EUGENE, Ore. — The further we get from Oregon’s lone loss this season, the further we get from believing the Ducks are going to lose again in 2018-19. They’re that good.
We’ve known this all along. But then there was last Sunday’s stomping of Stanford on the Cardinal’s home court, a 40-point win that was bizarrely impressive because nobody has ever done that to that program.
Then Friday in front of a full house of 12,364 fans at Matthew Knight Arena, the No. 3 Ducks triumphed 77-68 in a very different kind of test. Pac-12 rival No. 9 Oregon State was able to slow down the pace more than most teams could hope to against the Ducks. The Beavers for the most part played the game they were intending to against Oregon.
“I thought our decision-making for the most part was very good tonight; it’s what it needs to be,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “There’s a time to push, but in a game like this against a team that scores so well, you can’t afford bad shots or lost possessions.
“I thought that hurt us in the first half more than the second. The first half we settled for some quick shots that led to transition for them, so that’s another part of the evolution of this team. But in general, our overall execution was very good under the circumstances of who we’re playing and where.”
But it still wasn’t enough. The Ducks moved to 24-1 overall and 13-0 in the Pac-12. Oregon coach Kelly Graves said he wasn’t going to publicly lobby for an overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but would let Oregon’s results speak for themselves.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but that also helps us,” Graves said of Oregon’s five regular-season games remaining, plus the Pac-12 tournament. “We will play a lot of really good teams.”
Sabrina Ionescu puts up a hefty 29 points, nine assists and five rebounds as No. 3 Oregon tops rival No. 9 Oregon State 77-68 Friday night.
The Ducks came in averaging 90.2 points and have topped 100 six times. The Beavers, who entered averaging 78.7 points, knew they weren’t going to win a shootout with Oregon, so they didn’t try. As Rueck said, especially in the second half, the Beavers were disciplined about working the shot clock, moving the ball around, waiting for openings.
However, Oregon has become a tougher team to score against this season. The Ducks don’t go deep — they played seven Friday — but they are air-tight.
“I think that’s the thing about Oregon,” Rueck said. “Their offense has been good for a long time. But their defense has taken big strides this year. It’s probably the short rotation; they’re used to playing together. The gaps, they close quickly. Because they’re a mature, veteran team. Their recognition is much quicker.”
The fact that Oregon is now closer to elite level on defense is frightening for opponents, considering what the Ducks do at the other end. The Ducks have three superstar-level scorers in Sabrina Ionescu (29 points Friday), Ruthy Hebard (21 points) and Satou Sabally (18 points). The other two starters, Erin Boley and Maite Cazorla, also average in double-figure scoring, although neither provided much points-wise Friday.
Ionescu mused after the game about missing too many shots — she was 12 of 24 — and said that Boley and Cazorla’s combined 1-of-9 performance from the field was not a problem because of the other things both do.
“I didn’t shoot the ball very well,” Ionescu said. “My teammates hit shots when they had to. Overall, regardless of how many points I scored, everyone contributed.”
Even though the Beavers (20-5, 10-3) made this a game right down to the final minutes, there was still a feeling of inevitability that the Ducks had this in hand.
Their only stumble this season was Dec. 9 at Michigan State, an 88-82 loss.
Last season, Oregon went 33-5 and won the Pac-12 tournament. Eventual national champion Notre Dame stopped Oregon in the Elite Eight then. But with a regional in Portland this year and the way this team is playing, Ducks fans should at least be checking out flights to Tampa, which hosts the Women’s Final Four in April.
The Beavers — led by Destiny Slocum’s 19 points — played well enough Friday that it sets up an interesting rematch Monday at Oregon State (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) where they can try again to top the Ducks. It will be the Beavers’ fans turn to fill the house, as Gill Coliseum is sold out.
“I think this was a heck of a game,” Rueck said. “They had to play big; we played big. We’ve got so many positives to take away.”
But the way Oregon looks now, it’s going to take an even better effort from the Beavers than what they gave Friday. And that’s a lot to ask from any opponent trying to upend the Ducks.