Defense fuels Oregon women's payback
EUGENE — There was muscle. There was memory. And there was plenty of muscle memory on display Sunday afternoon at Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon's third-ranked women's basketball team delivered a focused and intense bit of payback in beating 19th-ranked Arizona State 79-48 in front of another appreciative sellout crowd of 12,364.
The Ducks' 10th win in a row sets up their next test: an 8 p.m. Friday showdown with 10th-ranked UCLA in Los Angeles that just might decide the Pac-12 regular-season championship. Oregon is 22-2, 11-1 in conference. UCLA is 21-2, 10-2.
"That's going to be a tough one. It's another ranked team," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said with a smile after the satisfying win over ASU — a performance that featured the kind of head-spinning scoring blitzes and the signature of 3-point shooting that stretches defenses to their breaking point.
The Ducks, as we know, can outscore just about any outfit. But the bedrock of the 10-game winning streak since the unexpected 72-66 Jan. 10 loss at Tempe, Arizona, is at the other end of the floor.
The Ducks have dialed in on defense and dialed up their intensity. The result: Seven of their 10 opponents in this run have failed to reach 60 points. The most an Oregon opponent has scored in the last 10 games is 64 points.
Impressive stuff, especially since seven of those foes were ranked — four of them in the top 10.
Graves said energy and focus on the defensive end of the court is not only frustrating foes but adding fuel to Oregon's offense.
"They're paying attention in practice. We're watching more film then we did early in the year," Graves said about the defense, which switched between man-to-man and a couple of zones to keep the Sun Devils guessing. "It's February. February leads to March, and March leads to April. Our kids know that the end is coming, so we want to make sure that we're playing our best basketball and continue to improve each day, and I think we are."
It's a safe bet Arizona State would agree after scoring only two points in the first quarter, only 15 by halftime and settling for a season-low 48 in the 31-point Oregon rout.
Sunday, the Ducks beat ASU at its own game — which is to say they were up for the physical battle and made sure against the Sun Devils that coach Charli Turner Thorne's teams always bring.
On a day when the Ducks scored 30 points in the third quarter and made 13 3-pointers, the numbers that jumped from the statistics were the defensive ones: ASU finished with seven assists and 18 turnovers (and needed a relatively clean fourth quarter to be that efficient). The Ducks outrebounded the Devils 20-8 at that end of the court, limiting Arizona State to three second-chance points. And Oregon made 11 steals, the 12th time this season the Ducks have made at least 10 steals and the seventh double-digit steals game in their 10-game win streak.
On Sunday, six steals came from 5-8 Minyon Moore.
The senior transfer from USC struggled through a 1-of-9 shooting afternoon, but Graves wanted to make sure Moore's impact was appreciated after she contributed four assists and four rebounds and kept the pressure on with her speed.
"That kid comes in and changes the whole game," Graves said. "(Moore) puts so much pressure on them defensively that they just can never really get into sync."
The same can often be said for ASU's in-your-face defense. In took Oregon almost five minutes to score its first points on Sunday.
But eventually muscle memory kicked in. Sabrina Ionescu was 3 for 3 from behind the arc in the first half on her way to a game-high 19 points. Erin Boley and Jaz Shelley were a combined 8 for 10 on 3's, and Satou Sabally was 2 for 3.
Shelley was 4 for 4 from distance on her way to 14 points, and Graves noted that the 5-9 freshman from Australia joined Ionescu on Sunday for some early-morning shooting drills.
"(Shelley) was serious about this, and it paid off out there," Graves said. "She needs that confidence, and hopefully this will give her some."
The Ducks have every reason to be oozing confidence entering the stretch run. But not overconfidence. Overconfident players don't put in extra practice. Overconfident teams don't learn from getting beat, don't stew over unexpected losses.
On Sunday, the Ducks got back at Arizona State in a big way, continued a trend of throttling teams in the third quarter and playing like a team that still has plenty to prove.
As Shelley said: "It was definitely a revenge game for us. We knew that we shouldn't have lost that game (at Arizona State), so we had fire in our belly to come out here and show them how we can really play."
It's no secret the Ducks can really play. If they continue to defend at an elite level, it will take something extra special to beat them.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.