The great escape

February 20, 2018 GMT

Lexi Bando and Justine Hall took a bow for the raucous crowd of 7,098.

But this special senior night wasn’t a goodbye. The Ducks expect to be back in front of their home crowd for an encore performance in March during the women’s NCAA Tournament.

In a game that lived up to its top-10 billing, No. 8 Oregon outlasted No. 10 UCLA 101-94 in overtime on Monday night at Matthew Knight Arena.

The Ducks (25-4, 14-2) remain in first place in the Pac-12 and can win an outright conference title by beating Arizona State and Arizona on the road to close out the regular season.

“I’m pretty emotional right now,” coach Kelly Graves said after watching his team squander a 19-point lead in the second half before recovering and to deliver a monumental win before the postgame ceremony honoring Bando and Hall.

“That was an amazing game, national TV audience. You saw two teams worthy of their rankings, two of the best teams in the country who went toe to toe.”

True freshman forward Satou Sabally scored 25 points and junior guard Maite Cazorla had 24 points on a combined 17-for-27 shooting to lead Oregon’s offensive onslaught.

Sabrina Ionescu played the role of closer, forcing overtime with a free throw with 25.3 seconds left in regulation and then scoring seven of her 23 points in overtime. The sophomore guard also finished with 12 assists, one steal and no turnovers in 42 minutes against UCLA’s pressure defense.

“They have seniors and a lot of upperclassmen that don’t want to lose,” Ionescu said of the Bruins, who had 26 points apiece from Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. “So we knew they were going to come back and punch us, and we had to punch back and take it.”

After two free throws by Canada tied the score 94-94, Sabally hit a clutch fadeaway shot while falling down, and Ionescu made a jumper to give the Ducks a four-point cushion with 24.2 seconds left in the extra session.

Sabally was 7-for-9 on three-pointers and also had two assists, two steals and a block in 40 minutes.

“Satou was making shots tonight, that makes a huge difference,” Graves said of the 6-foot-4 froward from Germany. “For a freshman in this kind of an environment, she just showed what she’s capable of doing. She had a great game.”

The Bruins cut the 19-point deficit to four points early in the fourth quarter before a tough bank shot by Ionescu and Sabally’s seventh three-pointer gave Oregon an 85-76 cushion.

A 9-0 spurt by UCLA, which included a long three-pointer by Canada as the shot clock was expiring, tied the score 85-85 with 4:13 left.

Cazorla went down with an injury under the Oregon basket after missing a layup. The officials did not stop play, and UCLA guard Japreece Dean made a three-pointer on the other end to give the visitors a 90-87 lead with 2:18 remaining.

“We just kind of grinded and hung on, really. That’s the honest truth, we hung on,” Graves said. “It was very similar to our Stanford game where I thought we lost some focus, we lost our intensity. And let’s face it, Jordin Canada and Billings, that’s an amazingly talented team.”

Ionescu was fouled and appeared to be headed to the line to complete a three-point play, but the officials waved off the basket. She missed her first free throw and made the second to tie the score 90-90.

Lajahna Drummer missed a layup as time expired in regulation.

“Especially after missing that free throw, I wasn’t going to let our team down and our seniors down,” Ionescu said. “I should have made it. I think it tested us. We had to come back that last five minutes and fight adversity and stay composed. I think we answered that test well. ...

“We’ve got to finish teams off in regulation.”

Oregon was coming off an 80-74 double-overtime win over USC on Friday. The Ducks are one game ahead of No. 16 Stanford (19-9, 13-3) with two games left.

UCLA lost 67-64 in overtime at No. 12 Oregon State. The Bruins (21-6, 12-4) and Beavers (21-6, 12-4) are tied for third place in the standings.

“This is a real sweet victory,” Graves said. “Arguably the biggest game in Oregon women’s basketball history. I mean, with a national TV audience and we had a lot to play for with potential NCAA seeding and a Pac-12 championship and two elite teams.”

Sabally’s sixth three-pointer gave Oregon its largest lead, 68-49, with 7:24 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bruins answered with a 20-6 run, capped with a three-point play by Canada, to cut the deficit to 74-69. UCLA scored 30 points in the third quarter on 61.9 percent shooting.

“UCLA had a lot of opportunities to quit. That’s just not who they are,” Graves said. “You’re talking about warriors on that team.”

Ruthy Hebard received one of the loudest cheers of the night after missing her first shot in 10 days. The sophomore forward extended her NCAA record of consecutive made field goals to 33 — a streak that spanned four games, 11 quarters and two overtimes — before having an attempt late in the second quarter rim out.

With 42 seconds left in the first half, Hebard made her next shot to give Oregon a 56-39 lead.

“It was a great streak, it’s always fun to make your shots,” said Hebard, who finished 7-for-11 from the field with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “I’m really happy I could make that record and I’ll start over now.”

The Ducks led 57-41 at halftime after shooting 71.4 percent (20-for-28) from the field, including 69.2 percent (9-for-13) on three-pointers. Cazorla had 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting (4-for-5 on three-pointers) and Sabally added 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting (4-for-4 on three-pointers) before the break.

After having her pocket picked for an easy layup by Canada, Cazorla responded by scoring on two strong drives and then splashing her fourth three-pointer to give Oregon a 45-32 lead.

“I thought Maite was huge tonight. That’s not easy going against those guards,” Graves said of Cazorla, who was able to come back into the game after getting shaken up. “Guess what, she gets guarded 94 feet every possession. It tires you out, it wears you out. She showed great resilience.”

Hebard made her first three field-goal attempts to make the score 23-11. After a three-pointer by Ionescu and a layup by Mallory McGwire in the final 35 seconds, Oregon led 31-21 at the end of the first quarter. The Ducks shot 75 percent (12-for-16) in the first 10 minutes.

Oregon finished the game 55.6 from the field, 52 percent on three-pointers and 81.8 percent at the free-throw line.

Bando, the NCAA’s active career leader in three-point field-goal percentage, was 0-for-3 and finished with one point. Hall did not take a shot in five minutes of action.

The Ducks’ only two seniors should get a chance to take the stage at Matthew Knight Arena again. The top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament bracket get to host first- and second-round games.

“The good news is the season is not over,” Bando told the crowd, “and we still have a lot more games to play.”