Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck wasn’t all that surprised when Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu decided to return to school for her senior season.
The Ducks were coming off a Final Four appearance and a tough loss to Baylor in the national semifinals.
As a draft-eligible junior, Ionescu had just a few hours to make her decision.
She returned and said there was unfinished business.
“I thought just like anyone it could have gone either way,” Rueck said Tuesday in talking about last year’s national player of the year. “You know she's got a great thing going. And this is fun. I mean this is fun, and so why not do this as long as you can. As long as it makes sense. And for her clearly in her mind it made sense to come back.”
Rueck and his staff will once again need to devise a gameplan to slow down not only Ionescu but her teammates when the No. 7 Beavers (16-2, 4-2) head to Eugene to take on the No. 4 Ducks (15-2, 5-1) at 7 p.m. Friday night in a crucial Pac-12 game.
“She's a great player, clearly, and I enjoy the challenge of coaching against great players,” Rueck said. “And so when she came back I'm like, all right, here we go. Last year we did a couple things we've never done before because of her and because of her mind and how smart and skilled she is and what she's capable of (doing) on the floor offensively.
“It really challenges a team and challenges everyone. Whatever you do, she's got a counter and that mind is fun to compete against. That's not easy, of course, but I enjoy the challenge.”
Ionescu, who has 22 career triple-doubles, the most of any collegiate player in the history of the women’s or men’s game, is probably the best women’s player to ever don a Ducks uniform.
She’s Oregon's career scoring leader and can beat you in so many ways. And you know she is always up for the challenge.
“Sabrina is one of the best competitors I've ever met in my life, just wants to win and she'll do anything to win,” said Oregon State senior Kat Tudor, who played with Ionescu in AAU ball. “She gets her teammates the ball right on time. Whoever needs it, she'll get it to them. Nothing but greatness from her.”
Oregon State junior Aleah Goodman, also used the word competitive to describe Ionescu.
“She is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen,” Goodman said. “She's earned everything that she's gotten. Just a competitive fire that she plays with, that she brings every single day.”
Goodman had the opportunity to play with Ionescu this summer with Team USA in a 3x3 tournament.
“I mean you see it, you feel it when you're around her and just her love for basketball and her love for wanting to be better and how she brings her team along.
“She's just that team player where she can involve everyone, but then she can also take over if she needs to. So just that competitiveness that's inside of her and she just brings it out for everyone.”
That ability to take over a game or facilitate for her teammates makes it tough on a defense.
“She is someone you kind of have to pick your poison around but she's a player that you have to have your full defense ready for,” Goodman said. “It's going to take everyone. It's not just going to be one-on-one against her, it's got to be one-on-five and your whole defense has to be set and ready for her.”
Tudor knew Ionescu would have the type of career she has had when she signed with Oregon.
“A lot of people had their doubts but I'm the first person to back Sabrina up because I played with her, and I know her,” Tudor said. “She's a cool person, she's a go-getter. I had no doubt she would be this good and come this far.”
While Ionescu will be the most decorated player to take the court on Friday, and again when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Sunday inside Gill Coliseum, she is not the only one that will have left an indelible mark on her respective program.
Mikayla Pivec’s numbers may not be as flashy but are equally impressive in their own right. And her versatility has been a big reason the Beavers have reached three straight Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight.
Listed at 5-foot-10, Pivec is on pace to set the Oregon State record for career rebounds. She is third on the list with 906 and needs 122 more to surpass the record of 1,027 set by Ruth Hamblin, a 6-6 center.
Pivec is now seventh in career assists with 445 and could move into fifth with 10 this weekend. She is also ninth in career scoring with 1,431 points.
Goodman said Pivec has some of the same characteristics as Ionescu.
“She has that spirit, she has that drive that she just she's going to do whatever your team needs, and you've seen that in so many different cases,” Goodman said. “She'll get that rebound we need, get the bucket we need. She's just that person that you can really count on for anything.
“… She's someone that you just look at her and she's just, I don't know, it's like you didn't, you didn't think she could do more and then here she goes, she ups herself again.”
Tudor described her teammate of four years as “relentless” and as someone you can always count on to do what is needed.
“She brings this consistency,” Tudor said. “You always know what you're going to get when you have Mik on your team. She's a winner. She's going do whatever she can to win so you better do what you’ve got to do to win, too. She makes everyone around her better.”
Pivec's versatility has certainly helped the Beavers stay as one of the elite programs in the country the past three-plus seasons.
“She just does whatever we need which is huge for this team because she's just able to fill the spot that is needed,” Goodman said. “She can guard bigs if she has to and then she can also guard guards. So her versatility has helped us a lot and has made this program to so much better.”