ND Women’s Basketball
Irish look to contain Oregon’s stars in Elite Eight tilt
Daniel O'Boyle | Monday, March 26, 2018
SPOKANE, Wash. — Thirty years ago, Penn State Guard Suzie McConnell recorded a record seventh triple-double of her college career.
That record was tied once, by Louella Tomlinson of St. Mary’s (CA) in 2011, but few other players got anywhere near that mark. Before the start of this season, only 26 players had even recorded three career triple-doubles.
And then Oregon’s sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu came along.
Last year, Ionescu recorded four triple-doubles, tied for the third-highest single-season mark in history and tied for 10th in a career. All as a freshman.
This year, she set a new career record with eight in just the 48th game of her collegiate career, a 94-83 victory over Washington where Ionescu had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Far from finished from making her mark in the NCAA record books, she tied the record for triple-doubles in a season during the NCAA tournament opener with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Seattle. That made Ionescu only the 16th player to record a triple-double at the tournament, joining greats including Notre Dame’s all time scoring leader Skylar Diggins, who achieved the feat against Maryland in 2012.
Averaging 7.9 assists per game this season and 10 per game in the tournament so far, Ionescu’s passing has been at the center of Oregon’s offense, which averages 82.6 points per game this season, good for seventh in the nation. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said, despite the history of great Notre Dame point guards, Ionescu’s passing ability still stands out among the best she’s seen.
“I think Sabrina is just a phenomenal player, just phenomenal,” McGraw said. “So difficult to guard. I’ve never seen a player, especially so young, already got the record for triple-doubles, but the assists is what’s so impressive to me. I’ve had some pretty good point guards, some good guards, but to look at the number of assists she has, really it’s a challenge to figure out how to defend them. She can just pick you apart. I mean, she’s just so smart and crafty with the ball. It’s fun watching her when you’re not on the other bench.”
“Sabrina just makes everybody better. She’s definitely the key to their team, what she can do.”
But Ionescu isn’t the only NCAA record-holder on Oregon’s roster. Sophomore forward Ruthy Hebard set a record of her own with 33 consecutive made field goals during the latter stages of the regular season and is second in the nation in field goal percentage this season with 66.0 percent. McGraw said the combination of Ionescu’s passing and Hebard’s finishing would be an extremely tough matchup.
“She is a really tough matchup because she’s able to score around the basket, it seems easily,” McGraw said. “She gets a lot of great shots, again I think because Sabrina finds her, puts her in a great position to score. To have that kind of record, I think that’s really phenomenal. She’s probably shattered the record. I think it’s amazing how she can score her field goal percentage. You know she’s going to score when she gets the ball. The question is, can you stop her from getting it. That’s going to be the challenge.”
However, while Ionescu and Hebard have unsurprisingly grabbed most of the attention, junior guard Arike Ogunbowale said it was going to be important to focus on stopping the entire Ducks team rather than one or two players.
“They’re a great team,” Ogunbowale said. “I mean, we watched film on them. We went through practice. We just have to be ready for anything. They can score at all different positions, so we don’t have to focus on one person, focus on everybody. It’s going to be a team defensive game.”
Senior guard Kathryn Westbeld looks set to start again for the Irish despite continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered during the first game of the tournament. Westbeld said she was continuing to improve in terms of health and game-readiness.
“I mean, it feels a little bit better each day,” Westbeld said. “The swelling goes down. Bruising kind of turns color. It’s kind of interesting to see what it looks like the next day.”