Five years ago, Sabrina Ionescu was on the USA’s under-17 team that won the FIBA World Championship in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
Baylor’s Lauren Cox, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale and UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson were also key players on the gold medal-winning team.
The Americans pulled out a 77-75 win in the title game over Spain, which was led by Angela Salvadores’ 40 points.
Maite Cazorla, the unheralded point guard the USA coaching staff warned Ionescu and her teammates about, made some timely 3-pointers during the back and forth game.
“From that moment I watched her,” Ionescu said of Cazorla. “I didn’t know she was going to Oregon, I didn’t know I’d end up being teammates with her for the next three years, but I appreciated her game so much and my coach was right.”
Ionescu is putting the WNBA on hold to return for her senior year at Oregon, but there is a good chance Cazorla’s name will be called during the league’s draft Wednesday in New York.
“I haven’t even thought about, I’ve just been focusing on this,” Cazorla said after the Ducks’ loss to Baylor last Friday at the national semifinal in Tampa, Fla. “That’s like a dream growing up to go to the WNBA, so hopefully I will get a chance. If not that’s OK, too.”
Cazorla, who averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists during her senior season, will have opportunities to play professionally in Europe. The 5-11 senior was Oregon’s best defender and ball handler.
“I think with any team, you’ve got to have those unsung stars. Maite is that for us,” coach Kelly Graves said. “In many ways she's our most important player. She allows Sabrina to play off the ball a little bit more, kind of do her thing when she does have the ball.”
Cazorla finished her career with the most wins (113) and games played (146) in program history. Her late 3-pointer iced the Portland Regional final win over Mississippi State as the Ducks advanced to the Final Four for the first time.
During a conference call with reporters previewing the WNBA draft, Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher mentioned Cazorla as an intriguing prospect.
“Obviously Sabrina gets a lot of the attention, but I think Maite is one of those players that, literally on any basketball team, she would have an impact because of her ability to make decisions with the basketball, her ability to shoot, in terms of catch-and-shoot without the ball,” Fisher said. “Just high IQ and adds a lot of value to a really successful team. I think she has a bright future.”
The first round of the WNBA draft will be televised on ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. with the second and third rounds on ESPNU starting at 5 p.m.