By Sam Finley

Sabrina Ionescu has much to like about the Eugene area. A sought-after pre-college recruit, the 5-foot-10 standout guard on the University of Oregon women’s basketball team chose Oregon because of the family atmosphere and her feeling that the program was on the verge of becoming something special. There is one thing, however, that the sophomore from Walnut Creek, California, could do without.

“I don’t like the rain,” she says with a grin. “But I do like that when you walk around campus, people will tell you ‘great game,’ or you go to the bookstore and someone will have known your stats and what you did the past weekend. And I like that everyone is so into sports here, because I’m very into sports and the interest in sports and athletics from people in this area is very cool.”

There are certainly plenty of reasons for the Duck fan base to be interested in Ionescu’s numbers. As a freshman, she ranked third in the Pac-12 with 183 assists and averaged 32.9 points a game. More importantly, she was a key factor in Oregon not only getting back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, but shocking the world by helping the program make its first Elite Eight appearance in school history.

“It was pretty surreal,” Ionescu says of the magical run. “I don’t think anyone really knew what we were getting into. We just came out every game and competed, got better throughout the season, and it paid off in the long run.”

Now in her sophomore year, ambidextrous Ionescu continues to impress. She’s averaging 35.2 points per game and has set a new NCAA record for triple-doubles. As of this writing, the record currently stands at nine, but you can expect that number to increase by a few more in due time. Still, she insists that’s not where her competitive focus lies.

“I really don’t pay attention to them,” she says about her triple-double record. “As long as we’re winning, that’s all that’s important. The stats and all that other stuff takes care of itself.”

Fortunately for Ionescu and the Ducks, they’ve been winning a lot lately. They’re currently in the running to win the Pac-12 conference and have been ranked in the Top 10 most of the season. Most of her teammates believe Ionescu’s sheer presence and work ethic make them want to improve.

“I swear she gets better every game,” says senior guard Lexi Bando. “She does everything, and she’s just an awesome teammate. Her leadership has grown this season, and you’re going to see a lot of her the next three years. Her work ethic is unlike anyone else’s. She comes in every practice and gives 100 percent—that shows come game time.”

But Ionescu insists there’s not one particular thing that pushes her to reach greater heights.

“I don’t think anything in particular necessarily drives me,” Ionescu says. “I’m just a competitor, and I love to win. That’s just something that drives me to come out every day and give it my all. I love everything about basketball, just being able to compete every day and take your mind off everything else going on in life. It’s fun to be able to just focus on the game and everything there is to love about it.”

That focus may be crucial if the Ducks are going to top their performance in the postseason. Unlike a year ago, other teams aren’t going to overlook Oregon this time.

“I definitely think we have a target on our back,” Ionescu explains. “Every team is out to get us and they all think they can. I think they see holes in our offense and defense and that we’re still young. And that’s different from last year, when we were under the radar and we were able to sneak by some teams. But now they’re coming for us, and that’s going to make us improve. We have to have our A game on night in and night out, or we’re going to get upset.”

Nonetheless, Ionescu knows what the keys are for a successful run going forward.

“We just have to continue to get better every day,” she says. “That’s offensively, defensively, collectively, and individually. As long as we continue to do that, stay focused on now and not overlook any teams or games, then we should be fine.”

Furthermore, Ionescu also believes her team has the right mentality and attitude to make it happen.

“We’re pretty much focusing on living in the present to try and get better every game,” she says. “If that means we’ll be able to make it further than the Elite Eight this season, then that’ll take care of itself.”