SEATTLE — Add it to the list.
The Oregon women’s basketball team accomplished feats without precedent all season. Why not finish Pac-12 play with something it had never done before as well?
In their conference tournament title game debut Sunday at KeyArena, the Ducks looked anything like newbies. They looked like a team that might be able to get used to this.
Oregon locked down 12-time Pac-12 tournament champion Stanford with a stifling defensive performance, and Pac-12 player of the year Sabrina Ionescu scored a championship-game-record 36 points to finish what the Ducks started a year ago with their unexpected run to the Elite Eight. Cinderellas no more, the Ducks are officially the best team in the Pac-12 after a 77-57 win over Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.
“Today we were the better team,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said.
After losing to Stanford at home a month ago, the Ducks (30-4) went on to win the Pac-12 regular-season title, but they were still looking for a small measure of revenge on a much bigger stage. They got it Sunday with an impressive and dominant effort. They became only the third team in conference history to beat the Cardinal in the title game. The payback was sweet.
Ionescu called it “unfinished business.”
“That loss at home stung us badly,” she said. “I think it taught us a lot, and this game showed it. I think we came out, we adjusted well, came out with a lot of intensity and did that for 40 minutes.”
Ionescu, the sophomore soon-to-be-All-American, was sublime in earning tournament most outstanding player honors. In establishing a new career high in points, she was 14-of-24 from the floor and hit four 3-pointers to go with four rebounds and four assists. After watching Stanford’s Brittany McPhee beat her team with a 33-point performance in Eugene, Oregon, she had plenty of inspiration for the counter.
“It was the Ionescu show today,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She’s a competitor. When we beat them up there, it was the Brittany McPhee show. Britt really torched them, and tonight Sabrina torched us. She was really orchestrating everything out there.”
Graves said that he saw a “twinkle” in Ionescu’s eye as she got off the bus at the arena.
“She had a different look about her today,” he said. “I didn’t know what that was going to translate into, but now I know.
“I’ll tell you, when you have somebody like Sabrina, she shines the brightest in the biggest moments, and she sure did that tonight.”
Stanford (22-10), the No. 2 seed coming in, is one of the most improved teams in the country. But Oregon presented the Cardinal, fairly young in their own right, with what VanDerveer said before the game was the “ultimate challenge” because of the Ducks’ size and ability to score from so many spots on the floor.
The Ducks outrebounded Stanford 30-24 and forced 16 turnovers that led to 24 points. They outscored Stanford 19-9 in second-chance points. They hit 11 3-pointers, a title-game record, with five players connecting from beyond the arc. They played a zone defense that bottled up the Cardinal’s 3-point shooting.
Then there was Ionescu.
“Quite honestly, we lost to a better team today,” VanDerveer said. “We have come a long way, with Britt being out and the losses, but this team has been resilient.”
Charlie Creme has projected Oregon as a No. 2 seed and Stanford as a No. 4 seed. If the Cardinal are included in the top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament, they’ll have the opportunity to play two more games at Maples Pavilion.
“Now we will get back to the drawing board as players and coaches and be dedicated to working harder,” VanDerveer said. “This is the type of game that can be very motivating.”
The Cardinal got a team-high 17 points from junior forward Alanna Smith. McPhee, who had been battling a head cold throughout the tournament, finished with 12 points.
For all Oregon has accomplished this season — setting the program record for overall wins and conference victories and winning the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles — the biggest accomplishments are still out there.
“We are primed and ready for the next phase,” Graves said. “All the pieces are in place for us to continue this success.”
Keep that list handy.