EUGENE, OR – Top-ranked Oregon did something that few teams have done in the last two decades — beat the U.S. women's national team.
Sabrina Ionescu scored 25 of her 30 points in the second half to lead the Ducks to the stunning 93-86 victory Saturday in an exhibition game. It was only the second loss ever by the U.S. to a college program and their first defeat in any game since 2014.
"I believed that we could do it," Ionescu said. "I never thought that I'd say we beat the best players in the world, and I think if we played again the outcome might be totally different, but we're really proud of this team and our coaching staff and what we did tonight."
The Americans haven't lost a major international game since falling in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championships to Russia. The only other loss to a college program came in 1999 when Tennessee won on a shot by Kara Lawson, who was a freshman that season, with 10 seconds left. The U.S. won the next 20 college games after that loss to the Lady Vols before Saturday. The Americans did drop an exhibition game to France in 2014 and suffered a loss to the Czech Republic during a European tour in 2011.
"Learning from a situation like this is sometimes a part of life," said Nneka Ogwumike, who led the U.S. with 19 points and 14 rebounds. "But, we're on this tour for a reason and we want to play against great teams. Oregon came out and played well. I think that experiencing a loss like this is why we want to know what it will feel like going into Tokyo, knowing that we want to win, knowing that we can't let our guard down. This will help prepare us for winning another gold medal, that's what this is all about."
The Americans were playing the fourth game of their college tour that started in Stanford last Saturday. Since that win over the Cardinal, the Americans have traveled nearly 5,000 miles while playing against Oregon State, Texas A&M and now Oregon.
The college tour, which will continue in January, was the brainchild of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. The veteran U.S. players thought it could help get the Americans more training time together and also help bring more exposure to the team that's won six consecutive Olympic gold medals. There were 11,530 fans on hand for the exhibition game Saturday night and they witnessed history.
"Overall, the atmosphere was amazing," said Bird. "This is what we wanted on this college tour. It just goes to show that you're never too old to learn some lessons. This time we had to learn it the hard way, but congratulations to Oregon for playing a great game. For us, hopefully we can learn some of these lessons and take it with us as we go to Argentina."
Oregon trailed by one late in the third quarter before Ionescu's layup to end the third quarter gave the Ducks a 68-67 lead and started a 15-2 run that Satou Sabally capped with a layup with 6:26 left. Bird then hit a 3-pointer on the other end, igniting a 15-5 U.S. spurt that got the Americans to 87-84 with 1:02 left after a layup by Napheesa Collier.
But Sabally, who finished with 25 points, answered with a layup and the U.S. could get no closer.
"Congratulations to the Oregon Ducks, and not just their basketball team, but the community who came out to support this team," said U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve. "That's exactly what we hoped to see. I know how much they appreciate the national team being here.
"For the game itself, obviously there were a lot of great players who were on the court today. You felt kind of a swing when all of a sudden Sabrina (Ionescu) hit nearly a half-court shot and (Satou) Sabally hit a deep 3 and all of a sudden, the momentum swung, and we couldn't get it back from them."
The U.S. built a 35-24 lead midway through the second quarter before Oregon rallied to within four at the half. Ionescu had her only five points of the half in that stretch hitting her first basket of the game on a layup with 2:15 remaining in the second quarter. She then had a three-point play with 55 seconds remaining that got the Ducks within three.
The U.S will now head to Argentina to play in a FIBA Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament with a brief stop in Houston first.
Diana Taurasi added 17 and Sylvia Fowles had 11 for the Americans. Besides Ogwumike and Fowles, the U.S. was missing most of its post players that potentially would be on the Olympic team, including WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Tina Charles, Breanna Stewart and A'ja Wilson.
Wilson had been playing on the earlier part of the college tour before heading home to deal with the death of a family friend.