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Sabrina Ionescu reminded us why she’s the best college basketball player in the world

Ionescu senior season hasn’t been as good as her last. But this 37-point game showed she’s still getting better.

Sabrina Ionescu scores for Oregon.
Sabrina Ionescu is a walking bucket for Oregon.

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, the best college basketball player in the world, and one of the WNBA’s best draft prospects since Breanna Stewart, reminded us of her sky-high ceiling in a 37-point outing against the third-ranked team in the country. Her No. 6 Ducks beat Stanford by 32 points. The do-it-all point guard with tools to launch from anywhere, vision to throw passes over the top of the defense, and brains to control the best offense in the country was incredible on national TV.

We know a lot about Ionescu already because this isn’t her first year sitting atop college basketball’s throne. Her eight junior season triple-doubles headlined most of last year as her Ducks marched on to the Final Four (where they fell to eventual champion Baylor). She’s added four more triple-doubles this year to bring her total to 22, which is 10 more than anyone in men’s or women’s college basketball history has produced. But she hasn’t been as dominant as of late. Until now.

Ionescu surprised everyone when she decided to come back for her senior season at Oregon despite being a lock to go in the top-2 of the WNBA Draft. She returned to win a championship with her best two teammates, (Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, also projected first-round picks), also back in Eugene. Everything hasn’t gone as planned for Oregon this season though, as it’s already lost its preseason No. 1 ranking after losses to Louisville and Arizona State. Ionescu in particular hasn’t shot the ball nearly as well as she has in the past, and that’s hurt Oregon.

But on Thursday night, she erupted again, for a career-most 37 points, reminding us how absurd she really is. The Ducks crushed the Cardinals, 87-55, because their point guard is a machine.

Ionescu’s WNBA-ready shooting was back

Let’s start by addressing Ionescu’s counting totals. She finished with 37 points in 38 minutes on 14-of-26 shooting (5-of-12 from three), 11 rebounds and seven assists to three turnovers. That’s... nuts. It’s even wilder considering how poorly she started the game, with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting and two turnovers in the opening 10 minutes.

Ionescu found her rhythm as the game continued. She worked the pick-and-roll with Hebard to carve out driving lanes, stepped-back to launch from behind the arc with space, and used a number of sharp crossovers to free herself in the mid-range. Her shot is so fluent and her footwork is so sharp, she should have little issue getting it off at the next level. It looks so easy for her now.

Seeing the ball go through the net from range like it had the last two seasons was fun to watch because it hasn’t been as much a guarantee in 2019-20. Before making five threes against Stanford, she’d made five threes in her last six games combined. After shooting 43 percent from three as a sophomore and junior, she’s only made 33 percent of her looks this year. Her free throw percentage is a career-high 93 percent, though. Her three-point numbers will even out. This is just an unfortunate shooting slump.

Ionescu’s pick-and-roll play should have pro teams excited

Operating the pick-and-roll is what could turn Ionescu into a legend at the pro level, too. And she’s really good at it already. Working off screens and re-screens, Ionescu shipped defenders in every direction to find space for herself. This bucket broke Oregon’s all-time scoring record.

The pick-and-roll was on replay all night:

Ionescu’s cutthroat personality came through, too

Ionescu felt her own dominance as the game wore on, and competed well into a blowout that had no chance of breaking. When she finally subbed out with two minutes to go — her first breather of the night — she gave a salute, which she later clarified was directed at Stanford. Lol.

The best player in the world was at the top of her game and she knew it.

What’s left for Ionescu?

Ionescu’s got a few records in range. The biggest one is the 2,000/1,000/1,000 club. She’s 96 rebounds and 28 assists away from becoming the first college basketball player (men’s or women’s) to log 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. Her biggest achievement can’t be reached until April though, as Ionescu works towards a national championship.

And then, just weeks after her final college season ends, she’ll be drafted to the WNBA. Presumably, she’ll be the first name called by the New York Liberty. A month after that would be her professional debut.

It’s 2020, and college basketball’s queen is starting to find her groove. The biggest months of her sports life are ahead, and everybody should be watching.