Wednesday, all Final Four coaches were interviewed by a national media panel. Below is the transcript of the conversation with Oregon State University coach Scott Rueck. The “uncharacteristic loss to UCLA” and “preparing for UConn” questions are mine.
COACH RUECK: Just want to say, what an amazing journey this has been and an amazing week tend was. It was just a huge, huge victory Monday night for these students and this program. We enjoyed it for a moment and then began preparation for the week ahead and we’re obviously very excited to be a part of this weekend and this weekend’s festivities.
We arrived back on campus yesterday to an incredible welcome and celebration, and this is just a great time for everyone associated with our program and this community and university. We are very proud to represent them as well as the Pac-12.
Q. There’s lots of basketball in your family, but what role did your sister, Heidi, and your wife, in particular, play in the path that you followed?
COACH RUECK: Well, my sister was very key. Heidi is four years younger than me in school, and so never was in school at the same time but she was my little sister — and there’s just two of us, my only sibling.
So she would be the one I would be dragging out to the driveway. We actually had a basket in our garage that we were little that we would play on for countless hours, and so she was something that I would play against and then all of the sudden, she caught the love of the game and became a state champion here in the State of Oregon, and then went on to play at George Fox before I was there and became an NAI All-American at that time at the point.
I was fortunate enough to be hired to coach her her junior and senior year as an assistant. My wife happened to be her best friend. She wasn’t my wife at the time, but Kerry and Heidi were teammates their junior and senior year at George Fox. And the one — Heidi was the point, Kerry was shooting guard. And Heidi had all the assist records, and Kerry had all the three-point shooting records at that school at the time.
What I learned from my sister, and this was the most key thing, was that a female athlete can compete with the same, if not greater, passion and desire than any guy I had ever been around. There was never a game she lost that there were not tears after the game. She poured her heart into it. She won me over at an early age and a lot of males I don’t think respect women’s sports and athletics at an early age. I think that’s an acquired thing for guys, unfortunately.
I was lucky and fortunate to give me what an incredible example it was. And I was able to coach her, and that was the first women’s team I was ever a part of was her junior year. It wasn’t women’s basketball. It was basketball. My friends would say, “Do you like coaching women’s basketball?” Well, it’s the same to me.
So Heidi taught me that women could compete and play, and I absolutely loved coaching her and her team just for the way they play and the way they wanted to be coached and wanted to achieve. So they both had really obviously significant roles. That’s the reason I’m here. Heidi opened my eyes and opened the door for me.
Q. Those of us out here on the East Coast, we may not be as familiar with Pac-12 basketball. The style of play in the Pac-12, how does that compare to other leagues around the country such as the ACC or the American conference or the BIG EAST?
COACH RUECK: It’s a great question, we’ve had some similar opponents. We played Creighton a few years ago, I guess your name is Creighton, that’s why it popped into my head. We played Notre Dame. We’ve been back east; we played North Carolina and some SEC schools, as well. We’ve done our best to get off the West Coast so we could go out and prove ourselves, and so people could see us, as well.
You know, it’s tough to say. All I know is the brand of basketball that we have played out here and that we are playing, it’s been a passion of mine to represent the West Coast. I’m from here. I’ve coached here my whole life. And you get into tournament situations, whether it’s here or throughout my career, any time we can get off the West Coast and go play, there was a sense of pride where we’re representing a part of the country that doesn’t get as much notoriety. We are not seen as much because of the time change, and that’s just the reality of the situation. So you want to capitalize on those opportunities.
I think if you look at our conference this year, this conference defends at a ridiculous level. Us, Arizona State, Stanford, we’re in the top five all year long in most defensive categories, points against field goal percent defense. If you want to win in the Pac-12, you have to defend at that level. That’s been evident and that has been evident when we’ve gone out and played other schools, as well.
I think what we’ve learned, I mean just through this tournament, there’s a lot more maybe motion offense east where you see all five interchangeable parts. That’s certainly been the story at this tournament for us is playing non-traditional teams like that.
Q. Jamie Weisner, your fifth team All-American, three or four foul shots against Baylor; who are some of the other players that as fans and reporters should be keeping an eye on from Oregon State?
COACH RUECK: Yeah, and it’s easy to get Wiese and Weisner mixed up, the two names so similar.
