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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally star as Ducks stun the U.S. women's national team

PMG FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks got their season off to a rollicking start Saturday by upsetting Team USA at Matthew Knight Arena.EUGENE — Sue Bird wore a knowing smile as she answered questions in the interview room at Matthew Knight Arena on Saturday and recalled that it was a loss to Russia at the 2006 FIBA World Championships the sparked United States women's basketball to become an international dynasty.

"Sometimes it can help you to wake up a little bit," Bird said.

Not that many were sleeping on Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks, who enter the 2019-2020 season as the top-ranked team in college women's basketball. But the Ducks certainly announced their intentions in the biggest of ways on Saturday.

Oregon's 93-86 win over the U.S. women's national team was only the second time a college team has beaten the Team USA. Tennessee, in the midst of its dominant era under Pat Summit, won on a late basket on Nov. 7, 1999.

Ionescu returned to Oregon for her senior season after her Ducks came up just short against Baylor in last season's national semifinals. She didn't score her first point on Saturday until a driving layup 2:14 before halftime.

She had five points at halftime. That the Ducks trailed by only four seemed an accomplishment.

"I didn't think I did enough in that first half offensively. I think I was a little bit tentative," Ionescu said. "I got two quick ones at the end of that second quarter and kind of saw the game change and the floor open up and the game kind of slow down for me and my teammates."

Ionescu was relentless at the start of the second half, scoring 20 of her game-high 30 points in the third quarter. Then, with the shot clock ticking down, she dribbled through the O logo at center court and swished a 40-foot rainbow.

That shot started an 11-0 Oregon burst that ultimately was too much even for the professional players in the USA jerseys to overcome.

As good as Ionescu was, though, it was 6-4 junior Satou Sabally who drove the nail home. She followed Ionescu's howitzer from near half court with a step-back 3-pointer and another 3 from well back from the top of the key to the delight of the crowd of 11,530 at Matthew Knight Arena.

Sabally's performance — 25 points and six rebounds despite foul trouble — is one that is likely to keep opposing coaches from sleeping. The 6-4 junior has been a very good offensive player since arriving in Eugene. But she's taken a big step forward.

Cheryl Reeve, the acting Team USA coach and the coach/GM of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, said Sabally, like Ionescu, will be a WNBA star.

"Being able to shoot the ball at that range has such value. You've got the defense in your hand. You can do whatever you want," Reeve said. "If you get too close to Satou, she's going right by you, whether it's right hand or left hand. And a big thing with her too is I think she believes she belongs. She wants to take big shots."

She proved that by scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter — including eight points in the last 3 1/2 minutes when the outcome was in the balance.

Ruthy Hebard, along with Ionescu a fourth-year starter, kept the Ducks in the game early. She had 14 points and nine rebounds in the first half, when Team USA led by as many as 11 points.

The fact that the Ducks shook off that deficit might be the most encouraging sign from Saturday. In wins last week over top-10 college teams at Stanford (95-80), Oregon State (81-58) and Texas A&M 93-63, the pros on the US national team eventually broke the spirit of their college opponent.

"The difference maybe with Oregon is they never quit," Bird said. "Some of the other teams, I think eventually we wore them down a little bit, but not this (Oregon) team, so obviously that's good news for them moving forward."

Besides the play of Ionescu, Sabally and Hebard, there were plenty of encouraging signs for the Ducks. Among them:

• The quickness of Minyon Moore, the graduate transfer from USC, gives the Ducks another player who can create her own shot, get to the basket, and as a bonus be a defensive pest. She got to the foul line (for for 5) and her five fouls drawn were second only to the nine times Ionescu was fouled.

• The development of 6-6 Lydia Giomi should not be overlooked. Healthy enough to work on her game in the offseason for the first time, Giomi had four rebounds, a steal and two points and changed shots around the basket on several key possessions.

• While they didn't make any wow plays or put up big numbers, freshmen Jaz Shelley (11:34 playing time) and Holly Winterburn (13:16) clearly have the trust of coach Kelly Graves. Winterburn was on the floor for some key minutes in the fourth quarter.

• All of those players, plus sophomore Taylor Chavez, junior Morgan Yeager and freshman Lucy Cochran could see more time in the first three regular-season games. Sabally will miss the games against Northeastern, Utah State and Texas Southern will playing two games for Germany's national team.

• Oregon outrebounded Team USA 34-29 — a number almost as stunning as the final score.

" I would have thought that undoable," Graves said.

Eight of the 11 Ducks who played grabbed at least one board. Oregon turned 12 offensive rebound into 17 second-chance points.

It helped that center Sylvia Fowles played less than 16 minutes and fouled out.

• In addition to holding their own on the boards, Graves said the keys entering the game were limiting Team USA's inside opportunities and fast-break baskets. Oregon won points in the paint 44-36 and fast-break points 12-11.

• Los Angeles Sparks and former Stanford forward Nneka Ogwumike had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the United States. Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi had 17 points and five assists.

• Despite the historic nature of the win, the Ducks tried to downplay its significance in terms of their season, which officially starts Monday afternoon at home against Northeastern.

Said Graves, noting the game was a non-counting exhibition: "This doesn't make us however many points better than Oregon State or anybody else. It's 1 game. and it'll be forgotten. It's not even on our record.

• Sounds like Taurasi, who starred at UConn from 2000 to 2004, gave the Ducks a mantra for the season when she spent about an hour with the team on Friday. Her message was not to become satisfied, but to stay mad. The Ducks used "stay mad" to break huddles.

In the handshake line after the game, Taurasi had one last bit of advice, telling Graves "Don't peak too soon."

• Bird, who was often matched up with Ionescu, said the Ducks star is ready for the spotlight and the journey ahead. The NCAA (UConn), WNBA (Seattle Storm) and Olympic (four times) champion had this advice for Ionescu: "You only get to go to college once, so she should just soak it all in. WNBA, overseas, whatever shoe deal she gets — all that stuff will be waiting for her. She needs to just enjoy this ride."

Saturday sure was a good start for Sabrina and her Ducks.

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@pauldanzer


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