Oregon ends Mississippi State’s season in Elite Eight
Published 6:00 pm Sunday, March 31, 2019
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Off to Oregon’s first appearance in the Final Four, guard Sabrina Ionescu set the theme for the second-seeded Ducks.
“All I gotta say is we’re not done yet,” Ionescu said after she had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Oregon’s 88-84 victory Sunday over top-seeded Mississippi State.
Satou Sabally had 22 points and seven rebounds for the Ducks (33-4), who head to Tampa, Florida, to face the winner of Monday’s game between top overall seed Baylor and Iowa.
At the final buzzer, Ionescu jumped into teammate Ruthy Hebard’s arms and coach Kelly Graves flashed an “O” with his hands to the crowd. The Ducks had been eliminated in the Elite Eight the past two seasons.
As Ionescu cut down a piece of the net, fans at the Moda Center chanted “One more year!” at the junior guard, who has been dogged by rumors she may skip her final year to go pro.
Teaira McCowan had 19 points and 15 rebounds in her final game for the Bulldogs (33-3), who had played in the NCAA title game for the past two seasons. Two of Mississippi State’s losses this season were to Oregon, and the first one was a true road game in Eugene.
It certainly had the feeling of an away game for Mississippi State, even though the Bulldogs wore their home whites. Attendance at the Moda Center was announced at 11,534, with the vast majority cheering on the Ducks — a tough draw for a top seed.
“I just thought my team was just phenomenal,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “I mean, I couldn’t be prouder of them for how hard they played, how hard they fought against a really good team. I’ve watched a ton of film. I’ve not seen (Oregon) make that many threes in a while. They made shots today. You got to take your hat off to them. When you make shots in a big game like that, you got to tip your hat to them.”
Ionescu’s jumper put Oregon up 78-73 with just under three minutes left. After McCowan made a pair of free throws, Ionescu added a 3 that put the crowd on its feet and essentially put it away for the Ducks.
Bre’Amber Scott’s layup with 54 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs within 81-77, but Maite Cazorla answered with a 3-pointer for the Ducks. Jazzmun Holmes’ jumper cut the margin to five points with 26.4 seconds to go, but Mississippi State could not catch up.
Oregon also beat Mississippi State in December, ending the Bulldogs’ streak of 46 consecutive regular-season nonconference wins.
Ionescu averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds going into Sunday’s game. The Pac-12 Player of the Year has 18 career triple-doubles, an NCAA record among men and women, including eight this season.
“I’m never amazed at anything she does really, after three years,” Graves said. “You just expect the incredible.”
The Bulldogs went up 15-8 early, but Sabally hit a 3-pointer that closed the gap as Oregon relied on its perimeter game. Oregon finished with 13 3s.
Ionescu’s 3-pointer tied it at 19, but the Bulldogs had free throws to make it 21-19 at the end of the first quarter. The Ducks hit five of eight 3-pointers in the opening period alone.
Oregon pulled in front 30-27 on Cazorla’s 3-pointer in the second quarter. The Ducks led 40-38 at the break. Ionescu led all scorers with 15 points, including three 3-pointers.
Hebard was tasked with guarding McCowan, but she had two fouls and went to the bench midway through the second quarter. But she opened the second half with a layup, and Ionescu added another to give the Ducks a 44-38 lead. Andra Espinoza-Hunter made a 3-pointer to close the gap.
Oregon held the edge until Howard’s layup put the Bulldogs in front 54-53.
Holmes added 15 points and 13 assists for the Bulldogs, and didn’t have a turnover.
Mississippi State got a scare late in the quarter when McCowan went down hard on a layup attempt and stayed on the floor for several moments. She went to the bench holding the right side of her chest.
“A loss is a loss, you know? It doesn’t feel good,” McCowan said. “But I’m proud of my team, my coaching staff we got this far. We had a great season. Nothing to hang our heads on. Yeah, it hurts, but we’ll be OK.”