SEATTLE — The queen is dead, long live the queen.
One week after winning its first conference title in 18 years, No. 6 Oregon vanquished No. 16 Stanford 77-57 in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game Sunday night at KeyArena.
The top-seeded Ducks (30-4) had never played in a conference tournament final until denying the tradition-rich Cardinal (22-10), seeded second, their 13th conference tournament crown.
Sabrina Ionescu, the Pac-12 player of the year, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after another legendary performance on a big stage.
The sophomore guard scored a career-high 36 points to lead Oregon to its first win against Stanford outside of Eugene since a 65-51 road victory on March 5, 1987.
“She’s just awesome,” Oregon freshman forward Satou Sabally said of Ionescu, who broke the record for points in a Pac-12 Tournament championship game held by Stanford’s Candice Wiggins (30, 2008). “One time she hit a three, and I was just smiling like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s crazy.’
“I don’t know, she’s just amazing and an inspiration to me.”
Oregon avenged its 78-65 loss to the Cardinal on Feb. 4 in the only regular-season meeting between the teams. Brittany McPhee, who scored 31 of her career-high 33 points in the second half to will Stanford to the comeback win, was held to 12 points in the rematch.
“It was the Ionescu show today,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think she’s a competitor. Last time we played them, beating them up there was a great accomplishment, and it was the Brittany McPhee show. Britt really torched them.
“And then today Sabrina torched us.”
The Ducks have won nine consecutive games and are 19-2 against Pac-12 teams, including a 14-0 record when senior Lexi Bando is in the lineup.
The March Madness will continue in two weeks at Matthew Knight Arena, where the Ducks will host first- and second-round games after making a strong final argument for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I love it,” said Bando, the former Willamette High star, after cutting down the nets with her teammates. “Everyone laughed, they said, ‘Why didn’t you cry on your senior night?’ I’m like, ‘Well I still have games to play at Matthew Knight.’
“It will be amazing. Our fans are unbelievable, I think the best in the Pac-12, so to be able to play in front of them hopefully a couple more times, it would just be amazing.”
Winning big games and collecting trophies is the new normal for the Ducks.
Oregon’s invitation to the Big Dance was a given, but winning the conference tournament qualifies the team automatically.
A year ago, after losing to Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, the Ducks made it to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed with upsets of Temple, Duke and Maryland on the East Coast.
This year coach Kelly Graves will enter the bracket with a team that knows it has a chance to get to the Final Four.
“We’re still loose,” Graves said after cleaning the cupcake out of his ears deposited there by his players during the postgame celebration. “I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a group that is this close, and you can tell they play for each other. They’re great teammates, they’ve got talent and great leadership.
“So we’ve got all the pieces. We’ll see how far we can take this. I know we’re guaranteed one game.”
Maite Cazorla, who finished with 10 points and six assists, made a three-pointer and then found Ionescu in the corner for another three-pointer to give the Ducks a commanding 66-47 lead with 6:15 remaining.
Sabally, playing through a painful pelvis injury suffered during a collision in Saturday’s intense semifinal win over UCLA, made a pair of three-pointers early in the third quarter to give Oregon a 41-28 lead.
The Pac-12 freshman of the year finished with 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.
“I wanted to play this game no matter what,” Sabally said. “I just had to go through it. Adrenaline helped a lot and the crowd helped a lot, just like pushing.”
For the second consecutive Sunday, the Ducks were posing for pictures with a Pac-12 championship trophy in the locker room.
“It’s kind of unreal,” Sabally said. “I’m in my freshman year and it’s kind of normal for me now.”
Ionescu set the tone for both halves with 12 points in the first quarter and 11 points in the third quarter.
“I think we had some unfinished business,” Ionescu said. “Our coaches did a great job on the scouting. We adjusted from what we did last game, and I was just ready to come out.”
Graves sensed a special performance was coming from his best player before the team even arrived at the arena.
“I saw a little twinkle in her eye coming off the bus today and at shoot around and at pregame meal,” he said. “She had a different look about her. I didn’t know what that was going to translate into, but now I know the look.”
Stanford led 15-11 after a frenzied start in which the teams combined to make 12 of 19 shots before the first media timeout.
The Cardinal had a seven-point head start before Ionescu scored after grabbing an offensive rebounds. Then she buried a three-pointer to get Oregon within 13-11.
Ionescu was 5-for-7 from the field in the first quarter and gave the Ducks their first lead with a three-point play to make the score 18-17.
Stanford never regained the lead.
“When you have somebody like Sabrina, she shines the brightest in the biggest moments,” Graves said. “She sure did that tonight. That’s part of her competitive greatness.”
The second quarter began with Ionescu knocking down a deep three-pointer and then taking a steal in for a layup to give Oregon a 23-17 advantage.
Cazorla beat the shot clock with a desperation three-pointer, and Sabally drove the baseline for a basket to give the Ducks a 31-21 advantage.
Stanford finished 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) behind the arc. Forward Alanna Smith was the bright spot offensively with 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
Oregon scored 24 points off 16 Stanford turnovers, 19 points off 15 offensive rebounds and had a 30-24 rebounding edge.
Now Ionescu and the Ducks wear the crown.