 senior Teaira McCowan’s 19 points and she also scrubbed the boards for 15 rebounds.
As Ionescu cut down the nets, her fans in the arena chanted “One more year,” as she has been dogged by rumors she might skip her final season to go pro in the WNBA.
But all she would say it that we’re not done yet. Not only did she make clutch shots and orchestrate the offense, but she handed out eight assists and take down seven rebounds.
Her jumper with just under three minutes remaining put her side up 78-73. After McCowan converted a pair of foul shots, Ionescu added a 3 that got the crowd on its feet and essentially sewed up the game.