There was an air of anticipation as members of the Oregon State women’s basketball team patiently waited to see their name scroll across the TV screen Monday afternoon.
The Beavers weren’t concerned they wouldn’t make the NCAA tournament’s field of 64 for the fifth straight season, but some may have been holding out hope for a top 4 seed and the opportunity to host for a fourth straight season.
Really, they just wanted to know when, where and who they would be facing next.
It took about a half hour before they learned those answers.
The Beavers (23-7) are the No. 6 seed in the Lexington Regional and will take on No. 11 seed Western Kentucky (24-8) at 9 a.m. (Pacific time) Friday in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The winner will face either No. 3 seed Tennessee (24-7) or No. 14 Liberty (24-9) on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
“We’re excited,” said coach Scott Rueck, wrapping up his eighth season at Oregon State. “You never know exactly where you’re going to be placed, of course, or even what seed you’re going to be, in very few cases you know that. I heard five, six, somewhere in there so I’m not too surprised by that. … It doesn’t really matter what we think that’s what it is. Time to get to work.”
If the Beavers advance to a third straight Sweet 16, they could meet No. 2 seed and Big 12 champion Baylor (31-1), the team they beat in 2016 to advance to the Final Four for the first time.
Atlantic Coast Conference champion Louisville (32-2) is the No. 1 seed in the regional and Pac-12 rival Stanford (22-10) is the No. 4 seed. Missouri (24-7) is the No. 5 seed and Michigan (22-9) the seventh seed.
So it’s a pretty stacked regional.
“Each team has to raise their level even higher,” said OSU sophomore Mikayla Pivec, who started all 30 games this season. “They know what the stakes are. If you win you get to keep playing and if you lose you go home. It puts more emphasis on doing the right things, everything you can to put yourself in the right position to be as successful as possible.”
The Beavers finished the regular season wining 12 of 15 games but are coming off a loss to Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, all but ending their hopes of potentially hosting.
“I definitely would have preferred hosting but it’s not about where you play but playing who you’re playing against, those matchups, and doing what you can on that court,” Pivec said. “… We’re just looking to play our game and if we do that we can be successful.”
While the Beavers are mainstays in the tournament now, this year’s accomplishments may be some of the most rewarding for Rueck.
“The first time around it’s always so fun,” he said. “You’re doing things that have never been done. That’s probably the most fun it ever is. What this group has had to deal with is the expectation without the experience, in some cases to warrant it. So you have to go out and earn things that people expect already and that you may not have a right to even demand from yourself.”
Rueck talked about how steep of a learning curve there has been for a team that returned just two starters off last year’s Sweet 16 team, including one of those starters — Pivec — playing a new position — point guard.
“The courage that this team has had to play with all year long, the belief that they’ve had to have in themselves to rise to that level … it’s remarkable,” Rueck said. “This team, they’re big-time winners and they’ve achieved at an extremely high level and they’ve risen to everything. I’m just grateful we get to continue.”