Maybe the Sun Devils shouldn’t have poked these Ducks with a pitchfork.
Since its loss to Arizona State on Jan. 10, Oregon has been scorching the competition with 12 consecutive victories by an average margin of 25.6 points.
The streak includes eight wins over ranked opponents by an average margin of 19.5 points and seven road wins by an average margin of 21.3 points.
What’s scary for the rest of the women’s college basketball field is coach Kelly Graves said last week that his team hasn’t played its best since Nov. 9.
That’s when the Ducks beat the U.S. Women’s National Team in an exhibition game to set an extremely high bar.
“We’ve just got to be consistent at both ends,” Graves said. “We’re still not really shooting it from range consistently like we can.”
Oregon responded by shooting 42.2% (19-for-45) from 3-point distance during blowout wins at then-No. 7 UCLA (80-66) and USC (93-67).
Here are five takeaways from the Ducks’ weekend sweep of the Los Angeles schools:
1. And then there was one
The Ducks (24-2, 13-1) now have a comfortable two-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Bruins (21-3, 10-3) with four games left in the regular season.
Stanford, which is one game off the pace in the Pac-12 race thanks to a 40-foot buzzer-beater at Colorado on Sunday, is the only remaining threat to Oregon’s three-peat.
“There’s one more team we’ve got to eliminate from this thing,” Graves noted after his program swept the Los Angeles road trip for the third consecutive season.
Oregon, which defeated the Cardinal (23-3, 12-2) 87-55 on Jan. 16 in Eugene, will play at Stanford in the rematch next Monday on ESPN2.
"Game in and game out that I've played them in my career, that's who I want to beat,” Sabrina Ionescu said after scoring a career-high 37 points against the Cardinal in the first meeting. “Especially coming from the Bay Area and growing up with them in my backyard and then choosing to leave and come here, it's awesome to be able to play them."
The Ducks throttled Stanford 88-48 last season at Maples Pavilion for their first road win in the series since 1987.
2. Sabrina’s singular place in history
Ionescu has already rewritten the Oregon record book and has shattered the NCAA record for triple-doubles for men or women.
Now the reigning national player of the year is on the verge of becoming the first player in NCAA history to finish a career with 2,000-plus points, 1,000-plus assists and 1,000-plus rebounds.
Ionescu currently has 2,429 points, 1,018 assists and 980 rebounds.
That means the G.O.A.T. will likely join her own exclusive club during the nationally-televised showdown at Stanford or on Feb. 28 against Washington State in front of another sold-out crowd at Matthew Knight Arena.
During the Ducks’ victory on Friday at UCLA, Ionescu became only the second player in NCAA history with 2,000 points and 1,000 assists, joining Gonzaga legend Courtney Vandersloot.
“I’ve been lucky that for eight years of my career I have had them as point guards,” said Graves, who also coached Vandersloot. “We have a system that allows them to play the way they do. They also have had elite talent around them that has made them better."
3. Beyond the Big Three
ESPN had three Ducks ranked in the top five on its list of the 25 best players in women’s college basketball this season.
Oregon’s Big Three delivered again at UCLA and USC with Ionescu averaging 15.0 points and 10.5 assists, Ruthy Hebard averaging 26.0 points and 13.5 rebounds and Satou Sabally averaging 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds during the trip.
But the other two starters — Minyon Moore and Erin Boley — would be the best players on a lot of teams.
Moore had 11 assists and no turnovers and Boley scored 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting to spark the team during Sunday’s win over the Trojans.
“I think this team is probably the most well balanced team,” WNBA star Diana Taurasi said hours before the Ducks’ stunning win over the national team. “College teams are usually dominated by a person or two, but you look at this roster, we did a little scouting, and it’s like, pick your poison. That’s what makes them so good.”
4. Hebard the humble
Hebard was named the Pac-12 player of the week for the first time this season and only the second time in her career.
The 6-foot-4 senior forward is one of the greatest players in the history of the conference but is often overshadowed by the comet that is Ionescu.
Hebard, who doesn’t mind playing Robin to Ionescu’s Batman, is quietly No. 7 on The Pac-12’s all-time rebounding list (1,232) and No. 11 on the scoring list (2,246).
“Are you going to double Ruthy?” Graves wondered aloud earlier this season. “If you do that opens up a sniper on the perimeter. And if you don’t, then she’s one on one, usually against an inferior opponent. She means a lot and it’s going to be tough to replace her, so let’s enjoy her last season.”
5. Three locks for the Final Four?
Oregon remained No. 3 in this week’s Associated Press poll and received one first-place vote.
It feels like No. 1 South Carolina (27) and No. 2 Baylor (2) have also separated from the rest of the pack.
All three powerhouses are virtual locks to be No. 1 seeds and playing in their home states in the NCAA Tournament — the Gamecocks in the Columbia (S.C.) Regional, the Bears in the Dallas Regional and the Ducks in the Portland Regional.
The contenders for the other No. 1 seed are much more flawed:
— No. 4 Stanford lost at Oregon by 32 points and was a couple plays from being swept by Colorado.
— No. 5 Louisville beat the Ducks in November but recently dropped back-to-back games, including a 59-51 loss at 14-11 Syracuse.
— No. 6 UConn has fallen out of the AP top-five after 253 consecutive weeks following lopsided losses to Baylor (74-58), Oregon (74-56) and South Carolina (70-52).
“We're allowed to lose a (expletive) game once in a while where the other team plays better than us,” Geno Auriemma said.
Oregon fans are hoping its Graves’ turn to cut down the nets at the Final Four.
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to email@example.com. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.