CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
STORRS, Conn. — An airball to end a quarter. A shot-clock violation that appeared to be a product of pure frustration. A lane to the basket left so wide open by the defense, the Gampel Pavilion crowd let out what seemed like a collective sigh. Some of those fans heading to the exits with more than 4½ minutes left in the game.
This isn’t the UConn team we’ve become accustomed to seeing much of the time over the over the last quarter-century. Still, this arena remains the most marquee place to make a statement in women’s basketball.
Oregon did that Monday, handing the Huskies a 74-56 defeat, their worst loss ever in Gampel, which opened in 1990. UConn previously lost by 17 twice here, to Iowa in 1990 and Syracuse in 1992, but that was before the Huskies had won their first NCAA title (1995).
“This is huge for us,” Ionescu said in an ESPN interview after the game. “We knew it was gonna be a big game, and we needed this win.”
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said Monday’s win would stick with him for a long time.
“It means a lot; this is hallowed ground, so to speak,” Graves said. “This is one personally I’ll remember a long time. Who doesn’t look up to Geno [Auriemma]?”
Sabrina Ionescu, who has an NCAA-record 23 doubles, finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Oregon’s 18-point win marked UConn’s first double-digit loss in Storrs since January 1999. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The Ducks showed Monday they might be ready this year to win their first national championship, as they looked to be every bit the juggernaut that many anticipated they’d be this season. And they accomplished that with what seemed like a fairly pedestrian game — albeit close to another triple-double — from senior guard Sabrina Ionescu.
Scratch beneath the surface of her 10-point, nine-assist and nine-rebound performance, and you see that Ionescu did exactly what her team needed. The Ducks didn’t require her to carry an enormous load, because they have plenty of capable hands to do that.
What was anticipated to be one of the top nonconference games this season instead turned into a display of why there’s a good chance we’ll see Oregon at the Final Four for a second year in a row. Sure, it’s only early February, and strange things can happen in the NCAA tournament. But if the Ducks play the rest of the way like they did Monday, the Big Easy will be in their travel plans in April.
As much as we generally think of the Ducks as an outstanding offensive team, they showed plenty of defensive prowess, too. The Huskies are size-challenged and don’t have the kind of strength inside we’re used to seeing. Even so, the Ducks’ ability to dominate in the lane — led by Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally — really stood out. Oregon outscored UConn 44-14 in the paint.
Hebard finished 10 of 14 from the floor for 22 points, and added 10 rebounds. Sabally also had a double-double, with 17 and 10. All five Oregon starters finished in double figures, as Erin Boley scored all 13 of her points in the first half and Minyon Moore added 10 points.
“Everyone contributed,” Ionescu said. “We got on the boards, we rebounded well, we defended well. Obviously we gave up some 3s, but I think we overall did a really good job on the defensive end, which helped us offensively.”