Pac-12 preview: Oregon State University

This is the fifth in an annual 12-part series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

To say Oregon State had a good season last year is an understatement.

They were 9-2 in preseason, went on a six-game winning streak during conference play, snagged 20 wins on the year for first time in 17 seasons, and they advanced to the final 16 in the WNIT. The Beavers also set school records for rebounds, blocks, and scored the second-most points in program history.

Not bad for a team that had only two players after the 2009-2010 season.

This year could be yet more eventful for OSU, as they lose only one starter and two reserves, and gain five freshmen. Even more so than the team chemistry that is developing as a result of this continuity, and the quality of the new players, is that the numbers speak to the fact that the Beaver program is now finally stable. For OSU fans, that is a welcome circumstance, indeed.

Coach Scott Rueck knew he would have to rebuild when he took the position in June, 2010. He held open tryouts that summer, and filled up a roster. But one player transferred and three quit the team after that first season. Another graduated. The other half of the squad stayed, and Rueck again filled up a roster.

OSU made fans take notice from jump last year, winning nine of their first 10 games. Their mid-conference winning streak was even more impressive, because it included a two-overtime win over USC, and a close victory over Washington.

What was most noticeable last year was the way the Beavers played: aggressively, confidently, and relentlessly. When they fell behind, they didn’t get discouraged: they rallied. Players attributed their new attitude to their coaches fostering a positive atmosphere.

Rueck, an OSU alumni who took George Fox University to a Division III championship in 2009, along with several other tournament appearances, knows what he’s doing.

The bad news for the Beavers is that leading scorer Earlysia Marchbanks (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has graduated. But the other four top scorers/starters return: sophomore guard Ali Gibson (11.7 ppg), senior forward/center Patricia Bright (8.7 ppg), senior guard Sage Indendi (8.4 ppg), and junior guard Alyssa Martin (8 ppg). Four other seniors are back, as is one junior.

The freshmen include two Washington state guards: 5-foot-9 Khadidja Toure and 5-foot-10 Jamie Weisner; two Oregon forwards in 6-foot-3 Samantha Siegner and 6-foot-3 Deven Hunter; and a British Columbia center, 6-foot-6 Ruth Hamblin.

OSU’s plan of attack this year, as it has been, is to play stifling zone defense. Rueck has called it his team’s foundation; he was known for defense at George Fox. Last season, the Beavers were at the top of the conference in defense.

In preseason, OSU will face Cal Poly, UCSB, Loyola Marymount, Michigan State and Texas Tech. They open Pac-12 play at home the first weekend in January, facing USC and UCLA.