Zbigniew Sikora Orange Media Network
Sometimes you need to lose a game to find out what you’re made of.
That was what the Oregon State University women’s basketball team was counting on Nov. 22 when they lost at home to Marquette University by one point in a 73-74 shootout. After the game, head coach Scott Rueck told the media that the loss was “Exactly what the team needed.”
Two months later the Beavers (18-2 7-1 Pac-12) have won 15 of their last 16 games including a 12 game winning streak that ended with a road loss to No.13 UCLA. During the win streak Oregon State defeated three top 20 teams, including No. 8 Washington.
Rueck now stands by his assessment of the loss to Marquette.
“(We needed) defensive intensity and a reality check,” Rueck said. “We didn’t know exactly what we needed from each person, there was no way to know until we were in a competitive game like that with a team capable of beating us.”
But even though things are going in the right direction, there is always something that can be improved. The Beavers are working on finishing games and playing through the fourth quarter. In their loss to UCLA, Oregon State was leading headed into the fourth quarter. When the Beavers struggled, the Bruins stormed back and finished on a 25-10 run in the final quarter to give the Beavers their first conference loss. In their only other loss in the season, against Marquette, the Beavers had just tied the game heading into the final 10 minutes.
Last season the OSU women’s basketball team made history by making it to the NCAA Final Four tournament for the first time ever. After the season the Beavers graduated five seniors, three of whom started for the final four team. Two of those three, Ruth Hamblin and Jamie Weisner, were drafted into teams in the Women’s National Basketball Association. Filling those kind of shoes in your starting lineup is not an easy task, but the senior class left a gift for the program: they inspired a culture.
“The seniors really set the standard and I think the biggest thing for us was to carry on their legacy,” said senior guard Sydney Wiese. “This is our culture. It doesn’t matter what pieces we have, we want to be successful and work hard.”
Players such as sophomore guard Katie McWilliams have been tasked to fill pivotal positions on the court this season. McWilliams stepped in last season when Wiese missed multiple games due to an injury. McWilliams set a career high in the first game of this season with 29 points going seven of eight from behind the three point line. Junior forward Breanna Brown has stepped into a starting role and has become a very competent rim defender alongside junior center Marie Gulich. And freshman guard Mikayla Pivec has expanded her role throughout the season, now rounding out the starting five for the Beavers averaging 8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
“Coming in we knew there was a lot of holes that needed to be filled,” Pivec said. “And a lot of players on the team are playing really well.”
With the top five teams in the Pac-12 ranked in the top 20 nationally, becoming the one seed and securing a pivotal bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament is what every team is vying for. Only one team in the Pac-12 has a record below .500. The Beavers have to play well night in and night out all season to stay competitive in this very difficult conference.
“I think this year is definitely just as tough as last year was,” Wiese said. “Every team is capable of winning on any given night.”
The Beavers have found their identity as a tough, competitive team that plays hard on both sides of the ball. They allow the second fewest points per game of any team in the Pac-12 and their dominant half court defense holds opponents to the lowest shooting percentage in the conference at 33.3 percent. They are also second in the Pac-12 in blocked shots, with Gulich and Brown coming in second and fourth individually.
On the other side of the ball, they are shooting 45.4 percent from the field and have the second highest three point field goal percentage in the conference. This combination allows the Beavers to compete and win games without necessarily needing to score as many points as other teams in the conference.
Overcoming a tough nonconference loss to an unranked school and turning it into a 12 game winning streak is a difficult task, especially in the Pac-12, but the culture and identity of the Oregon State women’s basketball program has allowed them to do just that.
“The team took it (the loss to Marquette) to heart,” Rueck said. “We found out how competitive we were and we responded by becoming a much better team on the defensive side.”