Oregon Women Rout UConn at Home: ‘They’re Just Too Good’
STORRS, Conn. — The postgame tableau at Gampel Pavilion, of a disappointed Geno Auriemma analyzing what went wrong, was unfamiliar.
After his team’s 74-56 loss to Oregon on Monday night, Auriemma, the longtime coach of the UConn women’s basketball team, was left to analyze exactly why his team didn’t just lose on its campus court for the first time since Jan. 5, 2013, but lost by a margin never seen at Gampel, which opened in 1990.
Auriemma had a simple answer, one that is instructive when evaluating the rise of the Oregon women’s basketball program under Coach Kelly Graves.
“They’re just too good, and their big kids are too good,” Auriemma said. “We don’t have anybody at that level. We just don’t.”
This is no false modesty, and a striking admission from the coach of the 11-time national champions. But he is right: Oregon has put together a team reminiscent of the best of Auriemma’s groups.
The Ducks (20-2), ranked third in the Associated Press poll, are scoring 122 points per 100 possessions this season — a measurement of not only how many points a team scores, but how efficient they are at scoring. Oregon leads the nation by a wide margin in the statistic; Baylor is a distant second at 113.8. This would be the second consecutive season that Oregon finished atop this category — the three seasons before that, the most efficient offense belonged to UConn.
It starts with Sabrina Ionescu, a senior, whose relentless attacking of the rim and ability to find her teammates, particularly the 6-foot-4 forward Ruthy Hebard off the pick-and-roll, have made the team’s offense hard to stop. Ionescu narrowly missed recording a triple-double on Monday.
It is a rise Auriemma predicted in 2017, when Oregon, seeded 10th in the N.C.A.A. tournament, beat Temple, Duke and Maryland before losing to UConn in the round of 8 by 38 points.
“They’ve certainly made the most progress quicker, probably, than anybody else,” Auriemma said of Oregon. “And as you said, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.”
Monday’s 18-point win was the latest landmark victory for Oregon in a season that promised much after its trip to the Women’s Final Four last season and the return of Ionescu, who was expected to be the No. 1 pick in last year’s W.N.B.A. draft had she left college early. (The Liberty have the No. 1 pick this year.)
Other notable wins: Oregon beat the United States national team in an exhibition in November. In January, it won both legs of the Civil War, its home-and-home weekend against Oregon State, a title contender in its own right, for the first time in Graves’s tenure with the Ducks, which began in 2014.
And now the win at UConn, which capped a three-game Oregon road trip that also included wins at Utah, on Thursday, and Colorado, on Saturday.
“It’s an important win for the Pac-12,” Graves said. “It’s an important win for our program. We’re still up-and-coming. I see all the banners up there. I counted 11. So we don’t have any, and they’re still the standard by which everybody’s judged. And they should be.”
Ionescu, who finished with 10 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds on Monday, and Hebard, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds, have played together for four years, and it shows. But the machine Graves has built contains many weapons. Satou Sabally, a German, combines size and strength in the post with an ability to serve as secondary facilitator with the ball, along with serving as a threat from deep. Six of her teammates shoot 33 percent or better from behind the 3-point line, including Erin Boley, a 6-foot-2 transfer from Notre Dame who put up 13 early points against the Huskies as Oregon built a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter.
That quarter ended with a Sabally 3-pointer, and with Gampel’s normally noisy crowd virtually silenced. By the fourth quarter, scores of Huskies fans were already filing out when Oregon guard Minyon Moore, a graduate transfer from the University of Southern California, finished at the rim, drew a foul and high-fived her teammates on the bench.
This has been viewed as a season to knock off Connecticut (19-2), which is ranked No. 4 by The A.P., but has a thinner rotation than in previous seasons and is dealing with the departures of Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier from last year’s Final Four team. Samuelson is now a featured performer on the women’s national team, and Collier was the 2019 W.N.B.A. rookie of the year.
Monday’s win was by no means a guaranteed torch-passing moment. Ionescu and Hebard are seniors and Sabally could elect to leave early and join her teammates in the W.N.B.A. after this season. Next season, Connecticut’s recruiting class includes Paige Bueckers, who is considered the top high school player in the country. Oregon, though, has five McDonald’s all-Americans scheduled to enroll. So the rivalry between these programs may be just beginning.
“We know what Kelly’s doing up there and the way they’re building is not going to be dependent on one player,” Auriemma said. “They got really good, really fast, and they’re not going away. They’re not going anywhere.”