LAS VEGAS — There was no chance Sabrina Ionescu was going to miss a free throw with 3.4 seconds left to ice the win.
The Pac-12 player of the year just wanted to get some ice on her swollen ankle and soak in the celebration in the locker room after No. 6 Oregon outlasted No. 25 UCLA 88-83 in overtime in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals on Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I honestly was so tired I just wanted the game to be over,” Ionescu said after playing all 45 minutes of the latest classic slugfest between the two programs.
The top-seeded Ducks (29-3) will get to defend another championship after surviving and advancing against the No. 4 Bruins (20-12).
Oregon, which eked out a 65-62 win over UCLA in last year’s conference tournament semifinals before beating Stanford in the final, will play the seventh-ranked and second-seeded Cardinal (27-4) in the championship game at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Ruthy Hebard finished with 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting and 12 rebounds to lead the Ducks. The junior forward was out with a knee injury when UCLA overcame a 22-point deficit to hand Oregon its only home loss of the season Feb. 22.
Cori Close focused her game plan on Ionescu, who was held to 4-for-19 shooting, but Hebard delivered every time the Ducks needed an answer.
“That’s what she does,” Ionescu said. “That’s what I continue to tell her, you might not be at 100 percent, but no one is at 100 percent right now. She just needs to dig deep and be mentally prepared and mentally focused.
“That’s what she did tonight. She was the best post player on that floor.”
Satou Sabally gave the Ducks an 85-83 lead with 59 seconds remaining and was then fouled on the next possession. The sophomore forward, who fell hard on her shooting arm during the win over Arizona in the quarterfinals, made one of the two foul shots.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking,” Sabally said of her mindset with the game on the line. “I was just playing the game, not playing different than I would. We were all super aggressive, and they had to really stay out on our shooters, so the driving lane was free for me.”
UCLA had a chance to force double-overtime with a 3-pointer but Kennedy Burke, who played a spectacular game, turned the ball over with 3.7 seconds left.
After making the two free throws to put the game out of reach, Ionescu finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
“I credit Sabrina. I’ve been watching her since she was a little kid. She’s a phenomenal player,” Close said. “And so is Kennedy Burke, who is a phenomenal defender. … Their approach was to try to go inside to Ruthy, and they did that well. We had to take something away, and we were able to take (Ionescu’s shooting) away.”
The Bruins were up 79-77 when coach Close was called for a technical foul, leading to a 4-0 run by Oregon.
“It’s a game of inches,” Close said. “Me as a coach, I wish I wouldn’t have gotten that T. I wish I had switched how we were playing the pick-and-role sooner.
"But it’s a game of inches, and I just want to fight like crazy, just like (the players) fought for me.”
After Japreece Dean hit a 3-pointer to give UCLA a 74-73 lead with 45.6 seconds left, Sabally forced a jump ball after a missed shot and Hebard scored to put Oregon back in front.
Michaela Onyenwere drew a foul and made one of two fouls shots to tie the score 75-75 with 4.8 seconds left.
Erin Boley was then called for an offensive foul, and Dean missed a deep 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
“I thought tonight we showed our championship mettle, making plays when they really needed to,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “I thought we played a good basketball game, I thought they played a good basketball game.
“This was women’s basketball at its highest.”
Morgan Yaeger, who was averaging 1.4 points per game, hit her third timely 3-pointer to give the Ducks a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and Ionescu made two free throws to make the score 67-61 with 5:31 remaining.
“I believe in myself, and my teammates always say when I’m open shoot it,” Yaeger said. “When I was open and had my shot, I shot it.”
The Bruins stormed back and tied the score 69-69 after 3-pointers by Burke and Dean.
UCLA opened the second half with a 13-5 run and took its first lead, 43-41, on a pair of free throws by Kiara Jefferson with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Lindsey Corsaro gave the Bruins a 48-45 lead with a 3-pointer, but Maite Cazorla immediately answered with her own make from behind the arc.
After Oregon secured two offensive rebounds, Yaeger hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to give her team a 56-52 cushion at the end of the third quarter.
“Those were huge,” Ionescu said of Yaeger’s makes from behind the arc. “Those were just as big as any other play down the stretch that we needed badly. She practices them and practices them and is always one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. Super positive and ready to jump when the opportunity arises. She did that tonight and hit some big-time shots.”
Burke finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, Dean had 22 points and seven assists and Onyenwere added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins.