The Final Four will have a first-time guest this year in Tampa, Florida.
Behind an unreal performance from Sabrina Ionescu, the Oregon Ducks punched their first ticket to the Final Four with an 88-84 win over Mississippi State in Portland, Oregon.
The Bulldogs, coached by Vic Schaefer, had been the NCAA tournament runner-ups in each of the past two seasons. It’ll be the first time Mississippi State has missed the Final Four since 2016.
Five Bulldogs scored in double-digits on Sunday, but it simply wasn’t enough to hold off the second-seeded Ducks.
Epic showing from Ionescu
A 5-foot-11 guard, Ionescu is a junior for the Ducks and is already they all-time leader in triple-doubles — among men and women — in NCAA history. She’s twice been named Pac-12 Player of the Year, and last season took home the Nancy Lieberman award, given to the nation’s top point guard.
But missing from her resume was a Final Four trip. She has that now.
Ionescu wouldn’t let her Ducks fall on Sunday, coming up with a big-time play whenever they needed a boost.
The game was tied to start the fourth quarter, and Ionescu came out and connected on a lay-up, then assisted on a three-pointer to give the Ducks a five-point lead. In the final four minutes and 10 seconds of the game, she scored nine points and dished out an assist.
Ionescu finished the game with 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a steal.
Three other Oregon players scored in double-digits. Satou Sabally tallied 22 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
This game felt like one that should’ve been played in the Final Four instead of the Elite Eight. Both teams threw their best punches, bounced back when they were down and put up some of their best performances.
Both Oregon and Mississippi State shot better than 50 percent from three-point range, better than 73 percent from the charity stripe and had less than nine turnovers. Oregon held the rebounding edge by just one, and each side scored 30 points in the paint.
No team ever led by more than seven points, and Oregon had the biggest run, scoring nine straight at one point.
The difference may have been shooting from the floor, as Oregon shot six percent better. The Bulldogs also missed five free throws compared to Oregon's three misses.
This was Oregon’s 15th time in the NCAA tournament, but their third straight season making the Elite Eight. This time around, they finally broke through in Kelly Graves’ fifth season at the helm.
Waiting for the Ducks in Tampa will be the winner of Iowa and Baylor, which face-off Monday night in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.