It’s a ‘David vs. Goliath’ in Oregon State women’s basketball Final Four match up against UCONN

Michael Kiever Sports Reporter

Women’s hoops faces undefeated Huskies who are going for their four consecutive title on Sunday

Head coach Scott Rueck has had his fair share of hurdles during his six-year tenure at OSU, from having to build a roster out of scratch to competing in the hyper-competitive Pac-12 conference year in and year out.

This Sunday in Indianapolis, he will face his biggest hurdle yet.

The Beavers (32-4) will face the three-time reigning National Champion UConn (36-0) on April 3 at 5:00 p.m. The game will be the first Final Four appearance in OSU history, marking a historic turnaround for the program. OSU advanced to the Final Four after beating Baylor 60-57 in the Elite Eight.

“There’s a lot of work to be done between now and Sunday, no doubt,” Rueck said earlier this week. “I can’t wait though. That’s what this is all about. I’m excited for the challenge.”

UConn fields a historically successful women’s basketball team. This year’s Final Four will mark the seventeenth such appearance for the Huskies, and over the span of the program’s history UConn has won 10 total National Championships. This team has yet to lose a game.

A large portion of their success can be attributed to the play of senior forward Breanna Stewart, who was named the 2015 AP Player of the year and is a two-time All-American. Averaging 19.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 58 percent shooting from the field, Stewart has led the Huskies to 25 victories of 40 points or more this season. Senior guard Moriah Jefferson has also played a key role for the Huskies, averaging a team-high 5.5 assists and 12.6 points per game.

During the duration of Jefferson and Stewart’s careers at UConn, the Huskies have only lost a total of five games. The duo is in pursuit of their fourth National Championship in as many years.

Meanwhile, OSU has 41 losses over the past four years, but has improved their win/loss record every season. Senior center Ruth Hamblin believes OSU’s gradual ascent to success may end up being beneficial against a team like UConn.

“We’ve been through it all. All those losses are all lessons that have built up to this point. If we didn’t have those, we wouldn’t be here,” Hamblin said “It’s really cool that we had the complete journey over these last four years of becoming the elite program that we are today.”

The teams’ respective paths to the Final Four may have been distinct from each other, but the similarities between the two teams seem to outweigh the differences. Both teams field elite defenses (UConn has a first-ranked scoring defense, while OSU is sixth-ranked,) and play within highly disciplined systems.

“(UConn) is a great team. They have some of the best players in the country. They work really well together as a team,” said OSU junior guard Sydney Wiese. “They’re very disciplined defensively, but I think that we are too. We have a great team, we have talented players and we’re very disciplined as well.”

Wiese, who leads OSU in assists and stands at 6’3, may find herself at a height advantage for much of the game against UConn. She is taller than starting UConn guard Jefferson by eight inches, who stands at 5’7.

Conversely, the height differences may play to OSU’s disadvantage. UConn has only one center on their team in little-used redshirt sophomore center Natalie Butler. Butler has averaged 12.6 minutes per game this year, and only played two minutes in the Huskies’ 86-65 win over Texas in the Elite Eight. This may force OSU to switch to smaller lineups to keep up with UConn, potentially leaving two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Hamblin on the bench.

Senior guard Jamie Weisner will be relied upon heavily to find cracks in the UConn defense. The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year is averaging 17.2 points per game this season and is the leading scorer for the Beavers in the NCAA tournament. Weisner scored a career-high 38 points against DePaul in the Sweet Sixteen on March 26, and is looking forward to fulfilling her dream of getting a shot at taking down the Huskies.

“It’s been my dream to play UConn. (UConn) is expecting to win and everyone expects them to win,” Weisner said. “But I have all the faith in the world that this team can do it. Why not us? They haven’t lost all season, but they haven’t played us.”

On Twitter: @michaelkievaaa

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