But Jamie Weisner has had an incredible year of course. Sydney Wiese played on the university team’s game this past summer and has really made a name for herself and has been First Team All Pac-12 all three years. And Ruth Hamblin, of course, the Canadian Hammer, our 6-6 center. Those are the ones people know.
The other night I think Gabby Hanson, anybody who watched that game, saw her impact on that game and on this team. She is a dynamic player that impacts the game in every way to be honest. She can play one through four, and if I needed her to play the five at 5-11, she probably could. She brought scoring to us the other night, which she is absolutely capable of. She averaged 12 points a game for the eight games that Sydney Wiese was down for us. She’s just the consummate utility player. She can do it all. She usually draws the toughest defensive assignment, and she’s also a great facilitator offensively. That’s one.
Deven Hunter is our starting power forward, and Deven is another unsung hero; another player that’s capable of impacting the game in every way. She’s basically a point forward for us. The ball goes through her hands a lot, and then has the ability to step out and knock perimeter shots down. When we beat Stanford here this year, she hit five threes, and it’s not necessarily what she’s known for, but it’s something she’s capable of doing.
So that’s what makes this team special and I think any team that’s playing at this point of the year, you have a lot of different people that could rise and step up at different times and this team is certainly blessed with that and you can go down the row with Marie GÃ¼lich, our 6-5 German sophomore center that has played key minutes for us at the four and the five; and then Samantha Siegner, another senior for us, who has played again three positions, three through five for us. So a lot of versatility on this team.
Q. How much does the championship run you had at George Fox, playing on this stage, how much does that help you and your staff prepare for what’s coming this weekend?
COACH RUECK: I have been drawing on that experience my entire time here. That Final Four experience at Hope College in 2009 was such an eye-opening experience for us, because it had a Division I feel to it. They did such a great job hosting. There were press conferences for the first time and I would have been lost coming into this job if it had not been for that weekend alone.
And so that run, facing, I know a lot of people listening probably don’t follow Division III and may not know who Wash-U and Nancy Fahey, who is an absolute legend at that level. But to face a program that at that level was the Tennessee; that was Pat Summitt and Tennessee. That’s who Nancy is at that level.
To take your team and to look down the sideline and see, you have basically royalty down there that you are coaching against and playing against. And to be able to get a team to put that out of their mind and just play, and not only play, but overcome, had some real similarities to — for short-term memory here, what we did just two nights ago, very similar to playing against Baylor and Kim.
So that confidence, and that knowledge that I gained that weekend as a leader, anyway, has really been one of the things that I’ve relied on my entire time here at Oregon State over six years. And that — I don’t know, just that mentality of, hey, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’ve just got to go play our game. And we belong; you belong if you believe you belong. We have played and conducted ourselves with that belief from day one here, and I think it’s directly related.
Q. With all of her accolades that she has accumulated over the last couple years, do you consider Breanna Stewart among the greatest or even the greatest women’s college basketball player ever?
COACH RUECK: That’s such a hard thing to ever answer. I think there are so many great players, the eras are slightly different, and I don’t know if — it can’t be just a black-and-white answer. I think there are so many things that go into that.
What I would say is, I can’t imagine a more efficient player. I can’t imagine a more versatile player. I don’t know if there’s ever been one that can do what she does.
I got to be around here and coach her, as an assistant, anyway, at the Pan-Am team and got to watch her work and watch her go into the gym each day and lace her shoes up and go to work. There’s no nonsense to her. She competes at the highest every second, she was a great teammate and she was coachable and humble. If you put all those things together, when you create a basketball player, you create her, the size and athleticism.
So as we’re getting into them and researching them and just looking at numbers, they just make you shake your head. And so there’s nothing she can’t do. If she’s not the greatest, I don’t know, I personally wouldn’t know who was.
Q. A couple years ago, Geno introduced the notion of potentially lowering the rims in women’s basketball, and that kind of has come up recently, Elena Delle Donne noted that she agreed that the rims should be lowered in women’s basketball, and then this week Diana Taurasi came out and she said she disagreed and never thought that should happen in women’s basketball. Do you have an opinion on the matter?
COACH RUECK: I’m a purist. I’m a purist at heart. I love the game we play the way it is.
My honest opinion is it seems unrealistic, to be honest. You know, every park in America has ten-foot hoops, every driveway, every gym in America has a ten-foot basket. And I don’t know exactly how we would be able to change that, and so for that reason, it’s pretty easy for me to dismiss.
