EUGENE, Ore. — A battle between the two highest scoring teams in the nation turned into a slugfest Tuesday night, with No. 7 Oregon landing the heaviest blows to knock off No. 4 Mississippi State, 82-74, before 8,951 fans in a raucous Matthew Knight Arena.
Both teams shot at least 50 percent but neither reached its season scoring average, which was above 90 points per game for both the Ducks and Bulldogs. The game featured technical fouls on both head coaches, and a combined 50 free throws, with the Ducks battling to the line 28 times and missing just once.
I love my team!! Thank you duck fans🐥 Time to keep building. 🙏🏼 https://t.co/nF0X2VWT1T— Sabrina Ionescu (@sabrina_i20) December 19, 2018
"I say at the beginning of every game, toughest team wins," UO head coach Kelly Graves said. "And tonight, I thought we were the tougher team."
His Mississippi State counterpart agreed. MSU coach Vic Schaefer could only tip his cap to the Ducks after watching Oregon finish with a 27-25 advantage on the boards, and frustrate 6-foot-6 Bulldogs post Teaira McCowan into a five-point night. That was more than 13 under her season average, and 30 fewer than McCowan scored in Mississippi State's win over the Ducks in its home gym last season.
"Oregon out-toughed us tonight, and that's something we pride ourselves on," Schaefer said. "But it's one thing to talk the talk, and it's another thing to walk the walk. Oregon walked the walk tonight."
The UO veterans led the way, with Maite Cazorla, Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu combining for 63 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. Cazorla set the early tone by getting to the basket three times in the first quarter despite McCowan's imposing presence, Hebard frustrated the MSU post on both ends of the floor, and Ionescu set a Pac-12 record by going a perfect 17-of-17 from the free-throw line.
The Ducks (8-1) knocked off their highest-ranked nonconference foe ever outside of NCAA Tournament play.
"We'll always have this to grow from and look back on and measure ourselves against," Ionescu said. "The way we came out mentally engaged for 40 minutes is what we have to achieve every game, because we know we have it in us."
Cazorla got the Ducks going from the outset, breaking down the defense for a layin after Oregon forced a turnover on MSU's opening possession. The first quarter was mostly played evenly, but Cazorla got to the basket again late in the period to make it 19-17, and the Ducks held the Bulldogs scoreless over the final 2:34.
Emotions began to boil over late in the second quarter. Yet another Cazorla layup put Oregon up 37-31, and Ionescu capped an 11-point period with two free throws to make it 39-33. It was 39-35 when Mississippi State forced a turnover in the backcourt and scored to get within two. Then, a shooting foul was compounded by a technical on Graves just before the halftime buzzer; the Bulldogs made 3-of-4 free throws, and led 40-39 at the break.
"We knew we had to stand our ground and be just as tough as they were," Ionescu said. "If not tougher."
The game threatened to get away from the Ducks in the third quarter, as Anriel Howard completed a three-point play for a 51-44 lead, on her way to a game-high 30 points. But the Ducks got a boost from an unlikely source, complementing the trio of Cazorla, Hebard and Ionescu with senior forward Oti Gildon and freshman guard Taylor Chavez, a combination that frustrated the Bulldogs defensively and produced on the offensive end as well.
A three-pointer by Ionescu and two buckets by Hebard got Oregon within 53-51. It was 55-51 when Chavez made an indelible mark on the game, getting to the hoop to make it a two-point game, then tying it with two free throws on the next possession. An offensive foul on Howard — one of two Bulldogs to foul out — led to a technical on Schaefer, and Ionescu hit two free throws that gave Oregon the lead for good at 57-55.
Ionescu finished just 5-of-18 from the field, but went home happy after making all 17 free throws — and coming out on the victorious side.
"I feel fine; we won," she said. "I was getting good looks and I just wasn't hitting them. So I knew I had to find other ways to score, to contribute on the offensive end."
Ionescu hit five free throws on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter, then set up Hebard for a floater in the lane over McCowan that put Oregon up 64-57. Ionescu then fought to keep an offensive rebound alive, and Cazorla scored for a 66-57 lead. Mississippi State closed within six a couple times down the stretch, but the Ducks rode the energy of their home crowd to the win.
"They don't make anything easy, ever," Graves said of Mississippi State. "I have so much respect for them. That's a great win, though, for us."
NOTES: Oregon's win snapped Mississippi State's streak of 46 straight wins in non-conference games (last was at Texas on Dec. 2, 2015)...Ionescu broke the Pac-12 record by going 17-of-17 at the free throw line...The crowd of 8,951 was the second largest women's basketball crowd ever at Matthew Knight Arena and the fifth biggest all-time for an Oregon home game...Ionescu has scored 26+ points in four of the last five games...MSU center Teaira McCowan had scored in double figures in 16 straight games before being held to just five points on Tuesday...MSU entered the game with the No. 4 ranked scoring defense in the NCAA (50.3 ppg)...MSU entered the game ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in rebounding margin (+17.7) but the Ducks outrebounded the Bulldogs, 27-25, in the win.