No. 7 Oregon put 279 points on the scoreboard during three women's basketball victories this week at Matthew Knight Arena.
Sabrina Ionescu became the NCAA’s career triple-double leader while averaging 15.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 13.5 rebounds during back-to-back blowouts over Air Force (82-36) and UC Irvine (115-69).
Satou Sabally poured in a game-high 27 points during the victory over the Anteaters, who were off to a 9-1 start.
All five of Oregon’s starters are averaging double figures in scoring, and the Ducks are second nationally in points per game (90.5) and fourth in field-goal percentage (51.9).
But the defensive performance during Tuesday’s 82-74 victory over No. 4 Mississippi State was the most encouraging development for a program looking to reach the Final Four for the first time.
Oregon held the Bulldogs (11-1) — the nation’s highest-scoring team (92.2 ppg) — to 34 points in the second half.
A year after Teaira McCowan finished with 35 points on 15-for-18 shooting and 19 rebounds during Mississippi State’s 90-79 win over the Ducks in Starkville, Miss., the 6-foot-7 center was held to five points and 11 rebounds in the rematch.
Ruthy Hebard kept McCowan out of the paint for the most part with an aggressive, physical defensive performance.
“Going back to a year ago when we played at Mississippi State, we struggled a lot with defending her,” assistant Mark Campbell said of McCowan. “Ruthy’s mental focus for the 38 minutes she was on the court was the best defensive performance of her young career so far.
“You’ve seen what she’s able to do offensively and field-goal percentage. For her to do that on that stage against that opponent was a complete game.”
Hebard was 7-for-10 from the field with 14 points and six rebounds opposite McCowan, the reigning Naismith defensive player of the year.
“Playing against Teaira of course is a big challenge,” Hebard said. “Seeing what all of our team did on defense against a top-five team is great. I think that confidence boosted us through these next two games and hopefully for the rest of the season.”
Oregon held Air Force to 23.3 percent shooting on Thursday and UC Irvine to 33.3 percent on Friday.
After suffering their only loss of the season in Eugene, the Bulldogs went to Seattle and dismantled Washington, 103-56. Mississippi State shot 56.9 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three-point distance against the Huskies.
“I still have some areas to grow on defense, but my feet are getting a little quicker,” Hebard said. “I think our team has it in us to play a full 40 minutes of defense. Hopefully by Pac-12, we’ll see what we can do and put it together for 40 minutes.”
Offensively, Hebard made her last four shots against Mississippi State, went 9-for-9 from the field against Air Force and made her first six shots against UC Irvine. The junior forward is fourth nationally in field-goal percentage (73.3).
Ionescu leads the nation in assists per game (8.5) and backcourt mate Maite Cazorla (5.4 apg) is 21 assists away from breaking Oregon’s career record held by Lauri Landerholm (607 assists, 1982-87).
“I think Maite and Sabrina are going to go down as No. 1 and No. 2 in career assists at the University of Oregon,” said Campbell, who filled in for coach Kelly Graves during his two-game NCAA suspension. “So when you’re a post and you’ve got the two best passers ever, it helps.”
The Ducks (11-1) will play an exhibition game Dec. 30 against Concordia before beginning defense of its Pac-12 championship on Jan. 4 against Washington at Matthew Knight Arena (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).