Sabrina Ionescu was preparing for redemption for an entire year.
Oregon’s superstar, who was driven to lead the program to the Final Four first the first time after the painful loss to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight last season, was ready during closing time in the Portland Regional final.
After Ruthy Hebard made two blocks to thwart Mississippi State in the paint, Ionescu used a screen set by her classmate and hit a step-back 3-pointer to give the Ducks a six-point lead with 1:12 remaining.
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Second-seeded Oregon held on for an 88-84 victory over the top-seeded Bulldogs to advance to the national semifinals on Friday in Tampa, Fla.
“That was going in regardless. No other way to say it,” Ionescu said of her clutch shot. “I wanted to finish this game off the right way. We've come so far. We played so hard that entire game. I knew it was my time to hit a big-time shot. Ruthy set a great screen, the spacing was great. I think that just shows we've been learning from the games we've been playing in.
“At that moment in time, I didn't want it to go to overtime. I didn't want to give them any more opportunities to score. I was also pretty tired. Let me hit this and walk off to the Final Four.”
Ionescu walked out of the Moda Center on Sunday with the most outstanding player of the regional honor after finishing with 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the title game.
The accolades kept coming on Monday when the back-to-back Pac-12 player of the year was voted to the Associated Press’ all-American first team for the second consecutive season.
Ionescu, a junior, is joined on the first team by UConn senior Napheesa Collier, Iowa senior Megan Gustafson, Louisville senior Asia Durr and Mississippi State senior Teaira McCowan. Hebard and Oregon State guard Destiny Slocum received honorable mention.
The national player of the year award will be handed out at the Final Four.
“She’s the best player obviously,” Oregon senior guard Maite Cazorla said of her backcourt running mate. “It’s awesome playing with her. I’m grateful to be playing with her for three years, and she’s going to accomplish greater things.”
Ionescu is averaging 19.9 points, 8.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds this season. She extended her NCAA record for career triple-doubles to 18 during the Ducks’ second-round NCAA Tournament win over Indiana and had 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds during Friday’s Sweet 16 win over South Dakota State.
“I’m never amazed at anything she does,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said of Ionescu after cutting down the nets at Moda Center. “After three years, anything she does, you just expect the incredible.”
After the Final Four, Ionescu will decide whether to return for her senior season with the Ducks or leave for the WNBA, where she would likely be the first pick in the draft.
There is still another box to check on her to-do list at Oregon: Winning the national championship.
“We're not going to be pleased with how far we've gotten,” Ionescu said. “I think that's one of the reasons we didn't necessarily set one goal before the season. I know we got a lot of critiques for that. Our goals are farther than one game, a Final Four, something that you can really pinpoint. I think our goals are things that we can control, and everything else will take care of itself.
“I’m excited to get to Tampa and continue playing with this team.”