PORTLAND — Sabrina Ionescu came up just shy of another triple-double.
But Oregon’s superstar did elicit a double, ‘Oh, no!’ from the coaching staff as she crashed onto the scorer’s table and dove into the lap of an opposing player on the bench while chasing loose balls out of bounds.
“The competitor in me is like, ‘Yes, great job Sab, go get it,’” assistant coach Jodie Berry said. “The mom-coach in me sometimes is like, ‘Be careful!’
“That’s Sabrina. She’s 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. So she’s going to do what she can to get that basketball, even if it’s diving into the opposing bench or the scorer’s clock.”
Now the tone-setting Ionescu and Oregon are 40 minutes away from the Final Four once again.
The second-seeded Ducks (32-4) advanced to the Portland Regional final with a 63-53 victory over No. 6 South Dakota State in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at Moda Center.
Ionescu put on a show for the crowd of 11,324, coming up just shy of a 19th career triple-double after finishing with 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Oregon has reached the Elite Eight round of the women’s NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season after losing in regional finals to UConn and Notre Dame the past two years.
“We've been thinking about this opportunity since our last loss last year to Notre Dame. This is what we work for, this is what we dream of,” Ionescu said. “Now it's time to make our dreams a reality. We're going to come out Sunday dialed in, ready to go and not let this opportunity slip away because it is a great one.”
Oregon will play top-seeded Mississippi State in the Elite Eight at 11 a.m. Sunday. The Bulldogs (33-2) also have plenty of motivation after getting beaten by the Ducks earlier this season in Eugene and losing in the past two NCAA championship games.
Ruthy Hebard, who outplayed 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan during the 82-74 win over Mississippi State on Dec. 18 at Matthew Knight Arena, posted a double-double with 24 points and 14 rebounds in the Sweet 16.
Satou Sabally added 14 points and nine rebounds. The dynamic 6-4 sophomore also played strong help defense to stymie the Jackrabbits (28-7).
South Dakota State, which shot 48.1 from the field during the season and was averaging 79.8 points, was 20-for-75 (26.7 percent) against the Ducks.
“I thought we were on point defensively right from the start tonight,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. “So we played 40 minutes of man-to-man defense. The one thing that concerns you about South Dakota State is their ability to beat you three at a time. I thought by playing man, we cut down on their opportunities. They didn't have as many good looks out there. They shot almost as poorly as we did.
“That was an ice-cold shooting game for both teams from downtown.”
The Ducks were only 4-for-20 on 3-pointers but finished 43.1 percent overall from the field. The Jackrabbits were 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) behind the arc.
Ionescu’s corner 3-pointer gave Oregon a 58-43 cushion with three minutes left. Hebard added a three-point play moments later to extend the lead to 16 points.
“Just being able to close the game like that, having a great game, except like maybe our shooting, but we finished it like champions,” Sabally said. “That's what we want to be.”
The Ducks appeared to have some early jitters as Hebard picked up a cheap foul 13 seconds into the game, Sabally missed a layup and Erin Boley air-balled a 3-pointer.
South Dakota State led 12-8 after a 3-pointer by Madison Guebert, but Ionescu ended the first quarter on a personal 8-0 run to give Oregon an 18-12 lead.
After a basket by Myah Selland cut the Jackrabbits’ deficit to 20-19 midway through the second quarter, Sabally scored seven points during a 9-0 spurt for the Ducks.
Oregon led 31-22 at the intermission after holding South Dakota State to 8-for-39 (20.5 percent) from the field and was never really challenged in the second half.
Now the seventh-ranked Ducks are one win away from the program’s first Final Four appearance.
“I think we're excited. They’re one of the top teams in the country,” Ionescu said of fourth-ranked Mississippi State. “I think it's going to show how much we've grown from the last time we played them and what we need to work on. There is pros and cons to playing a team for the second time. But I think we're so used to that with the Pac-12, we'll be able to grow on our weaknesses.”