I think we should constantly be looking for ways to improve our game, the quarters, advancing the ball, things like that have in my opinion improved our game this year. I’ve loved those changes, and so I think we need to continue to be looking at those — at things like that that can continue to enhance our game.
But my personal opinion is that one might be a little bit unrealistic.
Q. Obviously Jen Hill has not played a lot of minutes this year particularly in the tournament, but what impact has she had on this team this season?
COACH RUECK: That’s an awesome question, thank you. Jen is just a spiritual leader at all times. She brings an incredible, incredible presence to her. She brings a joy into our gym each day.
And you’re right, she’s battled some injuries this year, has not had the year that she would have drawn up or wanted, of course, and not the one I wanted for her. She was going to backup Sydney Wiese all year, and I don’t want to play Syd 40 minutes.
But Jen has been hampered by some injuries that set her back, but that has not diminished her impact on our team. If you look at Jen’s career record, she has done nothing but win, nothing but win. She has a presence about her that’s just — it oozes success, and so she’s a very integral part of our team. Nobody would know that, other than the spot minutes that she’s gotten. If you look from the outside, but for those of us on the inside, she’s vital to our success.
Q. You talked a little bit earlier about going against Nancy and Washington, and not letting that and their history overwhelm you or your players, and obviously going against UCONN, it is that sort of similar thing. It seems like there are teams that are beaten by them before they step on the court. But also, UCONN is very, very good a lot of times immediately putting teams down in big holes. So I wonder if you can talk about both those aspects of not allowing the moment to overwhelm your team, but then also being able to withstand that early charge they seem to use a lot of times that just gets teams very, very far in the hole.
COACH RUECK: Yeah, it’s similar. I think this has been a theme, natural progression. It has been a theme for this team and this program and every building program, I believe.
You look at what we did the other night. Now, UCONN has played at a different level than Baylor, as great as Baylor is, of course, and they have been there forever and they are who they are.
But going into Dallas and playing Baylor, without being intimidated; and yes, I think it took a couple minutes for us to get comfortable out there. I think that’s natural. But our defense was great during that stretch.
And so I think the mind-set needs to be the same. The mind-set has to be the same. It has to be at possession by possession and this group has been such an incredible job of minimizing all extra things, and we call it garbage.
All the garbage that’s in the way of what your job is right now, get all those things out of your head, and let’s just focus on the task, and this takes a lot of maturity to do that, and this team has done a great job of that all year. We’re going to have to do a great job of that again. That’s going to have to be an elite performance in that way.
Getting down early, certainly nobody wants to do that, and they have the ability to score. Tuck came out of the gates firing the other night and did that to Texas, and then Texas got their bearings and battled back.
Our defense has to be on point from the beginning and then we have to understand, that we have to hit shots over the top and compete with them on that end of the floor, as well.
Q. A lot has been made about the situation at Oregon State that you inherited when you got there with just two scholarship players and holding tryouts, and I know Oregon State is where you went to school. I guess I’m wondering, how much did you want that job when it was offered to you, and how eager was Oregon State to give that to you? What was that sense of desperation, if you will, like, when that occurred when you were getting ready to make this jump, and could you imagine being in this place now just six years later?
COACH RUECK: How much did I want it? We were on top of the world at George Fox. We had a 6-5 center that was going to be a sophomore. Everything, my teaching load was basically — George Fox had become the perfect job at the time, which was really ironic. There was a time where I had to teach so much that I didn’t know how long I could keep that job up.
And then so when this job came open, I called our AD and it was a simple conversation. I had known him a bit, and just said, “Do you want me to put my name in? Because I don’t want to waste your time and I don’t want to waste my time.”
He said, “Yes, we want your name in.” And I said okay, so we put my name is. This was the only job I ever would have considered leaving George Fox for. We were happy there.
Through that process, it became apparent that this was — there was a feeling to it. This is what we’re supposed to do. If they offer me the job, I think this is what we’re supposed to do. I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t looking. And when my wife said, “We’re supposed to do this,” Kerry said that.
And I said, “Oh, my gosh, here we go, our life is going to be different.”
I’ll be honest, it took me 45 minutes standing at that copy machine in the office at George Fox and to push my contract on that fax machine and send it and say yes, because I knew my life would change forever, and I liked my life at the time.
