UConn Sets the Bar

Jonathan Parrish Sports Reporter

In the wake of the Connecticut’s women’s basketball team’s dominance during its road to the NCAA Championship game in Indianapolis on Wednesday, where it won its fourth-straight title against Syracuse, there has been a lot of chatter involving one particularly intriguing subject.

Despite the success and talent that the Huskies have displayed throughout the better part of three decades, there are critics out there that say that UConn’s greatness is hurting the game of basketball.

But I’m here to say that’s simply not true. Because there’s at least one program I know closely that’s actually benefiting from it.

Look no further than Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck, whose team endured a 80-51 thrashing at the hands of the powerhouse themselves in the national semifinal Sunday, a flip in the script for the Beavers, who all season have been used to routing opponents by a margin of roughly 16 points per game.

When the question of debate was brought up to him before the Beavers’ Final Four game against UConn, Rueck was rather blunt on what side he was on.

“I think they have been the blueprint,” he said. “I mean, who doesn’t want to do what they’re doing? We’re all striving for that.”

“I think there’s a lot of programs and a lot of coaches that are striving to achieve what they’ve accomplished over this stretch. And I know I’m one of them. I look at them as an example. I always have.”

Rueck said that when he was a women’s basketball Division III coach for George Fox, where in 2009 he guided the 32-0 Bruins to a national championship, he was examining UConn to lead his own team to excellence. He said they’re simply inspirational.

“I think they’re nothing but good for the game,” he said. “I think it’s up to the rest of us to rise to that level. And I think anytime you have a bar that’s that high, that’s a positive.”

I would be inclined to agree with Rueck.

If Rueck carried his success from George Fox, using UConn as an example, and then came here to OSU and in six short years, established an excellent program and led the Beavers to the program’s best season, how could that Huskies’ example be bad for the game?

That bar was raised, and the Beavers climbed up to it.

I don’t think any of us would say that the Beavers’ success this season has harmed the game of basketball, yet it was UConn that in part inspired Rueck to show what OSU has been able to accomplish in recent years.

Rueck also said the main thing that sets UConn apart from everybody else is that they have no apparent weakness. “Great teams just don’t have one.”

“Everybody is striving to be a great team,” he said. “So you just look at numbers, and they’re at the top or near the top of almost every statistical category there is. There’s just no weakness. They’re so efficient.”

Efficient is right. First in the nation in field-goal percentage. First in free-throw percentage. First in fewest personal fouls committed. Firsts in assists. First in scoring margin. The list goes on.

We all know it, UConn does everything imaginable seemingly perfect. But that’s okay, because that feeds the hunger of other teams, to set their goals to be just like them.

And with that, even after the Beavers’ unfortunate loss to UConn, I think that Rueck would say the same thing as he did before the blowout. He’s still striving for perfection and I think he will continue to use the Huskies as an example for excellence. I don’t see why he wouldn’t. I don’t think there’s a basketball coach in all the world that wouldn’t want to be first in almost every major statistical category, or have two win streaks of 75 and 90 wins, or win four-straight national titles, or be a team that rivals the legendary coach John Wooden’s UCLA teams.

“I don’t know if there’s one specific thing other than overall excellence that I think we all strive for,” Rueck said. “And so (UConn has) set the bar in that regard. And so you have to give them credit for that. And that’s what we’ve been striving for and I as a coach have been striving to get my team to, all these years.”

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