The Oregon Ducks are the nation’s number one team, with the country’s number one player in Sabrina Ionescu — and, as Ionescu penned for the Players’ Tribune after Oregon’s loss in their first-ever Final Four appearance last March, the Ducks have "unfinished business."
Head coach Kelly Graves told USA Today about the adjustments he made after studying Oregon’s Final Four semifinal loss to Baylor which inspired him “to work harder in the offseason.”
“It hurts in the moment, but we’re always turning the page to what’s next,” he said.
Graves also brought in a new piece in graduate transfer Minyon Moore, who — in addition to Ionescu — is an assist machine. Transfers have bode well for the Ducks as the sharp-shooting junior Erin Boley joined the Oregon last season by way of Notre Dame.
In four games this season, excluding their exhibition win over Team USA, the Ducks have scored over 94 points per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field. With over half of their roster shooting over 30 percent from behind the arc, Oregon is shooting 37 percent from long range as a team.
When the Ducks are on the court, the ball moves
The Oregon Ducks rank number one in the country in assists per game. Both Ionescu and Moore rank in the top three in the country with 9.5 and 7.5 per game respectively. Moore’s assist to turnover ratio is especially impressive as she maintains a 7.5 metric, positioning her third in the nation.
Oregon’s ability to move the ball with accuracy and speed has been a nightmare for opposing defenses, especially when the Ducks have forwards and guards on the perimeter who have range.
Juniors Foley and Satou Sabally have given opponents a difficult time as both are forwards who are more than comfortable firing from deep. Also, don’t count out sophomore guard Taylor Chavez who has provided quality minutes off the bench. She’s shot 58 percent overall from the field, including 9-16 from three.
Spacing also comes with Ruthy Hebard, a force in the post
While rebound margin might be a skewed statistic to analyze, the Ducks rank third in the country, outrebounding opponents by over 17 total boards. While Ionescu is recognized as the triple-double queen, let it be known that forward Hebard is double-double royalty as well. In each regular-season game, the senior has recorded one.
With 13.3 boards per game, Hebard is fourth in the country in both rebounds per game and in total field goal percentage with 72.5 percent. In addition to being a force on the offensive glass, Hebard has stepped up on defense for the Ducks, batting away seven shots.
The Ducks are resilient and don’t surrender
There are a myriad of factors that explain the reason why Team USA lost to Oregon in the exhibition game on November 9. Players abroad. Players injured. But it’s worth noting that trailing the greatest players in the world didn’t derail the Ducks against their home crowd.
The Ducks’ point guard Ionescu only had five points in the first half as they trailed Team USA by four. But along with a mammoth three-ball shot almost from the Oregon center court logo, Ionescu scored 20 points in the third quarter. In the final box of Oregon’s seven-point win over Team USA, Hebard racked up a double-double and Sabally notched 25 points while shooting 55 percent from the field.
In the Ducks’ latest contest against their most formidable regular-season opponent in the Syracuse Orange, the same happened. Ionescu started slow but turned the heat up in the second half.
The ACC Network compared the Oregon senior point guard's court vision to Seattle Storm great Sue Bird, her midrange game to Minnesota Lynx veteran Seimone Augustus, and believe she has the mental toughness of WNBA all-time scoring leader Diana Taurasi. But amid all of the WNBA comparisons for Ionescu, her team doesn’t succeed without its other pieces.
While Ionescu and Hebard had a combined three points on the board for the Ducks going into halftime against the Orange, it was Sabally and Boley who stretched the floor with four made threes between the juniors in the first half.
These Ducks are mighty and are relentless. For Oregon, it’s all for one rather than one for all. In their quest to a national championship, the journey will continue in Paradise Jam against Oklahoma State, UT Arlington, and eighth-ranked Louisville.