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This week in the Pac-12: The Oregon Ducks are much more than Sabrina Ionescu’s supporting cast

You know triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu. Now, meet her teammates — the people who convert her many assists into points. Without them, she wouldn’t have reached two consecutive Elite Eights.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Spokane Regional-Oregon Ducks vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish
One of Sabrina Ionescu’s favorite targets, Ruthy Hebard is the second-best shooter in the NCAA as well as Oregon’s leading rebounder.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks are riding one of the most impressive turnarounds in the NCAA, from a four-win 2012-13 season to consecutive Elite Eight appearances in the past two. In recent years, broadcasters generally bring up two major catalysts to Oregon’s success: head coach Kelly Graves and junior guard Sabrina Ionescu.

Graves came to the Ducks from Gonzaga after leading the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearances, including three Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. His star player at Gonzaga was unquestionably Courtney Vandersloot, who is currently the starting point guard for the Chicago Sky.

For the past three seasons, though, another point guard has been making a name for herself under Graves: Ionescu, who has an NCAA-record 15 triple-doubles to her name and recently became Oregon’s all-time assists leader. If she declares for the WNBA Draft this year — she turned 21 in December, making her eligible to forgo her final year of college — there’s talk of her going No. 1.

Ionescu is one of the best players in NCAA history — there’s no doubt about that — but she doesn’t do it alone. For her teammates, there are many benefits to taking the court with perhaps the country’s best player, but the drawbacks include not getting to show the country how good they are.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of the nature of women’s college basketball coverage, where the national media can feel obligated to draw attention to one player, and only one player, lest the coverage not be palatable for people who are traditionally fans of the men’s game. And when any of the Ducks players could be stars in their own right on most other teams in the country, their exclusion from this coverage borders on unfair.

Let’s change that:

Quick facts about the Ducks’ roster

  • The starting five have been exactly the same in all 16 games this season, suggesting not only talent, but reliability and trust in their core players.
  • There’s a bevy of young talent on display in that particular lineup, with two sophomores, two juniors and just one senior.
  • Four Ducks — Ruthy Hebard, Erin Boley, Oti Gildon and Ionescu — represented the United States in the FIBA 3x3 Women’s World Cup over the summer. Interestingly, Hebard, Boley and Gildon were the ones teaching Ionescu the rules, as she was the only one without 3x3 experience.

The Ducks’ other dominant dames

Ruthy Hebard, junior forward

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Spokane Regional James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 season began with an interesting matchup for the Ducks: a non-exhibition game at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks. But for Hebard, who grew up in Fairbanks, it was a well-deserved homecoming. Though she was playing through illness, she picked up 17 points in just 23 minutes.

An absolute force down low, averaging 17.3 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game, Hebard also owns the nation’s second-best field-goal percentage. Her 69.3 percent shooting leads the Pac-12 by more than 12 percent.

On Jan. 6, Hebard led the Ducks in scoring with a career-high 34 points against Washington State — 10 of which came from half of Ionescu’s 10 assists. As Ionescu would go on to pick up a triple-double that game, Hebard’s performance was an important demonstration in the relationship between these two players that helps them both succeed. Ionescu and Hebard were two of three freshmen to start on Oregon’s 2017 NCAA Tournament team.

Hebard won the Katrina McClain Award last season, which recognizes the country’s best power forward. In addition to being on the preseason McClain Award watch list this season, she made preseason watch lists for the Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy and Wade Trophy.

Satou Sabally, sophomore forward

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Spokane Regional James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

One of four international players on the Oregon roster, Sabally (hailing from Berlin, Germany) is yet another hot shooter for the Ducks, going 53.9 percent from the floor in each game. Her production is good enough for sixth in the Pac-12 and an occasional foray into the national top 50. Sabally is the Ducks’ second-leading scorer at 17.5 points per game.

Though neither the Pac-12 as a conference nor Oregon as a team steals the ball very much — just enough to break into the national top 50 — Sabally is still wont to pick pockets more than anyone else on the Ducks, leading the team with 28 steals on the season. The mark puts her at 12th in the Pac-12.

In her first season, Sabally’s 10.7 points per game made her the Pac-12’s highest-scoring freshman, and led to her being named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year just one season after her teammate, Ionescu, won the honor. To kick off this season, like Hebard, Sabally also made the preseason Naismith Award watch list.

Sabally’s sister, Nyala, is also a Duck — but a knee injury and subsequent surgery ended her freshman season before it began.

Erin Boley, redshirt sophomore forward

NCAA Womens Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Boley spent her freshman season at Notre Dame, where she played in every game and had the second-best three-point shooting percentage on the team. But after determining that the school wasn’t a good fit, she made the trek out to the coast and, after sitting out last season per NCAA rules, began playing for the Ducks this season.

Against Washington on Jan. 4, Boley had perhaps one of the best games of her college career. In addition to scoring a career-high 28 points — 24 of which came off a career-high 8 made threes — she made five three-pointers in the first quarter alone. The Ducks ended up badly needing Boley’s hot shooting, as a handful of Washington runs kept the Huskies in the game in the middle two quarters.

Although Ionescu is the team’s leader in three-point percentage, Boley takes so many more shots from beyond the arc that her 47 made threes on the season leads all Oregon players. She’s an integral part of the reason Oregon is ninth in the country in made three-pointers, with four of five starters having banked at least 27 threes this season.

Maite Cazorla, senior guard

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-UCLA vs Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

At just about any other school, Cazorla would be making national headlines with regularity.

Though the Spanish guard is often seen as Ionescu’s backcourt counterpart — emphasis on counterpart — she’s far from simply the team’s second-best guard. In fact, as Ionescu extended her newly-achieved Oregon career assists record to 620 against UCLA on Jan. 13, Cazorla quietly reached 604 assists — four away from the prior Oregon record.

Even though Cazorla has fewer assists than Ionescu, the dynamic works to her advantage in one shining area: Her assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.71 is second-best in the country.

Cazorla has six years of experience in Spain’s national team system and was called the Ducks’ “most important player” by head coach Kelly Graves, who believes her professional prospects are bright.

The Ducks’ deep bench

All nine active players on Oregon’s roster have played at least eight games, and seen at least 11 minutes of action in each appearance. Here’s what the Ducks’ bench looks like:

  • Taylor Chavez, freshman guard: Making the most of the minutes she’s given, Chavez is tied for second-most steals on the team and has missed just one free throw on the season.
  • Oti Gildon, senior forward: Besides Chavez, Gildon is the only other non-starter to appear in all 16 games this season. She’s broken into double figures in scoring three times in those games, with a season-high of 12 points. Last season, in her first career start, Gildon wasted no time picking up her first career double-double.
  • Lydia Giomi, sophomore forward: While she’s had some injury issues in her first two seasons, Giomi has appeared in 15 of 16 games this season and picked up a season-high 8 points against Air Force and 11 rebounds against UC Irvine.
  • Morgan Yaeger, redshirt sophomore guard: Another international player with extensive national team experience, Australian Yaeger has played in 8 games for the Ducks this season and, like her bench player teammates, shone in non-conference games against UC Riverside (6 points on two made three-pointers and 2 steals) and Alaska-Fairbanks (50 percent shooting and 3 assists).