And so when we came here, it was absolutely overwhelming and daunting. It was the craziest several months of my life. Just trying to get my bearings and build a team in just two months before school started that could compete with the Pac-12.
Did I ever think we could be here in six years? No way. No way. I did not have enough knowledge at the time to even predict that this could be possible. I had so much respect for the Pac-12, for the conference, to know — I didn’t know if we could get to the top half of the conference in that time to be honest.
What I found early was that there are incredible people looking for what we have, and great basketball players from amazing family lies. You know, once you realize that you can align with character and with the amount of talent that’s necessary to compete at this level, then those visions and those expectations began to change.
You know, then this became absolutely, yes, a reality that you can do this. So it’s been an amazing process to be a part of.
Q. When do you think or what do you think eventually kind of turned the corner, where you felt that not only Oregon State could compete in the Pac-12, but nationally and even maybe have a shot at a good run in March?
COACH RUECK: We had an opportunity to schedule Notre Dame in our fourth year here, or third year. It was Sydney Wiese’s freshman year, so that would be our fourth year here. Jamie and Ruth, Sam and Deven, wore sophomores.
We had really competed that year. We played Penn State tough. We played Florida really tough. We got beat in both of them, but we were close, and we knew, hey, we’ve got some talent here. I think we can put this together. It become became frustrating that we couldn’t get over the hump because we were that close and then Notre Dame came in, our first game after Christmas, I believe it was December 29. And we had 5,000 people in Gill. It was a TV game, and we were down four with the ball with two minutes to go, and Ruth nearly had a triple-double that day.
And that was the day. That was the day where everyone in this program, including our fans, everybody, said, wow, we have something special here. Kayla McBride had to play an incredible game to keep them close at half, and they knew how to win and we didn’t down the stretch. But that was the day where I think everybody saw themselves a little bit differently.
Q. When you entered this season, was this something, getting to the Final Four, was this a realistic topic that you brought up with your team? Were they talking about it? Was this something that you could see and kind of envision it a little bit more, or were you looking at something a little less, a different kind of a goal to reach at this point?
COACH RUECK: This year it was definitely an expectation. Yeah, coming off a Pac-12 championship a year ago, unfortunately getting beat in the second round was disappointing. There was still — I can’t lie and say — I mean, there was still a little bit of doubts, can we get all way to this level, for sure. You know things need to go your way a bit.
When Sydney got hurt this year, I thought that hurt our chances. That concerned me. I didn’t know if we could weather that storm in Pac-12 play, knowing we opened in L.A. and then two weeks later had the Bay Schools coming in without her potentially, but we weathered that.
At the beginning of the year, yes, we absolutely believed. And going to Notre Dame, playing them to one point, again, this year, without Sydney, gave this program a lot of confidence that they could do it.
Q. You kind of just talked about the scheduling there a little bit and obviously getting a big name like Notre Dame on the schedule the next few years, and echoing some of the comments, attributing the banner year for the Pac-12 to an effort by the coaches to really improve the scheduling and the RPI and all that. I know Mike a few years ago, I think he was still an assistant at the time, had put together a report that he presented a little bit at a coaches meeting. Do you remember that much and is that something that resonated with you a little bit? Is that something that do you think maybe made a little difference and made coaches look at things a little bit differently with scheduling?
COACH RUECK: I think so. I remember it vividly. I was sitting next to him, actually, and going through it with him. That meeting we had to change a little bit of perception, and Mike did a great job presenting the numbers and the research and said, you know, those things add up to this, and this is what we have to do as a conference. This is what other conferences are doing, and you have to win games. You have to win games.
You know, I think everybody, it’s kind of, in a lot of ways, in my opinion it’s common sense. You want to push your team and schedule as tough as you can; at the same time, you can’t overschedule. So basically you’re building confidence and wins through the preseason, and then the teams at the top need to go out and challenge themselves and they need to go play the other best teams in the country and our conference has done a phenomenal job of that. That is directly related to this conference having the No. 1 RPI number in the country.
Q. Do you think that it takes some time for everyone to kind of get on board with that or do you think it was well received by most in the room?
COACH RUECK: I think it was well received by most, I do.
