Even though she played her final college basketball game earlier than expected, the awards continue to pile up for Sabrina Ionescu. Her latest award is being named the AP National Player of the Year, and because of course why not? She was named the unanimous winner of the award, joining Breanna Stewart of UConn as the only other player to win the award unanimously.
This season marks the third straight season that Ionescu was named an AP First-Team All-American. It also adds yet another accolade to an already historic career, a career that is likely going to see even more accolades come in before it’s all over and she fully moves on to the WNBA.
Her senior season provided some tumultuous moments, but also a lot of great ones. It started when she had a monster game as Oregon became just the second college team to upset Team USA in a preseason exhibition. Then things seemed to be going as usual. In non-conference Ionescu wasn’t trying to take over the scoring load, being more of a facilitator and knowing that she could turn things up in the bigger games, which is exactly what she did on January 16th with a career-high 37 points in a blowout win over Stanford.
Then there was the day that Kobe Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter accident. It was also a day that Oregon was attempting to win at Oregon State for the first time in a decade. Of course, on that day, a day full of heartbreak, Ionescu played 40 minutes. It was far from her most efficient game, but she made plays when the team needed it and she was still the steady force she always is on the floor.
There was also the game at UConn. When Ionescu was a freshman and Oregon made a surprise run to the Elite Eight as a ten seed, they met UConn and were completely overmatched. The game this season was a chance to show the nation how far they had come since that point, and that’s exactly what they did, winning 74-56.
Of course, there was also the day Ionescu spoke at the Celebration of Life of Kobe Bryant. She spoke at that ceremony, got on a plane back to the Bay Area as Oregon had a huge road game against Stanford to essentially finish off their regular-season Pac-12 title. After going through a day that most regular people couldn’t fathom, Ionescu put up a triple-double on a national stage, and became the first college basketball player, men’s or women’s, to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists.
Ionescu wasn’t done there. After finishing off the Pac-12 regular-season title against Washington State, and celebrating her Senior Day against Washington, she took her team to the Pac-12 Tournament. This provided a chance for the team to complete part of their “unfinished business.” That’s because even in the season before when Oregon made their first Final Four in program history, they were beaten by Stanford in the conference title game.
After a first-round win over Utah, Ionescu went crazy in the semifinals against Arizona, pouring in 31 points in 11/16 shooting and 6/9 from three. She also pulled down nine rebounds and dished out seven assists in what was one of her more impressive performances of a historical season. Then, came the conference title game. A matchup with Stanford that the two programs had split the two seasons prior. Things were tight in the first quarter, but then Ionescu turned it up and was able to lead her team to an 89-56 win. In that game, she was one of three players to score at least 20 points, and she also dished out 12 assists.
Ionescu looked ready to have her team make as deep of a run as you can in the NCAA Tournament, before things were, of course, cut short as the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
So while Ionescu isn’t going to be able to finish her unfinished business and will, unfortunately, be leaving Eugene with pretty much everything accomplished but a national title, she did more to put women’s basketball in the forefront of the media landscape than can really be measured. She transcended basketball, while also being the most dominant player on the floor pretty much every night she was out there.
Her unanimously winning this award is really a no-brainer, and if she isn’t going to get the chance to win a national title, this is the next best way to go out.
Top Photo: Chris Pietsch/Associated Press