PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Veteran Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne weighed in with her prediction for Sunday's Elite Eight game between second-seeded Oregon and No. 1 Mississippi State — and she gave the Ducks the advantage.
Turner Thorne offered her take following the Sun Devils' 76-53 loss to Mississippi State in the Sweet 16 of the women's NCAA Tournament. She had already seen the Ducks twice this season as a Pac-12 Conference foe — both losses.
"I'd give the edge to Oregon. They're both great rebounding teams. Oregon has the best backcourt in the country, in my opinion. They're going to take care of the ball. They're going to get their shooters the shots that they need," she said.
But Turner Thorne also offered apologies to Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer.
"Sorry, Vic," she said, adding with a smile: "Back the Pac."
Back in December, Oregon handed Mississippi State one of its two losses this season, ending the Bulldogs' streak of 46 consecutive regular-season nonconference wins. The backcourt of Sabrina Ionescu and senior Maite Cazorla was a big reason why, and they'll need to come through again for Oregon (32-4) to make its first Final Four.
Ionescu is Oregon's leading scorer, averaging an eye-popping 19.6 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game. She has 18 career triple-doubles, an NCAA record among men and women, including eight this season and one in Oregon's second-round victory over Indiana.
In Saturday's 63-53 victory over South Dakota State in the Sweet 16, the Pac-12's Player of the Year had 17 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
The Ducks are playing in the Elite Eight for the third straight season.
"Ultimately we are trying to win this game, and we are trying to get further than we have these last couple years, at least with this core group. I think that's what's going to separate us as a more mature and veteran group. I think we want to get better, we want to do more than we have in the past," Ionescu said.
Mississippi State (33-2) went to the NCAA title game in each of the last two seasons, falling to champions South Carolina in 2017 and Notre Dame last year.
Teaira McCowan is Mississippi State's main weapon. The 6-foot-7 senior center is averaging 18.3 points and 13.5 rebounds.
Schaefer said McCowan has played at a different level since the Bulldogs' other loss, on Feb. 14 against Missouri. It was then, he said, that she developed an understanding of her role, knowing she's got to remain focused despite facing physical opponents who are keyed in on her.
"Not many seniors in the middle of their senior year humble themselves and go, 'You know what, I've got to change.' She has. So you got to give that kid credit," Schaefer said.
Oregon will hand Ruthy Hebard the task of guarding McCowan.
"I'm going to have to try again to get low, be strong, physical, depend on my teammates a lot. Hopefully that works out tomorrow. I know we're going to give it our all," Hebard said.
THE LAST MEETING
Ionescu scored 29 points, including all 17 of her free throws, when the Ducks downed the Bulldogs 82-74 in Eugene on Dec. 18.
Anriel Howard led Mississippi State with a career-high 30 points. Oregon held McCowan to five points, but she had 11 rebounds.
It was the first matchup between two women's teams in the top 10 at Matthew Knight Arena. Oregon was ranked No. 7 at the time, while the Bulldogs were No. 4.
Ionescu said the Ducks are looking forward to a reunion.
"I think it's going to show how much we've grown from the last time we played them and what we need to work on," she said. "There are pros and cons to playing a team for the second time. But I think we're so used to that with the Pac-12, we'll be able to grow on our weaknesses."
The winner of Sunday's game will head to Tampa to face the winner of the Monday's game between top overall seed Baylor and Iowa in the Greensboro Regional.
Baylor (34-1) reached the Elite Eight for the fifth time in six years with a 93-68 victory over South Carolina on Saturday, while Iowa (29-6) advanced with a 79-61 win over North Carolina State for the Hawkeyes' first Elite Eight berth since 1993.