Q. You beat the No. 1 seed and a couple other opponents along the way; it could be organized that you were just as good or they were better than you. Psychologically, what do you think made the difference for you guys as far as taking you up to that next step of the Final Four?
COACH RUECK: Well, that’s beating Baylor in Dallas. I think that’s the No. 1 for us. That was the game where everything, everything built towards that game. We had seen everything. This conference is so amazingly tough this year, and it’s just a gauntlet. It doesn’t end. It’s two games a week for ten straight weeks including the Pac-12 tournament.
That toughened this team and gave us so much confidence and resolve that we could go tough toe-to-toe with anyone, and this team was so tough and resilient because of that.
Going into Baylor, I felt like that second half, we had to hit a different level of grit. I think, again, just the progression in the lives of these students in our program and all of us as coaches even, having to dig down and understand, everything is against us right now. They are making their run and we have to stay strong.
Well, we’ve learned that in order to win at this level and this conference, you have to be elite defensively, and we had so much confidence on that end of the floor.
So I can look at a lot of moments, but I look at that moment right there. That was the one. We needed that opportunity and the team made the most of it and it was just playing big on the biggest stage and the biggest moment, and now, you know, like we’ve talked about, now to do it again on the absolute biggest stage.
Q. When you guys were here in Los Angeles the beginning of the year, you had an uncharacteristic loss to UCLA and only one conference loss after that to Stanford. Did those losses help play a part in your mental toughness down the stretch?
COACH RUECK: I think that — I don’t want to diminish the UCLA loss, because it was a really tough one. But not having Sydney that night, that was the week we were at Notre Dame and then at USC and then at UCLA.
That game got away from us and UCLA played an absolutely incredible game offensively and defensively, and they turned us over 26 times. That was obviously uncharacteristic of us. We just weren’t quite prepared without Sydney to handle that kind of pressure that night. We learned from that.
With the Stanford loss, for us, refocused us on getting back to the core of what we do, and certainly Erica McCall had one of the most incredible games anyone could imagine, and they played out of their minds and they played great defensively.
But that game, we did not handle adversity very well that night, and I thought this run we’ve been on ever since has been fueled from that game and that loss. This team to their credit turned a really adverse situation into a positive, so we are a better team for that one.
Q. Without obviously playing your hand, what are you guys doing to prepare for such an opponent as UCONN?
COACH RUECK: Well, the same thing you do for everyone. You find areas that you can do your best to control, and that’s not easy against them. They are hurt you in so many different ways.
But just like what we did against Baylor, they score so well out of transition. We’re going to have to be at our absolute best in taking care of the basketball, doing our best to keep them out of transition and making them work for everything. They have got the ability to score over the top, as well as anybody in basketball.
And so that’s what we make people do. We’re going to have to make them do that and then we’re going to have to compete on the boards and win the boards, and then I think the thing that — I don’t know if everybody — I think they get so much credit offensively. I think their defense is better than their offense.
So for us, it’s scoring consistently against that team. Now, everything I just said is what we do every night, and so it is similar. It’s just doing it at an elite, elite level.
Q. You mentioned earlier the Pan-Am team and being around Stewart with that. In that experience, what stood out about Moriah Jefferson and just being around her on a day-to-day, game-by-game basis?
COACH RUECK: Well, well, she’s just a sweetheart of a person. She’s just a joy to be around, kind to everyone, a great teammate, and a warrior competitively. Those two in particular, so similar that way. That’s what just kind of blew me away and also made me feel good about my team; we’re on to something, because being around them was very similar to being around our team.
They are very businesslike. It’s like, okay, it’s time to go to work, it’s time to practice, let’s go. She’s no nonsense. I felt like she’s a consummate floor general leader, expects everyone’s best and demands it from herself. I was just extremely impressed by Mo and enjoyed every minute I had being around her.
Q. You’ve mentioned defense a couple times now. Can you talk about what makes your defense so effective? Is it a particular scheme or just hard-nosed kids?
COACH RUECK: I think it’s a commitment to it, first off. This team has completely embraced preparation. They would be disappointed if we didn’t break down every player of our opposing team and exactly what they are going to try to do to you and what this team wants to do.
I think we also have the right makeup and certainly both things go hand in hand. You have to have the right pieces in order to execute the system. We do generally a great job of keeping teams out of transition. That’s been our MO, and if you look, we lead the nation in defensive field goal percent. UCONN I think is two maybe or one. That means we’re making teams take tough shots; maybe that they don’t want to shoot all the time and we challenge those shots for the most part. If you’re open, it’s probably because we want you to be open.
