- Associated Press - Saturday, March 30, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon has been looking forward to this since falling in the Elite Eight last season.

The second-seeded Ducks (32-4) are back for the third straight year in the regional finals, where they lost to Notre Dame last year.

“This is what we work for, this is what we dream of and now it’s time to make our dreams a reality,” guard Sabrina Ionescu said. “We are going to come out Sunday dialed in, ready to go, and not let this opportunity slip away because it is a great one.”


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Ruthy Hebard had 24 points and 14 rebounds, while Ionescu added 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the Ducks’ 63-53 victory over No. 6 South Dakota State in the Sweet 16 on Friday night.

Oregon was spurred on by a big contingent of yellow- and green-clad fans, with attendance at the Moda Center announced at 11,324. Much the same is expected for Sunday when Oregon plays top-seeded Mississippi State (33-2), which beat Arizona State 76-53 in the earlier game.



Macy Miller had 21 points for South Dakota State (28-7), which had advanced to the round of 16 for the first time in school history. The loss snapped an 18-game winning streak for the Jackrabbits.

“It’s a tough one tonight but that doesn’t take anything away from the phenomenal and special season that this team had this year, and to make it to the Sweet 16 and make history like that is something that none of us are ever going to forget,” said senior guard Madison Guebert.

Satou Sabally finished with 14 points and the Ducks led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter.

“We finished it like champions and that’s what we want to be,” Sabally said.

Last season Oregon also was among the final eight but fell 84-74 to top-seeded Notre Dame in the Spokane Regional. The Fighting Irish went on to win the NCAA title.

Ionescu, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, was averaging 19.7 points, 8.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds going into the game. The junior guard had her 18th career triple-double, an ongoing NCAA record, in the Ducks’ 91-68 second-round victory Sunday over Indiana, finishing with 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Oregon easily dispatched No. 15 seed Portland State 78-40 in its first-round game.

SDSU was making its ninth tournament appearance in the past 11 years. To reach the Sweet 16 the Jackrabbits beat 11th seed Quinnipiac 76-65 then upset No. 3 Syracuse 75-64.

Both teams ranked among the nation’s best offenses. Oregon went into the game averaging 86 points (third), while the Jackrabbits were averaging 80 (12th). The Ducks were shooting 51 percent shooting from the floor, with SDSU at 48.

While defense seemed to be the theme for both sides, Oregon’s trio of Ionescu, Hebard and Sabally still proved too much for the Jackrabbits.

South Dakota State took an early 12-8 lead on Guebert’s 3-pointer. But the Ducks came back to tie it at 12 on the first of Ionescu’s four consecutive jumpers.

The fourth gave the Ducks an 18-12 lead at the end of the opening quarter. Sabally’s 3-pointer pushed Oregon’s lead to 29-19 and she had 11 points to lead all players at the break. Oregon led 31-22.

Hebard had 17 points and 12 rebounds by the end of the third quarter for her 14th double-double of the season.

BIG PICTURE

South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits hosted the Ducks earlier this season on Dec. 12. Oregon won 87-79. … No other Summit League team has reached the round of 16.

Oregon: Reserve guard Taylor Chavez was a game-time decision after missing the last seven games with a foot injury. While she warmed up with the team, she did not play.

FAMILIAR FOES

Oregon has faced all three of the teams at the Portland Regional this season. In addition to the Ducks’ visit to Brookings in December, they beat Mississippi State 82-74 in Las Vegas, before twice defeating Pac-12 foe Arizona State (77-71 at home on Jan. 18, and 66-59 on March 3 in Tempe) during the conference season.

INSTAGRAM FEEDBACK

Ionescu took some social media bashing after her latest triple-double, so she commented on Instagram: “Comment section doesn’t phase me. They’re talking about cooking?! Well I’ve been serving triple doubles lately.”

She was asked about it following Friday night’s game.

“I mean, I was just trying to advocate for what I believe in, what I think all women should believe in. Now I’m starting to see it more on Twitter. People are kind of starting to post about it. It was nice to see some former Oregon players, some former NBA, WNBA players responding to that post and appreciating it,” she said.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/WomensNCAATournament and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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