Thoughts on Oregon’s win over the U.S. national team

With the conclusion of USA Basketball’s four-game fall exhibition tour, let’s empty the notebook on Oregon’s 93-86 win over the U.S. national team, starting with the performances of the Ducks’ Big Three.

Sabrina Ionescu (30 points, 10-20 FG, 3-10 3PT, 7-7 FT, four rebounds, seven assists, one turnover in 36 minutes)

Ionescu scored 20 points in the third quarter as the Ducks took a one-point lead into the final stanza. But first, let’s jump back to the second quarter where we were reminded of one of her biggest strengths that often goes unsaid. 

Oregon’s floor general can get that 3-pointer up in a hurry off the bounce, even staring across from somebody like Napheesa Collier—a 6’1” forward with a plus wingspan that was an impactful defender at the 3 and the 4 spots this past season for the Minnesota Lynx.  

Ionescu forces teams to worry about her off-the-dribble shooting from deep and inside the arc. That feeds directly into her pick and roll playmaking. Given too much of a cushion coming off a screen, she’ll pull up from anywhere. Forcing a center closer to the level of the screen. 

Moments earlier, she used a heady pass fake to set up a bullet to Ruthy Hebard in some roll/replace action.

Nneka Ogwumike probably would have been able to deflect a pass directly over the top. Ionescu’s timing was pristine finding Hebard with Collier stuck between two players before Ogwumike had retreated. Ionescu also found Hebard in the third out of Oregon’s ‘Pistol’ action as a weakside exchange occupied the two defenders on the other side of the floor.

The off-the-bounce triple resurfaced in the third as Team USA switched a late-clock pick and pop with Erin Boley. Ionescu drilled one a good five feet behind the FIBA line over Collier.

Moments later, Ionescu scored over Collier again after the U.S. switched a Boley pick and pop, this time with a hard straight-line drive. 

That was the second paint bucket in a row for Ionescu after rejecting a Hebard screen and using her body to shield Ogwumike off: 

As a closer, here’s one for the Liberty fans. Go ahead and picture Tina Charles in Hebard’s place receiving an entry pass and looking for Ionescu coming off that screen to take advantage of a guard digging down into the post.

Satou Sabally (25 points, 10-18 FG, 3-7 3PT, 2-2 FT, six rebounds, one assist, two turnovers in 29 minutes)

Shooting off the bounce also happens to be a foundational skill for Sabally. She’ll stick the open triple if you duck under or get mixed up on a handoff or pull up near the foul line when your center hangs back.

She took a step forward as a sophomore solidifying her place as a second crunch-time option to create something from the perimeter for the Ducks. Seeing her comfortably drill a stepback triple like this over Ogwumike was a nice tease for the additional growth we expect to see this season.

Look for the floater to become an even bigger weapon. She’s already proven to be comfortable shooting it with either hand, and it can be a powerful weapon when the direct path to the front of the rim is already walled off.

Nearly 61 percent of Sabally’s offense as a freshman was derived from spot-ups or transition according to Synergy Sports. That mark dropped to 47 last season as she got more chances in pick and roll and isolation.

She’s always been a sharp passer. This will be the season to expect that to be reflected to a greater extent in her assist totals. Her most notable dish in the exhibition: Using her size to loop a pass for Hebard right over Taurasi the moment Ogwumike stepped up to meet her in the lane.

Oregon head coach Kelly Graves has mentioned her post-up game as an area for improvement. The 6’4” junior did convert one look quickly after Ogwumike scrammed Sue Bird out of the mismatch. 

Chances to muscle up smaller guards may arrive more frequently from the perimeter, where she can dribble into a backdown if a shot doesn’t materialize on her first move. That initial attack was all she needed on two occasions in the first quarter.

Ruthy Hebard (18 points, 9-14 FG, 11 rebounds, zero turnovers in 29 minutes)

Hebard has been an exceptional pick and roll partner for Ionescu. It’s entirely possible that the personnel and spacing surrounding her at the next level won’t be as complementary as Oregon’s. 

The floater has been an exciting addition Hebard began sprinkling into her game. It could become an even more powerful weapon in the WNBA where she’s sure to see more size waiting for her at the rim. Hitting this shot consistently when the help is already in position at the rim will really put defenses in a bind:

Quick dribble drives can also unlock more for Hebard in the future. She caught Fowles leaning and pulled the plug on a dribble handoff to cruise in for a layup in the first quarter.

Plays like that are very translatable. Initiating a handoff with a lights-out shooter can generate more opportunities rolling to the rim or attacking hard with one or two dribbles whenever her defender cheats over to meet that shooter on the other side. 

Giomi making plays in the fourth 

Team USA really started playing trailing by 10 with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Chelsea Gray, Nneka Ogwumike and Sylvia Fowles on the floor coming out of a timeout. 

Any kind of spurt with that much time on the clock probably would be enough for them to climb back in and hold on for a win. 

But Fowles missed two bunnies and backup center Lydia Giomi made two of the biggest plays of the fourth quarter. She opened the period with a putback and forced a turnover in that pivotal stretch simply having her hands up as Taurasi looked to feed Ogwumike rolling to the rim. 

Oregon’s three ticket-selling players showed up, ensuring Team USA would be tested. Plays like that from Giomi could probably headline their next film session and can’t be overlooked in how much of a confidence boost it can be heading into the season. 

The Ducks have already lost Nyara Sabally (knee) to injury for a second consecutive season. 2018 top-10 recruit Sedona Prince may not suit up this season, either, unless the NCAA grants her a waiver after transferring from Texas after the 2018-19 season. 

College teams were going to be extremely motivated to give the Ducks their best effort regardless of the outcome in this exhibition. Giomi building on those moments to solidify those minutes behind Hebard could be the key for Oregon to sustain the level of play they expect from start to finish.

Coming later this month: Breakdowns of the U.S. national team’s exhibitions against Texas A&M, Oregon State and Stanford.

Graphic by Akshay Ram

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