The unflappable Sydney Wiese will have to settle on sharing the spotlight if she leads Oregon State to its collective goal on Tuesday. Ninth-seeded OSU (24-10) aims to upset South Carolina (28-4), the top seed in the NCAA tournament Stanford regional. Winner gets a trip to the Sweet 16, which will be played on the Cardinal’s court in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Our confidence is high,” said Wiese of the matchup set for 6:40pm at Alaska Airlines Arena and airing on ESPN2.
“We’re looking to shock the nation,” she continued. “No matter what it takes to win, we’re going to do it.”
Sigh, but that’s already happened in the women’s bracket. There have been 10 upsets in the NCAA tournament. The last eight tickets to the Sweet 16 will be punched Tuesday.
The biggest upset to date is No. 7 DePaul defeating second-seeded Duke 74-65 on Duke’s own court on Monday night in the second round after hitting a season-high 14 three-pointers.
True, OSU defeating the rising SEC power in South Carolina is “bigger” statistically but minds around the women’s hoops world are already blown, papers shuffling to quickly research unexpected stories on BYU (which beat No. 4 Nebraska) and No. 5 seed Oklahoma State (which beat No. 4 seed Purdue) who advanced to the Sweet 16 field.
And those in the Northwest who’ve followed OSU wouldn’t be surprised anymore, either. Nationally, however, it’s easy to overlook the experience Oregon State does have. After all, Sunday was the program’s first win since 1995 in its first NCAA tournament since 1996.
But the Beavers played four teams in nonconference play this season that advanced to the NCAA tournament. And OSU already knows the feel of a No. 9 seed having to turnaround and play a top seed, losing at home to Notre Dame (70-58) before losing on the road at Stanford (89-67) and Cal (72-63) in an eight-day stretch.
Then there’s the comfort factor. Oregon State is slowly taking over Husky Country, OSU coach Scott Rueck telling me Hec Ed is commemorated in the team’s headquarters because it’s where the Beavers won its first Pac-12 game since he was hired in 2010 to lift his alma mater from ruins.
It was a 51-46 win against Washington before a reported 2,132 fans at Hec Ed that ultimately led to the firing of UW coach Tia Jackson.
OSU gathered around on the court in front of the visitor’s bench for the photo op. Senior G Alyssa Martin was an in-coming freshman at the time and is the only remaining player from that significant moment in OSU’s turnaround.
“I feel like a million bucks,” Rueck told me after the win in February 2011 that ended a 10-game losing streak in Pac-12 conference play.
“It’s surprising that we got one on the road or that we got any,” he continued. “To win in the (then) Pac-10 with only one player who’s ever played real Pac-10 minutes and a majority of a team who’s never played college basketball — to come in and win at this elite level, that speaks volumes to how quickly this team has grown and the heart they play with. We have to defend to make up for our deficiencies offensively and lack of experience, which I thought showed itself today. We’re throwing passes out-of-bounds and doing weird things and it’s like, ‘Gosh! Here we go, again?’ Or can we actually do it?”
Rueck will be in that lucky spot in front of the visitors bench again Tuesday trying to pull another first — the program’s first Sweet 16 trip since 1983. Rueck is 4-1 at Alaska Airlines Arena in his tenure at OSU. Include the Pac-12 conference tournament played at KeyArena and Rueck is 6-3 in Seattle overall. (Ahem, that outta piss you off UW)
The winner of Tuesday’s second-round NCAA tourney matchup plays the North Carolina-Michigan State winner on Sunday at Maples Pavilion.
But first, here are the stories to get you ready for round-two at Alaska Airlines Arena:
— To kick it off, PG play will be key for both teams. SC and OSU have big, solid post play, but working the ball in there starts at the top and the defensive game plan starts there, too, for the Gamecocks. I wrote how SC coach Dawn Staley has been grooming PG Khadijah Sessions for long-term NCAA tournament play. A sophomore, Sessions started just three games last season.
— The State’s David Cloninger chatted with Staley, who wants her team to talk about winning a national championship. “You have to plant the seed. If you say, ‘We just want to get to the Sweet 16,’ if we get to the Sweet 16, I think everybody would be just happy to be there and not have goal of achieving more,” she said. “Ultimately we want to win a national championship.”
— Cloninger wrote for the paper how Staley is shaking up freshman C Alaina Coates. The 6-foot-4 star reserve will be key in defending OSU’s 6-6 sophomore Ruth Hamblin. The notebook leads with how the Gamecocks have won five straight first-round games in the NCAA tournament and to advance to its second Sweet 16 in its past three seasons.
— Tony Santaella of WLTX reported how South Carolina discussed strategy at the Monday practice at Alaska Airlines Arena. News 19 James Starks is also providing video reports for Columbia, South Carolina.
— Oregonian reporter Gina Mizell explored why the Beavers are so skilled at defense. She also took a trip down memory lane in looking at how both OSU and SC coaches had to rebuild programs that once were respectable.
— Howie Stalwick fills in for the The Register-Guard, writing about how Wiese makes basketball look easy and setting up SC’s strategy in not allowing her to set the game’s tempo.
— ESPN’s Michelle Smith featured Wiese and how the freshman needs just 11 points to set the school’s freshman scoring record. One of many she’s reset this season. The Arizona native already set the school record for made three-pointers, totaling 110 headed into Tuesday’s game.
— Associated Press reporter Tim Booth provided his take on OSU’s rebuild and some other notes in advancing Tuesday’s showdown.
— And here’s footage of Rueck talking about the matchup with media prior to practice on Monday.