EUGENE, ORE. – In the battle of great offenses Sunday, it came down to Oregon having the best player on the floor and arguably the entire country at her position.
All-America point guard Sabrina Ionescu added to her sensational sophomore season with 29 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the second-seeded Ducks in a 101-73 victory against the 10th-seeded Gophers in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament second round in front of their home crowd of 7,575 at Matthew Knight Arena.
“She’s special,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “She’s the type of player that doesn’t come around too often in a coaching career. I’m sure [Oregon coach Kelly Graves] would agree with that. She does things you can’t teach.”
The Pac-12 Player of the Year had Minnesota players shaking their heads in disbelief after she fell to the floor while being fouled and drilling a fadeaway three-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer.
Ducks fans erupted as Ionescu was swarmed by her teammates before heading to the locker room with sixth-ranked Oregon (32-4) holding a 51-36 lead. She scored 22 points in the first half.
The Gophers (24-9) were trying to make their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005, but never faced a guard like Ionescu this season. The closest thing was Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, which beat the Gophers twice during the Big Ten season. Minnesota’s largest margin of defeat this season was 91-75 to the Buckeyes in Columbus on Jan. 4, but Oregon’s offense was on a different level. The Gophers suffered their worst NCAA tournament loss since falling 73-42 to Texas A&M in the second round in 2009.
“We just defensively started relaxing, not getting to shooters and moving as well,” said senior guard Carlie Wagner, who had 20 points. “I thought our intensity dropped off at the end of the first half.”
Entering the game, the Gophers ranked third in the nation in scoring (85.2 points per game), but Oregon was ninth (82.1) and second in three-point percentage (40.3).
Minnesota stayed with Oregon until the Ducks blew the game open with a 16-0 run that started in the second quarter. Ionescu’s buzzer-beating three made it 51-36 at halftime. It was 73-43 after Lexi Bando’s three with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
In Friday’s 89-77 upset of No. 7 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay, Stollings relied on star point guard Kenisha Bell to put together a monster second half with 24 of her 26 points to overcome a 13-point deficit. Oregon, however, wouldn’t allow Bell to take control. She and Wagner had only 18 points combined on 7-for-18 shooting with their team trailing 82-50 going into the fourth quarter.
Pitts, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was held to only three of her 17 points in the second half.
“I’ve learned that you just have to keep fighting,” Pitts said. “Especially to show the freshmen coming in next year. Carlie and the seniors have taught us a lot.”
Stollings had the roster that best fit her up-tempo style this season, so she was able to get the program back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus. But the Gophers’ defensive weaknesses were exposed against one of the top teams in the nation.
Oregon’s size, with two 6-4 frontcourt players, caused major problems, including Ruthy Hebard’s 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. The Gophers were outscored 46-18 in the paint and outrebounded 42-21 on Sunday.
“They have so many weapons,” Stollings said. “You look at them statistically, and the team and closest comparison I can give on paper would be to UConn.”