A good-enough effort
Kelly Graves had mixed emotions on Friday night. His team is simultaneously in a slump and in first place in the Pac-12.
No. 8 Oregon improved to 5-0 in conference play for the first time in program history after a 62-44 victory over Arizona in front of a crowd of 3,466 at Matthew Knight Arena.
The Ducks (16-2 overall) — despite shooting a season-low 38.2 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the free-throw line against the last-place Wildcats (4-12, 0-5) — are flying alone atop the standings.
No. 18 Arizona State, the only other team without a loss in Pac-12 play entering the weekend, fell 57-54 at No. 22 Oregon State on Friday. Oregon faces the Sun Devils (13-4, 4-1) on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Graves, whose team is on an eight-game winning streak, was still frustrated after the Ducks went 12-for-36 from three-point distance as Arizona dared them to beat a zone defense.
“We couldn’t possibly shoot worse,” Graves said. “I mean seriously, 12-of-36. I don’t think we took a bad shot, a bad three all night. Those are shots we typically make. I don’t know what the deal was.”
Sabrina Ionescu sparked Oregon’s slumping offense with 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting. The sophomore guard’s fourth three-pointer of the game gave her team its largest lead, 54-34, with 7:12 remaining.
The rest of the Ducks finished a combined 13-for-41 (29.5 percent) from the field.
“I think we kind of panicked a little bit,” said Ionescu, who also had a game-high 11 rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers in 40 minutes. “We kind of veered off what we normally do — running in transition, getting easy shots that we normally make. But we’ll adjust from that, and I know we’ll play better in the next game.”
Ruthy Hebard, who was limited to 26 minutes because of early foul trouble, added 14 points and six rebounds. The sophomore forward averaged 21.5 points on 70.8 percent shooting (17-for-24) and 13.0 rebounds in two victories over Arizona last season.
“I think we all had a bad night,” Hebard said. “We’ll be ready and focused (Saturday) in practice and continue our streak of winning.”
Even Lexi Bando, the NCAA’s active leader in career three-point field-goal percentage, struggled to knock down open shots. The senior guard made two three-pointers late in the fourth quarter to get her groove back, finishing 3-for-10 behind the arc with nine points.
“She had one of those nights, and unfortunately it was coupled with a few of our other players having one of those nights,” Graves said. “Sometimes you get a little mental. You miss a couple shots and then you hesitate on the next one. Sometimes it can spiral.”
The Wildcats had one of those quarters. The visitors missed their first 12 shots in the third quarter, until JaLea Bennett completed a three-point play with 40.7 seconds left.
True freshman Aina Ayuso hit two three-pointers in the final 1:08 to individually outscore Arizona 6-5 in the quarter. Arizona was 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) from the field in the third quarter.
“She’s a really good player,” Graves said of Ayuso. “I think she’s just playing behind some other really good players, so she’s not getting those type of minutes.
“Those were two important threes. That really helped. All we needed was a little separation. It seemed so hard to finally get it.”
Oregon led 27-26 at halftime, despite making only 2-of-13 shots (15.4 percent) in the second quarter.
Maite Cazorla made a pair of three-pointers during an 8-0 run to give Oregon a 27-19 lead.
The Wildcats answered with a 7-0 run to end the half, capped with a runner off the glass at the buzzer by Sam Thomas.
“We challenged the team at halftime. Thank goodness we did defend pretty well tonight for the most part,” Graves said. “Because with a shooting night like that, whew, put us in a freezer to heat us up. That’s how bad it was.”
Bando made a corner three-pointer on the first possession of the game, but Arizona answered with a 10-0 run as the crowd murmured.
After the first media timeout, the Ducks closed the first quarter on a 14-2 run and led 19-14.
The Ducks know if their shooting slump doesn’t end on Sunday they will have to share first place.
“We’re not playing to the best of our abilities right now,” Ionescu said. “We’re working hard and we’re getting better every day in practice. We’re going to have to continue to do that. …
“If we really lock in mentally and work hard and execute, we can achieve great things.”