These are the best of times for the Oregon women’s basketball program.
The Ducks (28-2) clinched their third consecutive outright regular-season Pac-12 championship on Friday night before dismantling Washington State.
The team extended its winning streak to 16 games with another romp over Washington on Sunday.
Oregon’s average margin of victory during the streak is 25.9 points with nine wins over ranked opponents by an average of 17.1 points.
Back-to-back sellout crowds of 12,364 flocked to Matthew Knight Arena to watch the Ducks cut down the nets and help celebrate the seniors.
Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally and Minyon Moore took a bow together knowing they will be called back to the stage for encore performances.
Oregon is 15-0 at home this season with first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games still to come.
Here are five takeaways from the Ducks’ dominant sweep of the Washington schools:
The race for the No. 1 overall seed continues
Oregon remained No. 3 in the Associated Press poll behind No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 Baylor this week.
“I think we’ve got a case for the No. 1 overall seed,” coach Kelly Graves said. “But we’ve got to continue to take care if business.”
If the Ducks win the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas it will be difficult to top their resume before the bracket is released on March 16.
In its latest seed reveal on Monday night, the NCAA Tournament selection committee had a pecking order of South Carolina, Baylor, Oregon and Maryland.
The top four teams in the NET rankings on Monday night were South Carolina, Oregon, Maryland and Baylor.
Entering the conference tournaments, South Carolina is 11-1 against teams ranked in the AP poll, Oregon is 10-1 and Baylor is 4-1.
The Gamecocks (29-1) went 16-0 in the SEC, which has five teams currently in the top 25. The Ducks went 17-1 in the Pac-12, which has six ranked teams. And the Bears went 16-0 in the Big 12, which doesn’t have any other ranked teams.
In ESPN’s latest bracket projection, South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.), Baylor (Dallas) and Oregon (Portland) were the obvious choices to be No. 1 seeds in geographically favorable regionals.
Maryland was the No. 1 seed in the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Regional.
“All we wanted to do at the start of the year was win that Pac-12 championship and put ourselves in position to be in the Portland Regional,” Graves said.
Sabally has shined since the decision
Sabally was nervous about announcing she was entering the WNBA draft after the season, but Graves and her teammates have been extremely supportive of the decision.
And the 6-foot-4 junior forward has played like a weight was lifted from her shoulders since making the public announcement before the Bay Area trip.
Sabally was named the Pac-12 player of the week after averaging 23.0 points and 7.0 rebounds during Oregon’s wins over Stanford, Washington State and Washington.
“It’s been huge this year,” Hebard said of Sabally developing her overall game, especially her rebounding production. “I know people focus down on me a lot, so to see her flying through the air getting (rebounds), I’m like, ‘Yeah, go Satou.’”
During the 16-game winning streak, Sabally is averaging a team-high 18.6 points, shooting 48.5% from the floor and averaging 7.9 rebounds.
A Taylor-made postseason
During last year’s Pac-12 Tournament, Taylor Chavez was getting around Las Vegas on a medical scooter.
A foot injury kept the key reserve on the bench throughout the NCAA Tournament.
The Ducks could have used Chavez’s deft shooting touch and defensive presence in the national semifinal against Baylor.
After sitting out against USC for precautionary reasons, Chavez appears to be healthy and ready to make a difference as Oregon’s first player off the bench.
The sophomore guard had 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 17 minutes against Washington.
“You can’t win this whole thing with just five players. We know that we rely on our bench players so much and they really give us everything, they contribute every game,” Sabally said. “So we’re not beat up, we can go and practice with full energy and full power. We couldn’t do that last year.
“We were really fortunate this year. Everyone is healthy and everyone is going with a full head of steam into the postseason.”
Thank you, Charli?
Before Oregon’s 79-48 win over Arizona State last month, Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorn told Graves that he should thank her for sparking his team’s late-season surge.
“I didn’t thank her,” Graves said with a smile.
The real turning point wasn’t the Ducks’ 72-66 loss on Jan. 10 in Tempe, Ariz., it was the film session that followed.
“They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter! They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter! They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter!” Graves said of the coaching staff’s message after the defeat. “Some of our players were embarrassed.”
Oregon has mostly embarrassed the opposition since returning from the desert.
Viva Las Vegas
Oregon clinched the 2018 and 2019 Pac-12 regular-season titles in Tucson, Ariz., so the celebrations did not include a ladder and a pair of scissors.
The ceremony on Friday night at Matthew Knight Arena isn’t the only one the Ducks have planned.
“We want to cut down four nets,” Graves noted.
The next net on the list is at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, site of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Top-seeded Oregon will begin its postseason in the quarterfinals against the No. 8 Utah-No. 9 Washington winner on Friday at (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Ducks lost to Stanford in the title game last season.
“It motivates us a lot,” Sabally said. “I feel like all the returners definitely have that in their heads and know it’s hard to play against Stanford and they will come back strong.
“But there are also other teams we have to focus on. We’ll just wait on the schedule and see who we play against and compete against.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.