So when you look at Ruth Hamblin, the Pac-12’s career shot block leader, along with Gabby Hanson who can defend the ball and defend four positions, and then you’ve got Jamie and Syd along with Deven, then you bring off Marie and Sam who are 6-5, 6-3, we had a lot of length and size that are committed to it. There’s just a toughness and there’s a high level of execution to go with a plan that is designed to make every possession a tough one for you.
Q. A few people have also mentioned now how difficult the beginnings were for you there, how bare the cupboard was. How many kids did you actually get out of tryouts and things of that nature? It wasn’t easy initially, was it.
COACH RUECK: No. There was one player that had never played in a Pac-12 game. We returned a student named Elsa Agreer (ph), and she was a junior college transfer from Iowa. Along with her, we had another student who rejoined the program in Angela Misa, and Angela played in just a few games as a freshman. So she was a sophomore. Those were the two returners.
Then we had three freshmen that the previous staff had signed coming in and so that got us to five and one of them was Alyssa Martin who ended up being a four-year starter for us and someone that I had known since she was a sixth grader. So I felt great about Alyssa.
The other two either transferred after her freshman or sophomore year. We had a junior college transfer that the previous staff had signed to a financial agreement. She became eligible the day before school started. So we were fortunate that Alyssa Martin joined us. From that point it was acquiring other players.
We had an open tryout and we had four that we took from that open tryout. There were 55 people that came to try out. One of those started for two years for us. She was also, ironically, someone who played for me at George Fox who had left my program after our championship year and come here just by chance and then decided to come out for the team. We added then a soccer player and a volleyball player and that was our roster that first year.
Q. You really pieced it together, didn’t you?
COACH RUECK: It was an amazing thing to be a part of. And we won two Pac-12 games. We won nine games that year. I’ll be honest, it was one of the most rewarding years I’ve ever spent coaching. That team played with everything they had.
Q. Did it help shape you as a coach? Did it make you tougher or more passionate? What came out of that?
COACH RUECK: Well, a couple things, that’s a great question. One, it was the first losing team that I had and so it was absolute hell to go through. Even though you’re supposed to lose, it was misery.
But another thing was, that team competed in its conference. That’s what I learned that year. We ran a zone. We had to just kind of put people in places and we had to manufacture almost every shot from an offense standpoint because we weren’t obviously overly talented offensively.
But that team taught me that we could do it here, because that team was in nearly every game. Our first Pac-12 game was at Arizona State that year, and we had gone 7-4 in the preseason but it wasn’t a tough preseason.
We go down to ASU, and I feel like, man, we’re going to get beat by 30 points every night in this conference. We had a three to tie it as the buzzer, and then the next night we go to Arizona and we had the ball down two and we turned it over with five seconds to go. But we had the ball down two to tie at Arizona. I said, you’re kidding me. Look what this team is doing. That year taught me that this would be possible. Like I said, it was one of the most rewarding years.
Now, this recruiting class, well, these kids that are graduating, these seniors, that’s the year we recruited them off of. They watched that year as we were recruiting them, so they saw hope in the way that that team competed and chose Oregon State at the conclusion of that season.
Q. You talked about how the Notre Dame game was the turning point for the program. Is there a moment over this six-year journey that is particularly special to you and that sticks out to you?
COACH RUECK: Can I give you two?
In our very first year, we beat Oregon in a Civil War game here, and we were down 20 at halftime in our locker room and came out and won by two in the second half. There was a spirit and energy in Gill Coliseum that day that was just special. That provided the fuel for this entire build; like, we can do this. It galvanized our fan base.
In fact, at the end of that, the guys who keeps our book, has been sitting there for 40 years, and he told me, of all the games I’ve watched in the coliseum and that includes a lot of incredible men’s basketball games as well as women’s, he said, that’s in my Top-10 right there. That was a special day that none of us will ever forget, and that has provided fuel. In fact, that box score is on my wall. I’m looking at it.
The other one was last year’s Cal game here where we clinched the Pac-12 championship for the first time outright. We had 6,000 people here chanting for our one senior, Ali Gibson, and that was the culmination of all the struggle; that it actually happened here.
