TAMPA, Fla. -- Sabrina Ionescu grew up perfecting her shot with her twin brother deep into the California night on any hoop she could find. On the other side of the country, Kalani Brown got daily lessons on physical, gutty, aggressive post play from her father. They each found the perfect college basketball home: Ionescu on the wide-open, fast-paced, 3-point-loving Oregon Ducks. Brown on the always physical, always defensive-minded, post-dominant Baylor Lady Bears. And it is precisely the way they fit that has brought Oregon and Baylor to their Women's Final Four matchup on Friday night (ESPN2/ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET).
Call it new school versus old school basketball, and with it, a debate on which style is best suited to win championships.
"There are more teams like Oregon and that's OK," says Brown, a 6-foot-7 senior on the top-seeded Lady Bears. "They have maybe one true post player; the rest are shooting 3s and on the outside and that's what you see the game turning into. Players like me don't exist anymore, that's what they're starting to say. Hopefully I can bring us back. There need to be more of us. There's nothing wrong with a person who wants to be under the basket."
There might not be anything wrong with it, but watching teams with dominant post players has a retro feel to it, considering how many more teams at all levels of the sport have become more reliant on their outside shooting. In this case, the numbers bear that out, illustrating just how stark the contrast is between these two teams.
Oregon ranks No. 3 in the nation in field goal percentage (50.5 percent) while Baylor ranks No. 1 in field goal percentage defense (31.4 percent). Oregon averages 9.8 3-pointers made per game, seventh in the nation. Baylor averages 3.2, 345th in the nation.
Here is where the numbers say even more: Baylor takes heat for allowing 251 3-pointers this season -- a fact Oregon center Ruthy Hebard acknowledged with a big smile in the locker room on Thursday. But is it because the Bears are so dominant inside nobody can score in the paint? Baylor is allowing 22.8 points per game inside the arc this season.
As for scoring inside, Baylor had 52 points in the paint in the Elite Eight against Iowa, only one point fewer than the Hawkeyes totaled in the game.
Baylor could not be as dominant inside without 6-4 Lauren Cox teaming up with Brown, a combination in the post that is hard for any team to match, guard or defend. The Brown-Cox duo is not unusual for Baylor, a program that historically relies on its post players to set the tone on offense.
"Coach [Kim] Mulkey always says we have Kalani at 6-7, me at 6-4, why put us on the 3-point line and have us shoot jump shots when we can dominate down in the post," Cox says. "We have big post players and back-to-the-basket post players, and we use it and it works for us."
But what has helped Baylor get to this point is the way Brown -- the daughter of P.J. Brown, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and won a title with Boston -- and Cox play off each other, two players so in sync that they communicate without speaking. If teams try to double them, Baylor's guards have the ability to hit shots on the outside, something DiDi Richards has exploited over the past several games.
What Baylor does best doesn't work without guards who can either get Brown and Cox the ball down low, or hit open shots when they get doubled and tripled. And that's what makes Baylor's getting to this point even more incredible. Point guard Alexis Morris was dismissed in September for a team rules violation.
Without Morris, Mulkey taught Chloe Jackson -- a graduate student who transferred from LSU -- everything about the Lady Bears' offense and defense to get her to a point where she felt comfortable in her role.
"Imagine starting your season anticipating that you're going to have this great point guard, anticipate you got to get rid of your quarterback in football, you have to take a wide receiver, put them at quarterback. That's what we had to do," Mulkey said. "[Chloe's] responsible for everybody on that floor. Her personality is not where she's a big talker, so I had to teach her to open her mouth, communicate. Had to do it quickly. That kid, what she has done, is amazing."
What Oregon has done is amazing in its own right, considering the Ducks are making their first Final Four appearance. Ionescu has led the charge, and though she shoots with the best of them, her ability to pass to an open teammate or secure a loose ball has allowed her to become a triple threat unlike any other women's basketball player in history.
The Ducks would not be here without her, or the way this team shoots the 3, or the way it has perfected the art of the pick-and-roll. Four players average better than 40 percent from the 3-point line, and Hebard has been terrific as the post presence inside.
"It's fun," Ionescu says. "It's fun to viewers to watch fast breaks, 3s. It's similar to the Warriors, and they've had much success with it, and so have we, and so having that fun to the game is what teams are starting to do. It's also effective. You're getting post players now that like to bring the ball up the court and like to shoot 3s, so by spacing that floor out and allowing them to do that, I think that's where the game is heading toward."
That shift feels evident to players on both teams. But the debate remains: Which style is more effective?
"Any given day, you never know when you're going to live or die by the 3, so Mulkey feels that higher-percentage shots are inside, which they are," Richards says. "We rely on our defense because when our shot isn't falling, we know we can hold our opponents to lower points."
Hebard says, "We'll probably hopefully hit more 3s than them and 3s are more than 2s. Hopefully, they can't stop all five of us, and I think all five of us are great scorers all together."
What could give Oregon even more confidence is the way Hebard helped contain All-American center Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State in the Elite Eight, using her physicality to frustrate McCowan. "Coach always says the lowest man wins so I always try to get lower than them and push them out," Hebard says.
The matchups are fascinating, if only because the way the teams play is so different.
"It's definitely something we're going to see which style is the best, old school or new school tomorrow night," Richards says.