Ruthy Hebard returned to a mixture of surprise and relief from the crowd at Matthew Knight Arena.
Sabrina Ionescu notched another triple double, her seventh of the season and first in a month.
Erin Boley staged a one-woman 3-point derby and scored a career-high 32 points.
And No. 2 Oregon won its first game in nine days, which qualifies as ending a drought in the scope of this dominant basketball season.
All is well in Ducktown again, right?
I guess we’ll find out. Sunday’s 96-78 victory against USC felt like a get-well game for the Ducks after back-to-back losses, including a stunning collapse at home against UCLA on Friday.
It’s rare for a team to play an entire season without hitting a rough patch here or there. As tantalizing as it was to imagine the Ducks going 18-0 in the Pac-12, we learned more by watching them respond to their first real taste of adversity.
Hebard’s injury scare clearly rattled the Ducks. The ultra-confident team we’ve watched all season disappeared in the second half of Friday’s loss to the Bruins. The Pac-12 championship, once a foregone conclusion, suddenly was thrust into doubt.
I’m not going to say the Ducks needed to lose those two games, because if they were 16-0 right now and breaking out the Pac-12 championship swag, no one would be wishing for a loss or two to spice things up.
I do think the Ducks may end up looking back at this nine-day stretch as a valuable reset, and perhaps a reminder of how fragile success can be.
“Every team at some point is going to face some sort of adversity,” said Boley, who made 8 of 11 3-pointers. “We ultimately will be a better, stronger,more connected team because of it.”
As coach Kelly Graves noted after the game, it’s not as though the Ducks have been walking on rose petals all season.
They lost some depth because of transfers and a knee injury to freshman Nyara Sabally, who would have played a significant role if healthy. They had a challenging road trip in December that included a late rally at South Dakota State and their only nonconference loss at Michigan State.
The Ducks dealt with the distraction of Graves being suspended two games by the NCAA, and they handled the spotlight of being a top-five team and a Pac-12 frontrunner with hardly a misstep.
“This hasn’t been an easy season,” Graves said.
The Ducks just make it look that way sometimes. They’re so unflappable that you assume nothing bothers them. When they have a stretch like this one that proves they’re human, it becomes a reminder of how rare these hiccups have been.
“Of course it sucked losing,” Ionescu said, “but I think it’s going to help us in the long run and keep us focused and ready to go.”
The Ducks have been one of the best shooting teams in the country all season, which is why it was so uncharacteristic for their offense to go cold against Oregon State and UCLA. After making at least 30 percent of their 3-pointers in the first 25 games of the season, they went 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) and 6-for-26 (23.1 percent) against the Beavers and Bruins.
You can attribute some of that to Hebard's absence and some to a run-of-the-mill shooting slump. Led by Boley's lights-out performance, the Ducks went 14-for-24 from 3-point range against the Trojans, which is far more typical of the team they've been all season.
With a week remaining in the regular season, the Ducks need to win one game against the Arizona schools to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title. They'll need to do more than that to have a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but all of that is attainable as long as they have Hebard at full strength.
I think there's a strong chance we'll look back at this nine-day funk as a blip, not as the moment when Oregon's cracks started to show. To drive home the point, the Ducks can start by beating Arizona and Arizona State to win the Pac-12 outright.
No one wants to hit a rut, but if it's going to happen, plowing through it is better than getting stuck.
"I've admired this team," Graves said. "I think they've handled adversity all year and handled it well."
It's nice to see them whole again.