It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Oregon State women’s basketball team proved itself in the stretch in a hostile environment, pulling out a 60-57 victory over the Baylor Bears to win the Dallas Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Beavers advanced to the Final Four for the first time ever with the win, and now they will get to take on top-seeded, three-time defending champion Connecticut.
After seeing a nine-point lead all but evaporate in the third quarter, OSU hung tough defensively in the fourth quarter, breaking a 57-57 tie with 34 seconds left and hitting enough key free throws to win the game and punch the Final Four ticket. Meanwhile, Baylor—the No. 4-ranked team in the country and the regional’s top seed—missed a whopping eight free throws in this game.
“I get to coach the most amazing group anyone can possibly imagine: the beliefs that they have, what they’ve overcome to build this into a program that believes they deserve to win on a stage like this,” Beavers Head Coach Scott Rueck told ESPN right after the victory. “I don’t know you beat this. I couldn’t be prouder of this group. We have so much respect for Baylor, and we knew this was going to be a home court for them in a large part today.”
Oregon State’s defense once again rose to the occasion down the stretch, for when the Beavers couldn’t hit their shots or hold on to the ball—OSU coughed up 19 turnovers in this game, which is an unreal total for the winning team—they played stellar defense while in foul trouble. After trailing most of the game, Baylor grabbed the lead for only 24 seconds in the fourth quarter as time and time again the Beavers defense came up with big stops.
Sydney Wiese hit three of four free-throw attempts in the final 34 seconds to provide the winning margin, but this was an amazing team effort all around tonight: Wiese had 18 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Jamie Weisner added 16 points and eight rebounds. Despite being in foul trouble for a good portion of the game, Ruth Hamblin scored 10 points, grabbed 12 boards and made four blocks. The unsung hero helping out the Big Three tonight was Gabriella Hanson: She scored 10 points, as Deven Hunter struggled to score just two points despite grabbing seven rebounds.
Overall, three OSU players finished with four fouls each (Hamblin, Weisner and Hunter). Rueck managed his roster very well, and one of the keys to this game was Baylor Head Coach Kim Mulkey losing her composure on the sidelines—drawing a technical foul at one point, which the Beavers converted into a free point—and using her final timeout when there were still almost four minutes left in the game.
Credit Rueck for his game management here as well as his belief in his players and the team’s defense.
“We’ve seen tough crowds; we’ve seen environments; we’ve seen amazing teams; and we’ve seen amazing coaches,” Rueck added in his postgame TV interview. “And this team had a belief in them: They came out and defended and played our game. I don’t even know how to put it into words. This is ‘pinch-me’ stuff. I am so proud of those people behind me. I am so proud of Beaver Nation for believing in this team and supporting us like no other. There’s not a moment that goes by where this forgets who they represent.”
With a 32-4 record, Oregon State joins fellow Pac-12 rival Washington in the Final Four, taking place next weekend in Indianapolis. The Huskies were just a No. 7 seed in the Lexington Regional, but they knocked off the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the bracket to advance to their first Final Four as well—making it clear that even if the other Huskies win another national title, the Pac-12 Conference surely was the best league top to bottom in 2016.
The women’s national semifinals take place next Sunday: As noted, the Beavers will play UConn, and Washington will face the Syracuse Orange. The times for these games have not yet been announced.