COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Late in No. 10 Oregon’s rout of No. 19 Texas A&M, Ducks forward Ruthy Hebard never slowed enough to consider keeping her perfect shooting night intact.
“I was just playing and having fun,” Hebard said with a grin and a shrug.
That was evident, considering Hebard scored a season-high 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting in the 83-68 victory Thursday night in the semifinals of the preseason WNIT.
“We’ve come to expect that from her,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said about Hebard working hard in the low post. “She’s a great finisher.”
Down six at the half, the Ducks (3-0) scored the first seven points of the third quarter to grab a 35-34 lead. After A&M (2-1) briefly led once more, Oregon, which will play at Louisville on Sunday in the preseason WNIT final, began running away late in the period.
The Aggies unraveled before the home crowd in the third quarter primarily because of Oregon’s precision passing and clutch shooting, the latter in particular by the sophomore Hebard, who only missed from the free throw line (4 of 7).
“We had the momentum to start the second half,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “But you cannot win at this level unless you have an inside game. Tonight we had no inside game.”
Oregon senior guard Lexi Bando, one of the nation’s top long-distance shooters, was 3 of 6 from the 3-point line, in particularly stinging the Aggies from the left corner in the decisive second half. Bando’s career 46 percent shooting from the 3-point line leads the nation among active players.
The Aggies tried making it interesting late in the game, when a layup by Anriel Howard and consecutive 3-pointers by Lulu McKinney and Danni Williams tightened the gap to 67-62 with 3:28 remaining. But Hebard’s hard-fought short jumper from the right side of the lane on her 10th field goal of the night on 10 tries lifted the Ducks to an insurmountable lead.
“Those were big-time moves — those were ‘Ruthy’ moves,” Graves said about Hebard’s overall elusiveness in and just outside the paint.
Freshman guard Chennedy Carter paced the Aggies with a career-high 23 points, and Howard grabbed 13 rebounds.
“We always like a challenge,” Hebard said of winning on the road against an SEC foe. “We know we’re a good team and we know we can compete with anyone.”
Oregon: In the first true test of the season and first venture on the road, the Ducks flew past the defensive-minded Aggies with flying colors (primarily neon green and yellow). The Ducks have won all three of their games by double-digits, with A&M easily the stiffest test to date.
Texas A&M: While smarting from a home loss and their first setback of the season, the Aggies in a couple of months will look back on this one, when they led a solid Oregon squad 34-28 at halftime, as great experience for the grind of the SEC.
The Aggies were trying to claw their way back into the game late in the third quarter and trailed by one when Oregon’s Maite Cazorla and Sabrina Ionescu sank consecutive 3-pointers to lift the Ducks to a 52-45 lead.
Oregon’s Maite Cazorla beat the A&M defense to the baseline on the right side and then fired a pass to Lexi Bando deep in the left corner for a smooth 3-pointer to end the third quarter. STAT OF THE NIGHT The Ducks made exactly half their shots (31 of 62) while the Aggies in a dozen more attempts made 36.5 percent (27 of 74) of their attempts.
HE SAID IT
“This is a win-win situation for both teams. They won the game, and we won (long term) because we played a team of that caliber.” — Blair.
Oregon: The Ducks play at No. 5 Louisville on Sunday in the final of the preseason WNIT in what amounts to a bonus game this season, prior to resuming regular-season play on Tuesday at home against Eastern Washington.
Texas A&M: Having missed out on the finals of the preseason WNIT, the Aggies will resume play on Wednesday at home against Little Rock.