Portland, Ore. — Off to Oregon’s first appearance in the Final Four, guard Sabrina Ionescu set the theme for the second-seeded Ducks.
“All I gotta say is we’re not done yet,” Ionescu said after she had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in Oregon’s 88-84 victory Sunday over top-seeded Mississippi State.
Satou Sabally had 22 points and seven rebounds for the Ducks (33-4), who head to Tampa, Florida, to face the winner of Monday’s game between top overall seed Baylor and Iowa.
At the final buzzer, Ionescu jumped into teammate Ruthy Hebard’s arms and coach Kelly Graves flashed an “O’’ with his hands to the crowd. The Ducks had been eliminated in the Elite Eight the past two seasons.
As Ionescu cut down a piece of the net, fans at the Moda Center chanted “One more year!” at the junior guard, who has been dogged by rumors she might skip her final year to go pro.
Teaira McCowan had 19 points and 15 rebounds in her final game for the Bulldogs (33-3), who had played in the NCAA title game for the past two seasons. Two of Mississippi State’s losses this season were to Oregon, and the first one was a true road game in Eugene.
It certainly had the feeling of an away game for Mississippi State, even though the Bulldogs wore their home whites. Attendance at the Moda Center was announced at 11,534, with the vast majority cheering on the Ducks — a tough draw for a top seed.
“For us, man, I just can’t be prouder of my team today. You talk about competitive, tough. I just thought my team just fought tooth and nail today in a really hostile environment,” Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said.
Ionescu’s jumper put Oregon up 78-73 with just under three minutes left. After McCowan made a pair of free throws, Ionescu added a 3-pointer that put the crowd on its feet and essentially put it away for the Ducks.
Bre’Amber Scott’s layup with 54 seconds left pulled the Bulldogs within 81-77, but Maite Cazorla answered with a 3-pointer for the Ducks. Jazzmun Holmes’ jumper cut the margin to five points with 26.4 seconds to go, but Mississippi State could not catch up.
Oregon beat Mississippi State in December, ending the Bulldogs’ streak of 46 straight regular-season nonconference wins.
No. 2 UConn 80, No. 1 Louisville 73: Katie Lou Samuelson scored 29 and put UConn on her injured back and shot the Huskies into a record 12th straight Final Four.
“She made some shots today that only really special players make at this particular time,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “This is when players separate themselves in these games.”
The Huskies (35-2) have won six national championships and had a 111-game winning streak during their remarkable Final Four run. They will be looking to try and reach the title game for the first time in three years after they have lost on last-second shots in the past two national semifinals.
“I don’t think it’s supposed to happen,” Auriemma said of the incredible run. “Not in today’s world the way things change and teams keep getting better and better. It’s not normal. It’s something that’s hard to describe because even if you’re writing a book and making it up, people would say it doesn’t happen in real life.
“It has happened in real life, I’m still boggled, my mind doesn’t get how it can happen this many years in a row with a different cast of characters that change so often. No it’s not normal, it’s not normal.”
Samuelson hit seven of the team’s 14 3-pointers, including many big shots in the fourth quarter.
“I wanted to keep my career going,” she said.
“I had to step up. They were really making it hard for us, so I had to do what I could.”
UConn needed every one of them as the team nearly blew an 11-point lead in the final 1:47.
Louisville scored 10 of 11 points to cut its deficit to 75-73 with 26.6 seconds left. Samuelson then hit two free throws to make it a two-possession game.
Asia Durr was fouled a few seconds later, but the Cardinals’ senior leader missed both free throws.
Napheesa Collier was fouled after the Cardinals’ missed a chance on an offensive rebound. She stepped up and sank both free throws on the other end to make it 79-73.
As the buzzer sounded, the Huskies all mobbed Samuelson at the foul line celebrating another trip to the Final Four.
UConn 80, Louisville 73
Oregon 88, Mississippi State 84
Baylor vs. Iowa, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Notre Dame vs. Stanford, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
At Tampa, Fla.
UConn vs. Notre Dame-Stanford winner, 7 or 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Oregon winner vs. Baylor-Iowa winner, 7 or 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Final, 6 p.m. (ESPN)