Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Oregon women's basketball star Sabrina Ionescu says she is dedicating her season to the late Kobe Bryant.
Ionescu had a close friendshipk with Kobe, who died along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, Calif. Ionescu scored a team-high 19 points and had eight rebounds and three assists in a 66-57 win against Oregon State Sunday in Corvallis, Ore.
News of Kobe's death was confirmed about an hour before tip-off of the Pac-12 clash at Oregon State's Gill Coliseum.
"Everything I do, I do it for [Kobe]," Ionescu told ESPN. "Obviously he [was] a really close friend. This season is for him."
Ionescu did not join her team for warmups, opting to stay in the locker room. Players from both teams met at half-court before the game to pray and mourn for Kobe and his family. Several Ducks players had tears in their eyes at the start of the game. Ionescu wrote "Forever" and "24" on her shoes, honoring the Los Angeles Lakers legend.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said Ionescu communicated with Kobe and his family several times every week. Kobe and Gianna attended the Ducks' game against USC in January 2019. Kobe also dedicated an episode of his ESPN+ show Detail to analyzing Ionescu's game.
"I know it was really hard on [Ionescu]," Graves said. "To see her go out, and [to see] her teammates battle for her and play with the spirit and intensity that Kobe Bryant always played with, I think was an incredible testament to a championship, character-filled team."
Graves said there was no chance Ionescu would sit out for the Ducks' game, even after learning of the death of her "close friend." Ionescu played all 40 minutes.
"You don't know Sabrina that well," Graves told reporters when asked if it was possible for her to miss the game. "No, she wouldn't have done that. Maybe there was a moment she may have thought about it. But I think she would have thought Kobe wouldn't have.
"He would have played. Because he was maybe the best, most intense player we've ever seen."
Kobe posted a photo with Ionescu, Gianna, University of Connecticut star Megan Walker and Gianna's basketball team in August on Instagram. He also posted photos with Gianna and Ionsecu in April.
Walker also posted photos of Kobe and Gianna on her Instagram account. Gianna, 13, had dreams of playing at the University of Connecticut and eventually in the NBA.
Ionescu is averaging 19.7 points per game and a nation-leading 8.6 assists per game this season.