All day long, Oregon coach Kelly Graves noticed something a little different about Pac-12 player of the year Sabrina Ionescu. It wasn’t something that could be defined, just something the coach noticed about his star player.
“She had a different look about her,” Graves said. “I didn’t know what that was going to translate to.”
Now Graves knows what that look meant.
Ionescu scored a career-high 36 points and No. 6 Oregon won its first Pac-12 Conference tournament title, beating No. 16 Stanford 77-57 on Sunday night.
Playing in their first conference tournament final, the Ducks looked every bit the part of a premier team heading into the NCAA tournament. Ionescu was the star, as the Ducks (30-4) avenged one of their two losses in conference play.
Ionescu was brilliant early, scoring 12 points in the first quarter, and took over late in the third as Oregon held a double-digit lead most of the second half. Ionescu scored 19 points in the second half.
“It was the Ionescu show today,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
A year ago, Oregon was the surprise of the NCAA tournament, making an unexpected run to the regional final before falling to Connecticut. Now the Ducks will be one of the favorites.
Ionescu is a big reason why. The sophomore saved one of her best career performances for the final. Ionescu set a championship game record for points scored, hitting 14 of 24 shots. Her three-pointer with 6:17 remaining gave Oregon a 19-point lead, and the Ducks coasted the rest of the way.