EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Oregon coach Kelly Graves chided guard Sabrina Ionescu following No. 7 Oregon's win over No. 4 Mississippi State as she rested her head in her hand while addressing the media.
"I'm tired!" Ionescu protested with a smile.
She'd certainly earned a breather. Ionescu scored 29 points, including all 17 of her free throws, as the Ducks handed the Bulldogs their first loss this season 82-74 on Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs (10-1) had won 46 regular-season nonconference games, but couldn't catch up once the Ducks (9-1) started to pull away in the fourth quarter, boosted by their home fans. Maite Cazorla added 20 points for the Ducks.
Anriel Howard led Mississippi State with a career-high 30 points. Oregon held senior Teaira McCowan to five points, but she had 11 rebounds.
"Obviously it helps. That's a quality win against a great team, they'll be a one or a two seed ultimately, odds-on favorite to win the SEC, so, sure," Graves said when asked what the win meant to the team's season. "But the reality is, we enjoy it tonight and practice tomorrow and we'll forget about it and move on."
Oregon went up 64-57 on Ruthy Hebard's short jumper with 7:47 left. Cazorla added a layup for the Ducks before Bre'Amber Scott's 3-pointer for Mississippi State.
A driving layup from Cazorla made it 76-65 and got the crowd at Matthew Knight Arena on its feet. Jazzmun Holmes' layup got the Bulldogs within 80-74 with 1:23 left, but Howard fouled out a short time later.
The Ducks went into the game leading the nation with an average of 92.4 points a game, while the Bulldogs, last season's NCAA tournament runner-up, were a close second at 92.3.
"We played a really good team," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "I'm disappointed. I thought we got out-toughed all night long. Give credit to Oregon. That's something we take great pride in is winning the toughness battle. It's one thing to talk the talk, it's another thing to walk the walk, and Oregon walked the walk tonight. They out-toughed us, they got every loose ball, every 50-50 ball, every tough rebound.
Ionescu agreed it was a physical game.
"We know that was one of their strengths, we know they liked to play bully ball, and they have great athletes and that's what they thrive on. So we know we had to stand our ground and be just as tough as they were or tougher, and for me that was getting to the line," Ionescu said.
The nationally televised game was the first matchup between two women's teams in the top 10 at Matthew Knight.
Oregon's lone loss this season came on Dec. 9 at Michigan State. The team's only other game against a ranked opponent was on Nov. 1, when they downed then-No. 18 Syracuse 75-73.
McCowan, Mississippi State's leading scorer, whose eight double-doubles this season lead the nation, was defended well by Hebard from the start.
"I think she set the bar for us tonight on the defensive end for us," Ionescu said about Hebert.
Graves added: "She was a warrior for us tonight, she really was."
McCowan was handed an unsportsmanlike conduct call after an elbow on Hebard, and Ionescu made both shots to put the Ducks up 28-17 midway through the second quarter. Ionescu's 3-pointer and Cazorla's layup stretched the lead to 37-31.
A technical foul was called on Graves with 0.8 seconds left in the half, and Mississippi State made both shots, then added a free throw to take a 40-39 lead into the break. Howard led all scorers with 14 points at the break for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State pushed the lead to 51-44 in the third quarter, after Howard's jumper, layup and free throw. But the Ducks wouldn't let the margin go to double digits, and Oregon tied it at 55 on a pair of free throws from Taylor Chavez. Mississippi coach Vic Schaefer got a tech and Ionescu made both shots to take a 57-55 lead into the final period.
Mississippi State was coming off an 86-42 victory over Southern Miss on Friday, in the 700th game in program history. The Bulldogs had two wins this season over ranked opponents.
Oregon rebounded from their loss to Michigan State with an 87-79 win at South Dakota last Wednesday.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs, who went into the game ranked third in the nation with 28 blocked shots, added four more against the Ducks. ... Mississippi State has been in the top 10 in the AP rankings for 45 straight weeks.
Oregon: Ionescu is one triple-double away from breaking the overall NCAA record of 12, held by Kyle Collinsworth, who played for BYU. ... Oregon lost all prior meetings with Mississippi State.
IMPACTING THE POLLS? In addition to the matchup between two ranked teams in Eugene, earlier in the evening, No. 8 Stanford defeated No. 9 Tennessee 95-85, handing the Lady Volunteers their first loss of the season. The victory came three nights after Stanford beat Baylor 68-63, which dropped the Bears from third to sixth in the AP Top 25 rankings.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs visits Washington on Thursday night.
Oregon: The Ducks host Air Force on Thursday.