Big Three Make Naismith Starting Five


EUGENE, Ore. – Fans of Oregon women’s basketball in 2019-20 could say they got to watch the best player in the country at her position — at three different positions.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association in conjunction with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday announced the winners of this year’s “Naismith Starting 5” position awards. Of the five players each named best at her position in the nation this season, three were Ducks: point guard Sabrina Ionescu, small forward Satou Sabally and power forward Ruthy Hebard.

Ionescu received the Nancy Lieberman Award as national point guard of the year for the third time. She became just the second player to do so, following former UConn great Sue Bird, who won the award the first three times it was handed out from 2000-02.

Hebard was honored with the Katrina McClain Award as national power forward of the year for the second time, having also received it as a sophomore in 2018. Sabally was named national small forward of the year and received the Cheryl Miller Award.

“I’ve heard some folks say that we’re a one-person show,” UO coach Kelly Graves said, alluding to the national respect Ionescu has earned. “This just goes to show that, no, we weren’t. And I also think it goes to show that this was really going to be a tough team to beat.”

Led by Ionescu, Hebard and Sabally, the UO women went 31-2 in the 2019-20 season before it was cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic. The Ducks lost just once in Pac-12 play to win the regular-season conference title before adding a Pac-12 Tournament title, posting a 19-game winning streak prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament.

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That tournament ended up being canceled due to the pandemic. The national championship game would have been this past Sunday, in New Orleans.

“We were primed,” Graves said. “We had the talent. We were playing well. I just didn’t see there was going to be anything to stop us.”

Ionescu received the Nancy Lieberman Award after leading the country in assists with 9.1 per game. She was fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio with 3.05 assists per turnover — teammate Minyon Moore was second with 4.19 assists per turnover — and Ionescu was fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring with 17.5 points per game.

Hebard finished one spot behind Ionescu in the conference in scoring with 17.3 points per game. Hebard led the nation in shooting percentage by making 68.5 percent of her field-goal attempts (252-of-368) and she led the Pac-12 with 9.6 rebounds per game.

Ionescu tied for fourth in the NCAA with 20 double-doubles in 2019-20, and Hebard had 16 to tie for 16th nationally.

The third member of Oregon’s “Big Three,” Sabally averaged 16.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. She was 45-of-133 from three-point range and also averaged a career-high 2.3 assists per game.