If Oregon State didn’t have the full attention of the college basketball world after home wins over Utah and Colorado, it does now.
By completing a season sweep of the Pac-12 Mountain schools, this time with dominating road wins, the Beavers are making a dam good case for being the best team in the mighty Pac-12.
Charli Turner Thorne, the former Arizona State coach and current Pac-12 Networks analyst, says this Oregon State team could be as good as the 2016 NCAA Final Four version. And that was before the Beavers built a 25-point lead and held on to beat Colorado 65-59 Sunday.
Unranked nationally until Jan. 22, Oregon State now occupied the No. 11 position — a breathtaking climb up the AP poll based on four top-25 victories in a five-game winning streak. The victory over Colorado was the first on the road against a top-five opponent in school history.
The Beavers (20-3/9-3) are 1.5 games behind the Pac-12 leader, No. 3 Stanford, which plays in Corvallis in two weeks. Before that, they are home against ninth-ranked UCLA on Friday and No. 10 USC on Sunday.
OSU’s only three losses are against Stanford and the L.A. schools.
“This team is not that team,” Beavers guard Talia von Oelhoffen said in a postgame radio interview Sunday.
“Going to Stanford, especially, exposed a lot. We’ve grown so much since then. Even though we came out on the bottom on those, I couldn’t be more confident going into this weekend. We don’t feel like the underdogs. We know how good we are. If we execute on both ends, I don’t believe anyone in the Pac can hang with us.”
Coach Scott Rueck is 290-149 in his 14th season at Oregon State, remarkably similar to his success at Division III school George Fox (288-88 over 14 seasons). That consistency is built on defense, with the peaks coming when Rueck finds enough offensive talent to boost his scoring margin.
Not only does 6-foot-2 forward Raegan Beers have 14 double-doubles in 23 games, which is tied for 10th nationally, but Timea Gardiner, Lily Hansford and von Oelhoffen are among the conference’s 3-point leaders. Hansford is shooting 49.2 percent from distance and made her first two non-3-point baskets of the season Sunday.
“The bench was going absolutely insane because we always challenge Lily to get a 2 because she just knocks down 3s left and right,” Beers said. “It was awesome to see her work off that pressure, working on her back cuts. That was nothing that was drawn up. That was just her basketball IQ.”
Sophomores Beers, Gardiner and Hansford are pillars of a 2022 recruiting class that ranked No. 3 nationally. Oregon State figures to dominate the West Coast Conference in women’s basketball for at least the next two seasons after the dissolution of the current Pac-12.
Gardiner is from Utah and Beers from Colorado, so the road wins were especially meaningful for them.
“My support system here in Colorado, not just my family, is absolutely amazing,” Beers said. “I love them so much, I’m so glad they could come, I miss them. So many kids I’ve babysat, I’ve coached, a lot of them got to come, I got to hold all of them. It’s a great day.”
Beers was named Pac-12 Player of the Week over Stanford’s Cameron Brink, USC’s JuJu Watkins and others, her second such honor this season.
Watkins rolls on, Stanford survives
Four other Pac-12 teams went 2-0 in a week that extended into Monday with a nationally televised game in which USC defeated Arizona to complete its sweep.
Stanford, UCLA and California also were 2-0. The Washington and Arizona schools and Oregon were at the opposite end, going 0-2.
Watkins, the USC star, won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award Monday for the 12th time this season. She scored 63 points against the Arizona schools and has nine 30-point games.
Jason Sudeikis was the celeb du jour in attendance at USC on Friday, with Will Ferrell in attendance on Monday along with former Trojan greats Cheryl Miller and Tina Thompson.
“It got me in my Ted Lasso bag of quotes,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of Sudeikis. “I was excited to have him here. Only in LA.”
Stanford needed overtime to survive 63-59 at Washington on Friday, then used a 20-7 fourth quarter to put away Washington State 73-58 on Sunday.
Brink combined for 43 points and 20 rebounds, plus six blocked shots, against Washington; she had five steals against WSU.
“It was a battle, and I really feel like we needed a test like that,” Brink said Friday. “Going into March, it’s good to go into overtime games. Our communication was the best part, to talk and stay on perimeter shooters.”
UCLA sophomore Lauren Betts returned from a four-game absence for undisclosed medical reasons. She had six points and nine rebounds off the bench against Arizona, then was back as a starter against ASU and scored a team-high 18 points along with seven boards.
“It wasn’t just (that) she’s a really good player; her energy and spirit for the sake of the team was really missed,” Bruins coach Cori Close said. “We’re thrilled to have her back. I want her to keep focusing on everything besides making shots. Those other things will come back.”
Clark set to surpass Plum
Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark needs eight points Thursday against Michigan – a virtual given for the national scoring leader (32.1 ppg) — to surpass former Washington All-American Kelsey Plum as the all-time scoring leader in women’s college basketball.
Plum finished with 3,527 points over her four-year career in Seattle (2014-17) before moving on to the WNBA. Clark has 3,520 in her fourth season. She is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft in April.
On Sunday, Plum, who’s now with the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, sent out a social media post prematurely congratulating Clark, who scored 31 in a loss at Nebraska.
“Congratulations on the record, and really your entire season! I appreciate what you do for the game, much respect and love! See you at the next level, hopefully sooner than later.”
Plum later posted: “My bad next game.”
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma reached 1,200 career wins last week, which is the third-highest total in college basketball history behind Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (1,208) and former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,202).
Then Auriemma dropped a retirement hint after the game, saying, “I could probably say, with a great deal of certainty, that I’ll never be No. 1 in wins. I don’t think that will happen.”
In his 39th season, Auriemma realistically can’t catch VanDerveer this season — and perhaps not next season, either, if he opts to return for a 40th — because of Stanford’s ongoing success, which should translate with its move to the ACC.
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