Oregon State hopes to be the team cutting down the nets in New Orleans on the final day of the women’s college basketball season in April.
The No. 7 Beavers got their first taste of what that might feel like on Sunday afternoon after an impressive 80-69 home win over Missouri State in the championship game of the Preseason WNIT.
But more than the physical act of climbing the ladder and snipping the nylon, it was the way the Beavers were able to come together when needed and never let up against a Missouri State team that reached the Sweet 16 last season and had won 13 straight games away from home, dating back to last season, that will go the longest way to make that dream become reality.
“Who we are as a competitive team is evolving, like it does for everyone, and we moved the needle a bunch today the way we competed in that second half,” coach Scott Rueck said. “We really had to elevate and this team dug down and found a way to beat a very good team.”
Mikayla Pivec, the tournament MVP, finished with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Destiny Slocum, who also made the all-tournament team, added 17 points, all in the second half.
Both were instrumental in a third-quarter run that carried over into the final period.
The Beavers (4-0) were out of sorts for a good portion of the first 23 minutes of Sunday’s game, their fourth in eight days, and trailed Missouri State 47-39.
But similar to the way they closed out the first half in their previous game against No. 18 DePaul on Thursday, the Beavers blitzed the Lady Bears (4-1) and build a lead they would never relinquish.
A Slocum three-point play and Kat Tudor 3-pointer made it 49-48 before Kennedy Brown scored inside to give OSU the lead. Brown hit two free throws before Slocum drilled a 3 at the buzzer to cap a 16-2 run over the final 6:17 of the third.
On Thursday, the Beavers used a 19-4 run to close the half to take a lead they never relinquished.
You have free articles remaining.
“I think it shows our resilience a little bit in terms of how if we get down a little bit we’re able to chip away and get back into the game,” Pivec said.
Slocum said at halftime the players had to take hard look at their performance and make the necessary adjustments. For Slocum it was not to foul as she picked up two in the first quarter and did not play in the second.
“It comes with a little bit of maturity, too, to realize you’re wrong and you have to step up and listen to the staff,” she said. “And that you may not be giving 100 percent all the time. That’s what our team did when we went into halftime, took the bad and tried to turn it into the good and came out and gave it our all.”
The other change was on the defensive end. The Lady Bears, who average 81 points a game, were at 39 and that did not make Rueck happy.
So he gambled a bit and went to a zone. It’s safe to say it paid off as the Lady Bears scored just 10 in the third quarter and were down 13 before they started to make headway.
“I don’t love our zone yet, we haven’t used it a lot but it was what we needed to do in this game,” Rueck said. “We needed to take a chance and change momentum. When we went to that it put them in their heels.”
He said the zone got better as the game went on and was the catalyst for the comeback.
“When you get stops, basketball gets easy on the other end,” Rueck said. “… When we’re at our best we’re making you miss most of your shots and we’re running it at you and moving the ball at a pace you can’t catch up to.”
While the lead reached 13, the Lady Bears kept on coming and cut their deficit to six on a couple occasions. Each time, though, the Beavers answered.
On a couple occasions that answer came for Tudor, the Beavers’ senior guard who returned Thursday from an ACL injury. She buried four 3-pointers and scored 14 points off the bench.
“She brings so much energy and confidence to our team,” Pivec said of Tudor, who was averaging 12.3 points per game last year before being hurt. “How confident she is out there just spreads to the rest of her teammates. She made a lot of big 3s today and got us momentum when we really needed it.”
Added Slocum: “Excited to see where this takes her. She’s done a great job fighting this and coming out stronger on the other side.”