Oregon's Ionescu is espnW's preseason player of the year


It figures: Sabrina Ionescu picked up another triple-double before we had the chance to announce the Oregon junior guard as the espnW 2018-19 preseason women's basketball player of the year.
The Ducks opened the season Tuesday at Alaska Fairbanks, and Ionescu tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the 115-36 victory. The term "TD machine" normally refers to someone who's an expert at scoring touchdowns in football, but it also applies to Ionescu on the hardwood. She continues to build on her NCAA record for triple-doubles -- now at 11 -- as if it's a mundane thing.
Ionescu edged other top players everyone is looking forward to watching this college season, including Louisville's Asia Durr, Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale, UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier, Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan and Baylor's Kalani Brown.
Durr and Ogunbowale are sharp-shooting guards whose teams will battle for ACC supremacy, just as they did last season. Samuelson, a guard/forward, and Collier, a forward, have lost just twice in their UConn careers but are still seeking their second NCAA title.
McCowan and Brown, both 6-foot-7 and the premiere centers in the college game, look to again lead their respective teams to the SEC and Big 12 regular-season titles. Baylor won its league tournament last season, while Mississippi State will look to do that for the first time this season.
Other than Ionescu, they're all seniors and expected to be WNBA first-round draft picks next April. Because she turns 22 in the draft year, Ionescu also would be eligible to declare for the 2019 draft. She said she has made no decision on entering the draft. But the decision-making she does on court is always impressive.
"I think I've grown as an individual and a leader for the team," the 5-foot-11 junior said. "I've matured in almost every aspect of my game, mentally and physically."
UConn and Notre Dame dominate this list of women's college basketball's best, but it all starts with Oregon's triple-double machine.
Oregon can't let Sabrina Ionescu pass through the program without at least a Final Four trip. The Ducks are no longer next; they need to be now.
Notre Dame, the defending national champion, is our unanimous preseason No. 1. UConn, Oregon, Louisville and Baylor round out the top five.
The Ducks ended last season with an 84-74 Elite Eight loss to eventual national champion Notre Dame, and Irish coach Muffett McGraw was impressed by Ionescu, who had 26 points on 9-of-22 shooting with four assists.
"We really struggled to guard her," McGraw said. "She is that unique player where everybody looks better when she's on the floor. She's dangerous on a ball screen, she can read the defense, she has vision, she's intelligent.
"We changed how we guarded her probably six times in that game, and I don't think any of them were that effective. I don't think you can stop her, but it's more about how can you minimize the damage."
Ionescu averaged 19.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 7.8 APG and was a WBCA All-American. During the summer, she and Oregon teammates Erin Boley, Ruthy Hebard and Oti Gildon represented the United States at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in the Philippines, finishing fifth at 4-1.
In September, Ionescu trained with the U.S. national team prior to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup.
"Everyone is more athletic, stronger and longer, so every pass has to be crisp, or it's getting picked off," Ionescu said of what she picked up from the pros. "I was just honestly happy to be there and learn from them. Making that jump this summer was rewarding, having gone through the other stages [of USA Basketball.]"
The Ducks will be trying to defend their Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles. As much as people enjoy Oregon's offense, Ionescu thinks the Ducks' defense should be better this season.
"I feel like we're just a fun team to watch because of how fast-paced it is and how we all move the ball," she said. "I feel it's not a boring game when you're watching us.
"But I know I've personally improved, and our team has taken a huge step forward, too, on defense. Just buying into the fact that if we can stop teams better, it will be easier for us to win because our offense is usually there every night."
That's in large part because the Ducks have someone as dynamic as Ionescu leading the way.
"She can score at all three levels: She can stretch you, go off the bounce, finish at the rim," said Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, whose Bulldogs beat the visiting Ducks last season and face them on Dec. 18 in Oregon (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET).
"She's a tremendous passer. I've seen her dissect teams on the pick-and-roll. Her overall basketball IQ is so high. And I think that kid has a toughness about her. She's not just a scorer or a passer. She is an all-around basketball player. She gets it. Just plays the game that anybody who coaches or watches would want the game to be played like."