The clientele inside the Wild Duck Cafe, located across the street from Matthew Knight Arena, gave Kelly Graves an ovation as he entered the establishment for a post-game meal on Sunday.
Life is good for the Oregon women’s basketball coach right now.
The third-ranked Ducks (22-2, 11-1) remained alone in first place in the Pac-12 after avenging their only conference loss with an 79-48 dusting of then-No. 19 Arizona State in front of another sellout crowd of 12,364.
Here are five takeaways from the weekend as Oregon extended its winning streak to 10 games:
1. On a Mamba mission
Shortly after the Ducks’ lost to Baylor at the Final Four last April, Sabrina Ionescu announced she was returning for her senior season to take care of “unfinished business.”
Now the reigning national player of the year and projected No. 1 WNBA draft pick is on a mission to deliver the program’s first national championship as her way of honoring Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the other victims killed in last month’s helicopter crash.
“Everything I do, I do it for him obviously,” Ionescu said after leading the Ducks to their first road win against Oregon State hours after Bryant’s death. “Really close friend, and this season is for him.”
Since losing her famous mentor, Ionescu has added two more triple-doubles — including No. 24 (Bryant’s number during the second half of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers) during Friday’s win over No. 12 Arizona — to her resume.
Ionescu also finished with 10 points, nine assists and nine rebounds during last week’s statement victory at then-No. 4 UConn. The unflappable senior guard set the tone for the payback win over Arizona State by scoring 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first half.
“I feel like our lows fueled us just to perform at an even higher level,” Satou Sabally said of the team’s emotional roller coaster since the tragedy. “We were all really motivated just to play in the name of (Bryant’s) legacy, in the name of all the people that have died. I think we've done a good job.”
Graves and Ionescu were among the mourners who attended a memorial service for baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, who dreamed of playing at Oregon and attended Duck games in the Los Angeles with Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
The Ducks will be traveling back to Los Angeles this weekend as a team to play UCLA on Friday and USC on Sunday.
2. More from Minyon
Maite Cazorla visited Eugene last week and even played on the scout team for Graves during a couple practices.
The former Oregon and current WNBA point guard said it was strange seeing longtime rival Minyon Moore wearing Ducks’ gear.
But the USC graduate transfer has emerged a perfect fit to replace Cazorla in the starting lineup.
Moore has lived up to her billing as a defensive stopper, frustrating talented counterparts like Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), Crystal Dangerfield (UConn) and Aari McDonald (Arizona) during Oregon’s winning streak.
“All the guards and point guards I've been going against are very elite, and so it's just working on what I can and doing what I can on the defensive end to get stops,” said Moore, who matched her season-high with six steals against Arizona State.
Speaking of extra motivation, Moore will be a key factor in the top-10 showdown against the Bruins and will be looking to beat the her former team after leading the Trojans the past three seasons.
3. Back(ups) to the future
Oregon’s backup guards —sophomore Taylor Chavez and freshman Jaz Shelley — would be a formidable starting backcourt tandem for most teams and showed why during the sweep of the Arizona schools.
Chavez scored 17 points in the win over the Wildcats, and Shelley scored 14 points in the win over the Sun Devils.
They also played high-level defense when Graves had them on the court together.
“I like playing with Taylor at the top. I think we read each other really well,” Shelley said. “If I’m at the top of the zone, she’s always talking to me behind me. It’s really good. We interchange really well and get a lot of steals. It’s really fun playing with her.”
The guard line will be still in good hands in the post-Sabrina era with Chavez and Shelley.
Oregon will also add three five-star guard prospects — Sydney Parrish, Maddie Scherr and Te-Hina Paopao — next season as part of the nation’s top-ranked 2020 recruiting class.
4. Pick your poison
Arizona State tried to push the Ducks around in their own building with a bruising style aimed at eliminating the pick-and-roll between Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard.
That part of the game plan initially frustrated Oregon, which only scored 10 points in the first quarter. Hebard finished with just 11 points.
But the Sun Devils’ decision to clog up the paint led to open perimeter shots for Erin Boley (4-for-6 on 3-pointers) and Shelley (4-for-4 on 3s).
“I think their sort of defense today was really collapsing in on Ruthy,” Shelley said. “They were so focused on Sabrina coming off (screens), and she did a great job of finding me and Erin.
“I think our team did a really good job to find the hot hands.”
The Ducks made 13 3-pointers, which is the most in Pac-12 play this season.
Ionescu’s technical foul in the third quarter and Sabally’s back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter sent the message that Oregon isn’t going to back down from a bully.
“It was really gritty, you could say,” Boley said. “We had to play really tough. So it’s a good feeling to keep a lead that big when there’s a lot of fouling and it’s a very physical game.”
5. Ducks set up for a Hollywood ending
Oregon, which remained at No. 3 in the Associated Press poll despite beating three ranked teams last week by an average 27.3 points, plays No. 7 UCLA on Friday at Pauley Pavilion (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Ducks have a one-game lead over the Bruins (21-3, 10-2) in the Pac-12 standings. UCLA does not have to play at Matthew Knight Arena this season in the conference’s unbalanced schedule.
A sweep of the Los Angeles schools would go a long way towards wrapping up the program’s third consecutive Pac-12 title and the No. 1 seed in the Portland Regional.
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to email@example.com. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.