The No. 3 University of Oregon's Women's basketball team is ready for the final round of Pac-12 play. This weekend's Senior Day will be especially celebratory.
It's a senior class that's seen much success over the past four years with two trips to the Elite 8 and one to the Final Four. This weekend is being called "senior weekend plus one" as seniors Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard, Minyon Moore, and Junior Satou Sabally will be honored at the Ducks' final regular season home game against Washington on Sunday. Last week, Sabally declared her intention to register for the WNBA draft and since it's her last season with the Ducks, she too, will be part of Sunday's celebration.
On a 14-game winning streak, the Ducks can clinch their third straight Pac-12 regular season title with a win over Washington State on Friday night.
Senior Ruthy Hebard says it's important to close out the season with victories at home. “We want to win, continue to win it's for my other seniors, and for coach and everyone so you can leave, especially these last two home games just leave here with a bang and leave Matthew Knight in a good place," said Hebard.
Sabrina Ionescu is coming into this weekend's games fresh off an emotionally difficult day on Monday when she spoke at the memorial service for her friend and mentor Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. After addressing an audience of 20,000, including dozens of basketball legends like Michael Jordan and LeBron James at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was also streamed around the world.
Associate Head Coach Mark Campbell says the team gathered and watched the live stream of Ionescu's speech as the prepared for No.4 Stanford. Campbell said “you could have heard a pin drop. Everybody was just quiet, there wasn't a word spoken, hovered around computers, laptops, cell phones, so that was just a really special moment on arguably the biggest stage in the world on that day. She did a tremendous job and represented herself and her family, our program and the community on the highest level."
Campbell says knowing what kind of person Sabrina is, and how her work ethic permeates into everything she tackles, her heartfelt tribute was no surprise. He explained, "what that was, was just a glimpse of what we get to see over the last couple of years, put on the national stage. And so her performance and composure and what she did is no surprise to the people that are on her inner circle, and that's see how she handles her business."
Fighting through an illness, and arriving at Stanford only an hour and a half before tip-off, the superstar senior's ability to rise to the occasion was tested. On that night, she hit a major milestone, becoming the first NCAA player- men or women- to hit 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds. She also extended her own NCAA record by earning her 26th career triple double that night.
Fellow senior Hebard says playing with Ionescu has been something special. She said “it's an honor to be able to come in with Sabrina and you know, make some history with her and it's been really fun. It's great to see her get everything she gets because she deserves and it's just so nice that I can be able to share everything with her and you know have my name next to hers on a few things in the history books."
When asked what one word she would use to describe this season, she answered "maybe motivating. I think just for people on the outside and even us to just take a step back and see what we've been through as a team it's just like wow- we've been through all this, we have a target on our back, and we're still going up, so I think it's just motivating to be a part of this team, as a teammate and a coach, and as people around us watching ."
The Ducks are a perfect 13-0 at home this year- one win away from matching the program record for consecutive home wins in a season. The Ducks have packed Matthew Knight Arena this year with fans young and old flocking to see this record-setting team in action.
Hebard says that's also part of the motivation. She says "older ladies come up to me and be like, ‘we wish we had a role model when we were these little girls age’ and I think it's just really touching to be able to inspire someone no matter what the age so that hey you can do this- hey it doesn't matter what you look like or where you're from you can make impact somewhere."
And this weekend, that impact will be felt at Matthew Knight Arena. While both of this weekend's games are sold out, Ducks fans should get another opportunity to see the team and these superstar seniors in action as Oregon is predicted to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in March.
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