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Paul Danzer On College Hoops: Oregon parlays strong first half into victory over visiting Oregon State

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon's Ruthy Hebard (24), Sabrina Ionescu (20) and others exit the court at Matthew Knight Arena with a victory over visiting Oregon State on Friday night. The rematch is 1 p.m. Sunday at Corvallis.EUGENE — Oregon's big three played like the veterans they are on Friday at Matthew Knight Arena.

Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally combined for 57 points as fourth-ranked Oregon built a big lead and then held on down the stretch to beat seventh-ranked Oregon State 76-64 in the first of two women's basketball showcase games this weekend.

But the Beavers walked out of Matthew Knight Arena with plenty to like heading into round 2, 1 p.m. Sunday at Gill Coliseum.

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck pointed to the growth opportunity  this weekend presents for players such as freshmen Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown.

As evidence, he reached back three seasons ago, when Ionescu and Hebard were freshmen at Oregon.

"Three years ago, Civil War weekend was the weekend where they had to elevate to play against us. And they did and they took their games to a new level, especially on the defensive end of the floor," Rueck recalled. "And that created momentum for them."

The Beavers can take momentum into Sunday's rematch thanks to a rally that cut a 21-point lead to seven with just under four minutes to play.

But the Ducks cranked up their defensive intensity and kept the Beavers scoreless over the game's final 2:38, to the delight of the sellout crowd of 12,364. Oregon improved to 16-2, 6-1 in Pac-12 games. Oregon State is 16-3 and 4-3.

"It definitely wasn't good enough," Ionescu said about the Ducks' fourth quarter. "We needed to keep our foot on the gas and keep going and keep building (the lead). We didn't, but we're definitely going to learn from that and take that into the game on Sunday."

Ionescu was plenty good enough, as usual. The senior guard scored 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and hit two momentum shifting 3-pointers to finish the first and third quarters. The senior from Walnut Creek, California also became the Pac-12's all-time leader in assists on her first pass of the game, passing Oregon State's Gary Payton. Her nine assists Friday have her at 947 and counting.

Sabally, despite shooting 3 of 12 (1 of 7 on 3s), contributed 17 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and two steals.

Hebard had 17 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two assists, and helped the Ducks quiet OSU's Jones in the second half after the Beavers' post scored 17 of her 21 in the first half.

"I've seen them turn a corner," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. "We always see Sabrina (play with intensity). Sometimes the other two aren't. Tonight they were, and they have been for the last couple of weeks, which is really good to see.

"I think when those three are really dialed in there's no three better in the country as a trio. They set the tone for us."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon State's Destiny Slocum and Oregon's Ruthy Hebard dive for the ball near midcourt.One thing no one in this Oregon program has done is win at Corvallis. Sunday is the last chance for Ionescu and Hebard, who was hurt in the first half at Gill Coliseum last season, to get that accomplished.

"They're leaving quite a legacy here. I don't think they want a hole in that legacy not winning at Gill," Graves said.

Ionescu, who said she would probably watch film Friday night to begin preparing for the rematch, said Sunday is about more than just getting a win at Corvallis.

"We have to continue to get better, and we have to continue to play well on the road, and we haven't necessarily done that," she said. "We're going to have to take that next step and have to be an elite team on the road as well as at home."

Oregon got its home crowd buzzing with runs of 17-4 in the first quarter and 13-1 in the second to grab the momentum and lead by as many as 19 before going to the halftime break up 16.

In the first half, the Ducks had 12 assists on 17 baskets and zero turnovers. As a result, Oregon shot 55 percent, with Ionescu 7 for 9 in the first half for 15 points. Sabally made only 2 of her 7 shots before halftime, but hit 6 of 7 foul shots had eight rebounds, five assists and was active on defense as the Ducks did a nice job harassing the Beavers on the perimeter.

Sophomore guard Taylor Chavez hit all three of her 3-pointers for Oregon while playing 15 of the 20 first-half minutes after replacing Minyon Moore four minutes into the game.

Jones made 8 of 9 first-half shots for 17 of OSU's 29 points, missing at the halftime buzzer on her only attempt that wasn't a layup. Her teammates were a combined 5 for 19 in the first two quarters.

The Beavers improved their defense in the second half, when Oregon shot 34 percent and managed only 31 points. But Oregon State couldn't hit enough shots to erase the lead the Ducks had built with their 45-point first half, an output that thrilled the loud Ducks supporters among the sellout crowd of 12,364.

Oregon finished with a 22-9 advantage in points off turnovers, which Rueck said helps fuel the Ducks at home. The Ducks also had an 18-8 edge in second-chance points and limited the Beavers to nine offensive rebounds, normally one of their strengths.

"We did a lot of things well tonight. Just not quite well enough to get a win here," Rueck said.

Oregon's Graves called it "a really good, well-played basketball game by two really good teams. That's a good thing. I don't think either team is happy completely, but we should both be happy in that i think both of us played well."

Playing two days apart might not be ideal for the players. But it's great for the rivalry.

"The element of coming back two days later, I think that's great. It's kind of like the NBA playoffs, the WNBA playoffs. I think that's kind of cool. There's more of a chess match," Graves said.

"For the student athlete's bodies, I think it's better with a (week between games). For excitement and attention, I think it's great back to back."

Even in defeat, Rueck celebrated the opportunity for his players to play in a full arena.

"We've played in a lot of empty gyms over the years," Rueck said. "This weekend, for someone that's from this state to look out and see their team supported by Oregonians and our team being supported in this state in the same crazy way that we are — it brings a lot of pride it puts a smile on my face.

"I'm just happy for our athletes that they get to compete in an environment that is so unique."

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@pauldanzerPMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter.

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