PORTLAND — Lydia Giomi felt like a stunt-double.
When Oregon’s star forward, Ruthy Hebard, headed to the bench in the second quarter with two fouls, Giomi was sent into the violent action scene in the paint opposite Mississippi State leading woman Teaira McCowan.
The bruises will disappear.
The Ducks’ 88-84 victory over the Bulldogs in the Portland Regional final on Sunday at Moda Center will be long remembered.
“You just put a prayer out there,” Giomi said of trying to keep the 6-foot-7 McCowan from getting to her spot under the basket. “I think I closed my eyes and you just kind of pray that your body’s either going to fall over and get a foul or she’s not going to make it.”
McCowan finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and two assists but still had her memorable collegiate career come to an abrupt end.
Hebard countered with 14 points, five rebounds and two critical blocks on a game-wining possession in the final two minutes.
“That was fun blocking (McCowan). It’s not every day you get to block an elite player like that. Just the whole sequence was really fun to play in,” Hebard said. “It was hard. She’s a great player, she’s really strong and physical.
“Just having to match that for 40 minutes was really hard, but I’m glad I could do it for my team.”
Giomi and senior Oti Gildon combined for only two points and three rebounds off the bench, but they allowed Hebard to catch her breath for 7 minutes, 31 seconds of bench time.
“She’s a beast, she’s a really good post player, really physical,” Gildon said of McCowan. “The first game we were able to get in her head a little bit, but this game she was able to do a little bit more, she was more assertive. We had to make sure we came together.”
The Ducks (32-4) held McCowan to five points and 11 rebounds during their 82-74 victory over the Mississippi State on Dec. 18 at Matthew Knight Arena.
The SEC player of the year was on a mission to get the Bulldogs (33-3), who lost in the previous two national title games, back to the Final Four.
“A loss is a loss. It doesn't feel good,” McCowan said. “But I'm proud of my team, my coaching staff that we got this far. We had a great season. Nothing to hang our heads on. Yeah, it hurts, but we'll be OK.”
Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu (31 points), Satou Sabally (22 points) and Maite Cazorla (11 points) played all 40 minutes.
Taylor Chavez said she was healthy enough to play, but Giomi and Gildon were the only bench players who saw action.
“It’s awesome to be a part of it,” said Giomi, who redshirted during the 2017 NCAA Tournament and was unavailable during last year’s postseason run due to an injury. “I feel like it’s been a build-up, not just for our team, but for me as well.
“Here we are, we made it.”