A lot of people did tell me and would tell you, you probably can’t win at Oregon State, and that was the day that we won at Oregon State. We’re going to raise a Pac-12 Conference banner in this place. And it was one of those surreal moments where Ali Gibson gets carried off the floor on the shoulders of her teammates and there’s confetti falling on us. You just look up and you’re like, I can’t believe we did it. We got here. And so those are two really significant moments that I remember.
Q. Can you sort of put into perspective of exactly why Connecticut is so incredibly hard to defend? Obviously they have the great players. Is it the fact that they have such good scores at every position, the passing, or all of it? What makes it so hard for even really good defenses to try to stop them?
COACH RUECK: Well, they are complete. They operate at such an efficient level and if you look at their turnover ratio, it will blow your mind. If you look at their shot percentage, it blows your mind, and if you look at where they take shots from, they get a lot of layups.
I think all those things are fueled from their defense. And as the game goes on, you can just see them kind of tighten the noose. I’ve watched a lot of UCONN over the years, even though we haven’t played them, and you just see the defense get better typically as the game goes on and as they get more comfortable and more used to you, so your shots get tougher and their shots get easier as that progression happens.
They know exactly who they are. They have skilled players that really don’t have a whole lot of weakness. Normally you can say, well, let’s push her this way or that way, or we’ll let her take that shot. With this team, there’s not a lot of those. Okay, she can go both left and right; oh, she can shoot that shot and that shot.
So to become an elite team, basically you’re minimizing any weakness that you have, and Connecticut really doesn’t have many weaknesses. It’s really tricky to find any. I think the culmination of all of that allows them to be so relaxed and poised along with the spacing that they play with and they go to their strengths for 40 minutes a night. They are so disciplined in that regard. That’s the culture that’s been built overall these years.
Q. My question is on Mandy, your assistant. Where are her fingerprints specifically on this team?
COACH RUECK: Mandy has done a phenomenal job for us. I think the knowledge of Oregon State, just like we’re both alums from this university, and I just know personally how valuable that is. Coming to work at a place that you believe in, it’s your home, it’s your roots.
So for us to have someone on our staff that walks these halls and wore this uniform and coaches and conducts herself with such pride, I think that’s extremely valuable. She has done — Mandy has a great basketball mind, and so extremely bright. She communicates extremely well and so from a teaching standpoint and from a scouting standpoint, we have a huge resource in her.
So I’ve given her a lot of responsibility. She does so much for us in recruiting as our recruiting coordinator as well as has about half our scouts. So there’s really not an area that she has not impacted. She’s a great role model for our student athletes and really grateful to have her; to have her fingerprints in so many areas of this program is really valuable.
Q. Is there anything specific that she’s taught to your star guards, Jamie and Sydney? She was a point guard herself.
COACH RUECK: That’s a good question. I think overall, just tenacity. Mandy has really high standards for herself and for everyone around her. I would say that her desire for them to be successful rubs off on them.
And I think if you watch the progression of those two, both of them can score the ball like crazy before they got here. Neither of them was a great defender before they got here. And that area of their game has really taken — has gone to another level and has allowed us to be what we are defensively.
And so I know we spend a lot of time in break down drills defensively, and then decision-making of course, offensively, has continued to improve as well. I think just in a general sense, our standards of performance are extremely high and that’s rubbed off on them.
Q. Talking about the Civil War a few minutes ago, Oregon State on the east coast tends to get overlooked in a lot of sport compared to the big brothers up in Eugene. Do you see yourself and your team as striking a blow for Oregon State in your, I guess your rivalry with Oregon?
COACH RUECK: I think you always want to beat your rival. I don’t think it’s bigger than that. I just think that for this team to win the conference title like they need to, they need to beat everybody on their schedule like they want to.
So I don’t see it that way. I mean, I have cousins that went to school down there. Oregon is Oregon. We are who we are. This is my school. I love that we have been successful and we get to put smiles on the faces of Oregon State fans everywhere, and certainly Oregon football has been at the level they have been at and brought a lot of pride to the fan base and our state in general. Can’t argue that. You’re happy for their success.
For us though, in our world, we just need to make Oregon State Women’s Basketball as great as we can make it and do our best with the program. And so that’s kind of how I view it. I don’t see it necessarily bigger than that.