Michelle Smith Feature: Ionescu's record play gives Oregon's offense a boost
With eight, count them, eight, triple-doubles on her college basketball resume just a year and a half into her already record-setting career, Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu is ready for what comes next.
Attention? Awards? Expectations? Nope. Ionescu is ready for more winning.
“This kid is ready for every game, every practice,” said Ducks coach Kelly Graves, who won his 500th career game on the same day that Ionescu notched the eighth triple-double of her young career, making her the NCAA all-time leader. “I never have to worry about that. And our team is going to be ready, because she is. And that’s what sets her apart.”
Graves feels like he’s said this next part a million times.
“She doesn’t jump the highest, she doesn’t run the fastest. But she competes hard, she’s smart and she’s ahead of every play,” Graves said.
For her part, Ionescu just wants her team to keep adding to what they’ve done already. No. 9-ranked Oregon heads into a huge road trip to Los Angeles for games against USC (Friday) and a showdown with No. 14 UCLA, the team picked in the preseason to win the Pac-12 title, on Sunday. Oregon is 13-2 overall, the only Pac-12 team ranked in the top 10 and, after a sweep of the Washington schools at home, the Ducks are 2-0 to open conference play for the first time since 2009-10.
“We have lots of room to grow, but we are on the right track,” Ionescu said. “We have a good amount of momentum right now, we started off better. We are definitely better than we were last year.”
Ionescu’s spectacular play is a large reason why. All eight of her triple-doubles have come in Oregon wins. The Walnut Creek, California native is leading the Pac-12 in scoring and assists this week at 18.9 points and 8.1 assists per game. Her assists-per-game average ranks third nationally. Her play has vaulted Oregon to one of the nation’s most productive offenses. The Ducks rank No. 4 in scoring (89.2 ppg), No. 4 in shooting (50.7 percent) and No. 4 in 3-point shooting (40.8 percent).
Ionescu, who has been named the Pac-12 Player of the Week five times already this season, sets the tone for a team that is looking to build on last year’s NCAA Elite Eight finish.
“I hate losing,” Ionescu said. “Once I step on the court, it’s game time and I’m ready to go and win.”
Graves said Ionescu is a “basketball junkie”. He believes that makes her a better player.
“I love talking basketball with her. I end up asking her as many questions as she asks me,” Graves said. “She scours the internet and social media. She is up-to-date on everything and not much gets past her. To have a player that is that into it, as a coach, you have to love that.”
Which does Ionescu love more, competing or the game itself? It’s a tough choice.
“I definitely love to compete, but I also love the game,” Ionescu said. “If there’s a game on, I’m always watching. I watch the NBA, I watch our men’s games here. It all comes with learning and growing.
“I grew up with the game. Seeing the court and being able to get people the ball is not something that’s hard for me,” Ionescu said.
Clearly, she’s ready for just about anything.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.