Memorable night at Maples: Ionescu leads No. 3 Oregon by No. 4 Stanford
STANFORD - Maples Pavilion had not seen such commotion since Stanford played on equal footing with Connecticut and Tennessee a decade ago as the elite schools of college women's basketball.
Fans almost filled the arena to its capacity of 7,233 seats Monday night for a Pac-12 showdown between fourth-ranked Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. It was enough to bring out Warriors great Stephen Curry.
Just the kind of support Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu of Walnut Creek wants for her sport.
Ionescu started Monday in Los Angeles with a deeply personal tribute to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna during a memorial attended by thousands at the Staples Center. She ended with her 26th career triple-double to lead Oregon to a 74-66 victory.
Her scoreline: 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Ionescu is the first player in NCAA history to record 2,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists after getting her 1,000th rebound with 1;14 left in the third quarter.
Stanford (24-4, 13-3) shot a miserable 30 percent from the field to fall behind 32-22 in the first half and could not mount a serious comeback against Oregon and Ionescu, who owns an NCAA record for women and men with her triple-doubles.
The pony-tailed Ionescu was given a warm Bay Area welcome during introductions after a standout career at Orinda-Miramonte High School. Then she continued to dismantle Stanford's defense - just like last month in the Ducks' 87-55 victory in Eugene, Oregon.
The Cardinal, which closed to 65-56 with 3:13 left, has lost four of its last five games against the Ducks (26-2, 15-1).
Hours earlier, Ionescu had stood before a microphone on the Los Angeles Lakers' homecourt to talk about her friendship with Bryant, who was among nine killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 in Calabasas. He was 41, his daughter 13.
Star entertainers Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera performed and NBA greats Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal were among those who spoke. Ionescu, the expected overall No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft this year, acknowledged she still sends text messages to Bryant.
Bryant, an NBA great who played his entire care in Los Angeles, became a staunch supporter of women's basketball with his teen-age daughter en route to becoming a star in her own right.
"The last one I sent him said, 'I miss you. May you rest in peace, my dear friend,'" Ionescu said. "The texts go through, but no response. It still feels like he's there, on the other end. That the next time I pick up my phone, he would have hit me back. Sometimes, I find myself still waiting."
Ionescu used the moment to urge fans to keep Bryant and women's basketball close to their hearts.
"I ask each of you, every Girl Dad, every human here with a voice, a platform and a heart, to not let his sun set," Ionescu told the audience. "Shine for us, for our sport where he once did. Invest in us with the same passion and drive and respect and love as he did his own daughter. In the end, she was a sun just starting to rise, and God did she glow. May their light forever shine."
Stanford, which has earned a first-round bye at the Pac-12 women's tournament March 5-8 in Las Vegas, is in the midst of a grueling finish to the regular season. The Cardinal will face four consecutive Top 25 schools, culminating with a trip to Arizona and Arizona State this weekend.
The defeat Monday night marked the sixth time Stanford has lost two or more conference home games in one season since the conference started in 1986-87.
Stanford has not quite reached Oregon's level this season. But the Cardinal have been hobbled by injuries to three top players. Maya Dodson, a 6-3 junior, started her second game Monday after missing all but four games so far.
Stanford is missing senior guard Dijonai Carrington and freshman Haley Jones, the national player of the year last year at Archbishop Mitty High in San Jose.
Jones had just started to break out when she suffered a knee injury Jan. 19 at Oregon State. Jones has sat on the bench with a brace supporting her right knee. VanDerveer said Jones' family asked the school not to publicly discuss the injury.
Carrington, who sits with Jones, played only five games this season because of a knee injury. She suffered two ACL tears in high school.
"Growing up, I only knew one way to play the game of basketball: fierce, with obsessive focus. I was unapologetically competitive. I wanted to be the best. I loved the work, even when it was hard, especially if it was hard. I knew I was different, that my drive was different. I grew up watching Kobe Bryant, game after game, ring after ring, living his greatness without apology.
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