LAS VEGAS (AP) — Oregon coach Kelly Graves expects a masterpiece in every game.
“And when we don’t — and I think that’s why it is a testament to the greatness of these guys — we don’t feel well,” Graves said. “You know, we don’t feel good about that.”
Considering Graves wasn’t entirely pleased his third-ranked Ducks cruised to a 79-59 victory over Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Friday after a sluggish first quarter, the rest of the conference could be in deep trouble.
Sabrina Ionescu had 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to lead Oregon, which erased a six-point first-quarter deficit and used a 20-4 run in the second quarter to seize momentum. Igniting the run with a 3-point barrage, Oregon (29-2) connected on eight consecutive shots from beyond the arc to close the half ahead 45-29.
“We came out in that second quarter and, you know, played like we’re capable of playing,” Graves said. “I think we outscored them 18, 19 points that quarter. I don’t know. We have been actually a really good starting team. We just weren’t today. So we’ll have to figure out why and hope to fix it.”
Satou Sabally added 17 points, Jaz Shelley chipped in 10 and Ruthy Hebard had eight points and nine rebounds for the tournament’s top seed.
Oregon shot 10 of 16 from the floor in the second quarter, including 8 of 12 from 3-point range, while limiting the Utes (14-17) to a bleak 18.8% (3 of 16) shooting.
“We were getting stops on the defensive end and, you know, our bench players that came in helped us tremendously,” said Ionescu, the three-time Pac 12 player of the year, who picked up her 57th career double-double. “They were getting in passing lanes, getting steals that helped us get transition shots, and our guards were shooting the ball well. Defensively really fueled our offense, our offensive shots. And, I mean, we were getting shooters in the right position, and they were shooting it like we normally do. So defense played a huge role in that.”
While the Utes’ bench actually outscored Oregon’s, 25-20, the Ducks had a 15-7 scoring advantage with their fast break and converted 16 Utah turnovers into 16 points.
“They turn your mistakes into points quickly,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “Usually those things go hand-in-hand, you turn it over, you give their playmakers and shooters a chance to just sprint and line it up. I know it was correlated with our transition D, it is hard to get back on defense off of a live ball turnover, especially with their speed. So that was part of it.”
Utah, which has been led by underclassmen all season, including in its 72-63 opening-round win over Washington, was paced by freshmen Lola Pendande and Brynna Maxwell, who finished with 15 and 12 points, respectively
Oregon, which swept the regular-season series by a combined 64 points, shot 29 of 58 (50%) in the game. The Ducks were 12 of 23 from 3-point range, falling one 3-pointer shy of tying the Pac-12 Tournament single-game record.
With a third straight Pac-12 regular-season title in hand, the Ducks will ride a 17-game winning streak into their fourth successive Pac-12 Tournament semifinal, where they’ll meet Arizona, a 73-86 winner over Cal in an earlier quarterfinal.
Oregon, which has played for the last two Pac-12 championships, is looking for its second conference tournament title after winning in 2017-18. Stanford defeated the Ducks in last year’s title game.
Utah: The Utes’ underclasswomen accounted for 73% of the team’s offensive production this season, including 42% from their three freshmen: Maxwell, Pendande and Kemery Martin. In all, there are eight underclasswomen on Utah’s roster, making the future bright for coach Lynne Roberts’ group.
Oregon: Shelley, just a freshman, continues to impress off the bench, as she now has six double-figure scoring games. The Australian is a Pac-12 all-freshman honorable mention after averaging 6.3 points. Shelley broke Oregon’s single-game record for 3-pointers in the 10th game of her college career when she went 10 for 14 from deep in a 32-point performance against UC Riverside on Dec. 16.
Taylor Chavez started the run of eight straight 3-pointers by Oregon to end the first half. Ionescu added three baskets from beyond the arc during that stretch, including the final one just before intermission. Like Ionescu, Erin Boley finished 3-of-6 from 3-point range for the game.
With several potential draft picks playing for Oregon, a handful of WNBA scouts were in the stands for the quarterfinal.
Nevada’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Taylor Bigby, an Oregon-commit, was in attendance with her father, Lamar, to watch the Ducks. Bigby helped Centennial High School make history last month, as the Bulldogs won the Class 4A state championship for an NIAA-record sixth straight time. It’s the school’s 12th championship, all of them in the past 19 seasons.
Utah: Utes season comes to an end.
Oregon: Will play Arizona in Saturday’s semifinals.
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