Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, and Ruthy Hebard have been so close to winning a championship multiple times. In 2018-19, the Oregon Ducks women's basketball team advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history before falling short to eventual champion Baylor in a close game.
The Ducks were the favorites to win it all in 2019-20, the final year of the "Big Three" era. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the NCAA Tournament and left the unfinished business as just that.
Now, the three have wrapped up their second regular season in the WNBA — the first season that feels how it should after last year's bubble season. Ionescu (New York Liberty), Sabally (Dallas Wings), and Hebard (Chicago Sky) each had their trials and tribulations during the 2021 season, but they can all say that they helped their respective teams qualify for the WNBA playoffs.
Hebard was the only former Duck to play in the postseason last year, as the Sky were the sixth seed and lost to the Connecticut Sun in the first round. The Sky finished the 2021 season with a 16-16 record while once again nabbing the sixth seed.
Despite the addition of future Hall of Famer Candace Parker, Hebard's minutes increased from her rookie season, and she appeared in 30 games. She recorded career highs across the board in per game stats, including points (5.8 PPG), rebounds (4.4 RPG), assists (0.8 APG), and blocks (0.7 BPG).
In her second career playoff game, Hebard and the Sky will host her former teammate Sabally and the Dallas Wings in a single-elimination game on Thursday at 5 p.m. PST. Whoever wins will face either the Minnesota Lynx or the Seattle Storm in the second round.
Sabally, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, had an up-and-down sophomore campaign. She missed the first three weeks of the season while she was playing overseas, and once the season resumed after the Olympics, she missed more time due to an achilles injury.
Sabally was a big help for the Wings, who finished 14-18 with the seventh seed in hand, when she was on the floor. The Wings went 9-8 with her and 5-10 without her. Despite playing fewer minutes per game than last season, the first-time All-Star shot better from the field (41.8%) and much better from three (32.7% compared to 19.7% last year).
The Wings are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, and Sabally will look to help them win their first playoff game since they were the Tulsa Shock in 2015.
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That leaves Sabrina Ionescu, the former No. 1 overall pick who missed all but three games with an ankle injury in her rookie year. She helped the Liberty get off to a hot start, winning five of their first six games.
Ionescu battled injuries and struggled mightily from the field, but she found her footing after the Olympics. Since Aug. 15, she has put up 14.8 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.8 boards per game. The Liberty finished with a 12-20 record and slipped into the playoffs with the eighth seed due to losses from the Washington Mystics and Los Angeles Sparks on the final day of the regular season.
Ionescu helped get the franchise back to the playoffs for the first time in four years, and they will face the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury on Thursday at 7 p.m. PST to compete for their first playoff win in six years. If the Liberty win, they would go on to face the Minnesota Lynx in the second round.
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