When four-time All-American Sabrina Ionescu set her eyes on Wednesday night’s national championship game and the floor in front of her at the Alamodome, what on earth did she think would happen? She could win a national championship. She could lead her team to the championship. She was going to win a national championship. That is the way it was supposed to go.
But, alas, she would not.
It was left up to Raisa Neely to knock out Connecticut on a few shots.
So, instead of being crowned champion, the Oregon Ducks were left laughing into their hearts as they watched as their national championship dreams went out the window.
By halftime, the Ducks, who rallied from a number of huge deficits against Baylor in the semifinals, had looked as if they may be on a collision course with a buzzer-beating shot. They led Connecticut 53-49 with about a minute left. A three-pointer by Ionescu trimmed the lead to 51-51 with 19 seconds left. Ionescu was fouled after a 3-pointer.
Her free throw missed, but the shot clock was running out, forcing Payton Pritchard to send the ball down the court and hopefully make a pass to Ionescu with a chance to win the game.
She did not get it. But it was a good pass.
Ionescu’s cold-blooded look when she was beaten for the steal by Napheesa Collier—which led to the UConn center rolling the ball over for the winning layup—is well-documented. It should not have surprised her. She had reached that point of frustration the previous game when Baylor pulled out a single-point victory.
On Wednesday night, like she did all night, Ionescu put up numbers that will have her being dubbed one of the greatest women’s college basketball players of all time. She finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. But she had no answers for Naismith Award winner Collier—a freshman, who had 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists—one of the three Huskies to reach the final.
So, Ionescu returned to her cell phone to text her parents. She texted them that she would love them to meet her in Omaha, Neb., where they would be heading for the final game of her career, the first time the schools will meet for the title.
Then it was off to a local high school to eat an entire cheeseburger in front of them. It might have been a bit much.
That was the plan. But the game continued with the same urgency. It went back and forth. Nothing really went the Ducks’ way for a spell.
Finally, the Ducks found a way out in the final 30 seconds. But the UConn game plan was on. The Huskies had 22 points in the paint (as did the Ducks in their final four games) and when there was a single rebound or timeout, they were in.
In the final minute, Ionescu made a shot and the Ducks got the offensive rebound. The Huskies managed to get off a shot, too, but it was blocked, and that was the end of it.
But, like the Ducks, UConn managed to come out on top. Collier scored two key free throws on a drive to the basket and the Huskies ran out to a 67-61 victory and the national championship trophy.
If this was to be Ionescu’s moment, she will have to shoulder some of the blame, because she was getting progressively better.
In fact, that was the exact point Oregon coach Kelly Graves spoke of on CBS when he mentioned that Ionescu was finally learning the great example that it takes to play at this level.
“What we saw today is where she’s at,” Graves said. “She’s got to go through these experiences to get better.”