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NCAAW Elite Eight Recap (Day 1): Sabrina Ionescu powers Oregon to first-ever Final Four appearance

The Ducks’ 88-84 win over Mississippi State sends the Bulldogs home, preventing them from getting a third straight chance at the championship.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Portland Regional-Oregon vs Mississippi State
Sabrina Ionescu put on a special show that powered her Oregon Ducks to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Sabrina Ionescu’s world, and the rest of us are just lucky enough to sit and watch in wonder.

Her Oregon Ducks entered today’s Elite Eight matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs filled with confidence. They had run through teams in the earlier rounds of this year’s tournament and kept at the forefront of their minds the regular-season win they got over Mississippi State — only one of two teams to beat the Bulldogs this season.

A certified triple-double queen, Ionescu came up three rebounds and two assists short of recording another. But with a game-high 31 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and the win, it is doubtful that she cares. After all, that victory sends the Ducks to the Final Four for the first time in Oregon program history.

Ionescu didn’t do it alone — she had a ton of help from her friends, who also played out of their minds. Satou Sabally scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, while Ruthy Hebard and Maite Cazorla contributed double-digit efforts with 14 points and 11 points, respectively.

The Bulldogs played a good game, though, keeping the score close and catching up whenever they fell behind. Whereas four of the Ducks’ starters scored in double figures, all five of Mississippi State’s starters put up double digits: Teaira McCowan (19 points), Anriel Howard (18 points), Jazzmun Holmes (15 points) and Jordan Danberry and Andra Espinoza-Hunter’s 12 points apiece.

SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year McCowan stayed true to form by grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. But the well-rounded effort wasn’t enough to overcome a fearless Oregon team led by a special player who would not give up or give in.

After the game, Ionescu said, “All I gotta say is we’re not done yet.”

Everyone else heading to Tampa Bay for the Final Four better believe her.

Why the Ducks are dancing on:

Three big reasons Oregon was able to advance to the Final Four include:

  1. Ball movement. From the tip, the Ducks came with energy and really never let up. With so many capable three-point shooters, Oregon was able to stretch the floor and throw off the Bulldogs’ defenders.
  2. Defensive rebounds. Normally Mississippi State’s wheelhouse, Oregon out-rebounded the Bulldogs, 32-31. But this made the biggest difference on the defensive glass, with Oregon out-rebounding Mississippi State 19-15. And the Ducks turned most of those second-chance opportunities into points.
  3. Free throws. Oregon banked in 78.6 percent of its free throws to Mississippi State’s 73.7 percent. This may not seem like a big difference, but in a tight game like this one, every point counts. In key moments, the Ducks made free throws that allowed them to increase their score, while the Bulldogs missed free throws at critical moments when they needed them the most.

Why the Bulldogs are heading home:

Three big reasons Mississippi State won’t be going to Tampa:

  1. Three-point attempts. The Bulldogs made 57.1 percent of their three-pointers, which is really high for a team that has not been known for its three-point shooting since Chloe Bibby went out with a season-ending knee injury. But Mississippi State only attempted eight three-pointers. Oregon made 50 percent of its three-pointers, but the difference is that the Ducks attempted 26 shots from beyond the arc (making 13 of them). Another offensive woe was McCowan being smothered under the basket for much of the night or driven out of the paint by crafty Ducks ball movement.
  2. Rebounding. Mississippi State is known as a rebounding behemoth. Although McCowan did her part, the team did not collectively shine in this area (compared to Oregon). The Bulldogs struggled to get the kind of second-chance shots that Oregon did, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Despite double-figure rebounding, McCowan didn’t grab all of the rebounds her team needed her to under the basket. Being triple-teamed by the Ducks for much of the game probably had a lot to do with that.
  3. Defensive lapses. Oregon showed offensive diversity that threw Mississippi State off-balance. Once established from the perimeter, the Ducks would change things up, with sharpshooter Ionescu driving inside for layups and floaters.

Here’s what’s next in the 2019 NCAAW Basketball Tournament:

Game information

Elite Eight

When: Sunday, March 31; Monday, April 1 (click for times)

Where: Albany, NY; Chicago, IL; Greensboro, NC; Portland, OR

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, WatchESPN

Final Four

When: Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN

National Championship

When: Sunday, April 7, at 6 p.m. ET

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL

How to watch: ESPN, WatchESPN

More ways to watch the games

Want to watch in person? Elite Eight and Final Four tickets can be found on the websites of the hosting arenas, or here.