Sabrina Ionescu delivered yet another masterful performance. This time, it was one for the NCAA record books – and coming on an emotional day.
Just hours after the 22-year-old Oregon Ducks star spoke at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial in Los Angeles, Ionescu was back on the basketball court, having taken a charter flight to the Bay Area to take on No. 4 Stanford.
Not only did she help No. 3 Oregon to a 74-66 win, but Ionescu made NCAA history, becoming the first college basketball player – male or female – to have 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in her career.
It also comes on a date, 2/24/20, that has special significance to Ionescu. Those are the jersey numbers of Gianna, Kobe and herself. Ionescu had developed a friendship with Kobe and Gianna, working out with Gianna in the summer while helping Kobe coach games.
“That one was for (Kobe),” Ionescu said. “To do it on 2/24/20 is huge. We talked about that in the preseason; I can’t really put that into words. He’s looking down and really proud of me.”
Ionescu entered Monday just nine rebounds shy of the mark, reaching it early in the third quarter. She finished the night with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. It was her 26th career triple double and eighth of the season. She’s the all-time NCAA leader – for women and men – in triple doubles.
She did all of this while feeling sick to her stomach on Monday, missing pregame warmups. According to head coach Kelly Graves, Ionescu didn’t eat, saying she couldn’t keep anything down.
“In true Sabrina fashion, she goes out on the biggest day in the biggest moment and shines bright,” Graves said. “It was really neat to see how hard she competed tonight. Gave it everything she had.”
Ionescu, who last year led Oregon to the Final Four and was considered the top prospect for the WNBA, opted to return to Oregon for her senior season. Once again, she’s projected to be the top pick in the WNBA draft, which is in April.
“I still text (Kobe) even though he’s not here,” Ionescu said in front of a crowd of 20,000 – and with many more watching on television or online – at Kobe and Gianna’s celebration of life. “Thank you for everything. The rest is for you. Rest easy, my guy. The last one I sent him said, ‘I miss you. May you rest in peace my dear friend.’
“The texts go through but no response. It still feels like he’s there, on the other end, that the next time I pick up my phone, he would have hit me back. Sometimes I find myself still waiting.”
Ionescu’s parents moved from Romania to northern California in 1990 after the Romanian Revolution. Seven years later, Ionescu and her twin brother, Eddy, were born. Her first language was Romanian, which she used when playing with her brother in basketball games.
Her talent hasn’t gone unnoticed in the NBA, with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry in attendance on Monday for Ionescu’s record performance.
“Obviously, she came back her senior year for a reason, trying to grab that national championship,” Curry, who also had been in Los Angeles for the memorial, told ESPN on Monday. “In the meantime, she’s blazing a trail that nobody has stepped foot in.”
After Monday’s win at Stanford, Ionescu was asked what the hardest part of her long day was.
“Everything,” she said. “You know, you kind of try and hide some of those emotions and so you get there in Staples Center and they all come back to you. Being able to speak was such an honor for me and being able to hear everyone speak. I tried to do everything I could to try and hold it together tonight and my team helped me a lot doing that.”
With Monday’s win, Oregon clinched a share of their third straight Pac-12 Conference regular-season title.