Pac-12 preview: Oregon State University

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

For a team that was supposed to be rebuilding last season, the Oregon State Beavers overachieved.

Despite losing program leaders Jamie Weisner and Ruth Hamblin, the Beavers racked up a 31-5 overall and 16-2 Pac-12 record to claim the regular-season conference title in a tie-breaker game over Stanford in late February. The Cardinal then topped Oregon State in the conference tournament championship game. The Beavers’ season ended in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Florida State.

But to define their season as a Sweet 16 run would not do them any justice. Their win total was the second-highest in school history, and in earning them their third consecutive Pac-12 regular-season title, they are the only program besides Stanford to accomplish that feat.

Oregon State’s 34.5 percent field-goal mark ranked seventh nationally, while their points allowed per game (54.4) ranked sixth nationally. The were fifth nationally in rebounding margins, with a plus 10.9, outreboundeding 32 of their 36 opponents. Last season also marked the third consecutive year where a Beaver earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Beavers were led by a stellar senior class in scoring machine Sydney Wiese, defensive player of the year Gabriella Hanson, guard Breanna Brown, and forward Kolbie Orum. Together they recorded a four-year record of 114-26. That group also became the first in school history to make the NCAA Tournament all four years of their careers.

Wiese, in particular, stood out, as she notched a Pac-12 record for three-point shots made, with 373, and she ranked 16th nationally in three-point field-goal percentage. Wiese was drafted by the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

Seventh-year coach Scott Rueck acknowledged that filling Wiese’s shoes will be a tall order.

“She meant a lot not only on the court, but off the court in our community,” he said. “She was a standard-bearer on how we conduct business in many ways and go about things. She had a joy about her that made every day fun. That is hard to replace. But she’s no longer here.”

“So what has happened with her is the same thing that’s happened with our program. The culture is in place, the standard is in place, and now you have that incredible model. So not one person can do that, just like nobody’s going to control the ball like Sydney did for 35 out of 40 minutes. Which was the way that we played. It’s going to be a collective thing. We have incredible students in this. I think this team has the ability to have the best culture to this point.”

Oregon State definitely has the squad capable of continuing the progam’s recent legacy of  success. Returnees include sophomore guards MiKayla Pivec and Kat Tudor, sophomore forwards Madison Washington and Janessa Thropay, junior guards Katie Williams and Taylor Kalmer, and junior center Joanna Grymek.

Marie Gülich also returns. Last year the senior averaged 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and made the All-Pac-12 team.

Newcomers include freshmen guards Aleah Goodman and Taya Corosdale, and Maryland transfer Destiny Slocum, who will sit out the year as per NCAA transfer rules. While at Maryland, Slocum earned multiple honors including Big Ten Freshman of the Year and WBCA Freshman of the Year.

Rueck said he is confident in his returners and newcomers, and believes that his team’s defense will allow for them to figure offense out later if they focus on defense now. And if there is any coach who knows something about up a program, it is Rueck. His overall record at his alma mater so far 153-81, making him the second most winning coach in school history.

“We’re excited about our team,” he said. “This is a team that just a year ago lost some really important people and found a way. This group has that same opportunity this year. We lost a few really important people to our program, and now it’s their turn to step into those roles.”

“I love this team. They’re tight-knit, they’re tough. They realize they’ve got to adapt to a new environment, a new demand, and they’re ready for it.”