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OSU women's basketball notebook: Beavers embrace underdog role

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NCAA Oregon State Tennessee Basketball

Oregon State's Aleah Goodman, center, and Maddie Washington, left, rush the court during a timeout in the second half of Sunday's win over Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16. The Beavers, a No. 6 seed, are embracing the underdog role this postseason.

Oregon State is one of four teams to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament as a road team.

The Beavers are the No. 6 seed in the Lexington Regional and will take on No. 2 seed Baylor at 4 p.m. Friday at Rupp Arena.

Playing the underdog role is just fine with Oregon State.

The Beavers felt that way last weekend as well.

“When you’re the higher seed it’s not like you’re expected to win but you have the chance and you have that opportunity,” junior Katie McWilliams said. “So we took that opportunity and obviously it went our way.”

Senior Marie Gulich said one reason the Beavers are the perceived underdog is program history, even though OSU has now advanced to three straight Sweet 16 appearances and have a Final Four on its resume.

"It’s just their history as a program the way they always have been playing,” Gulich said of Baylor. “Even against Tennessee you kind of feel like an underdog because they have so much more experience of being in the tournament. I feel like it a little bit but I know we’re really good and we have a good chance.”

The 1 in 57-1

Oregon State’s second-round win at Tennessee was the Lady Vols’ first home defeat in the NCAA tournament — ever.

Tennessee entered the game 57-0 but dropped the 66-59 decision.

The Beavers made sure to enjoy the moment and accomplishment.

“After the game for sure and a few days after,” Gulich said. “It’s a really cool thing and I’m really proud of the team that we got that accomplishment.”

Added coach Scott Rueck: “How often to you get to make history, especially positive history at Tennessee? Not many people get to make positive history at Tennessee other than Tennessee. You’ve got to enjoy that, you have to take a minute, anyway.”

Dominant on the glass

When Oregon State beat Baylor in the Elite Eight in 2016, the Beavers were able to win the rebounding battle 39-33.

If they are able to duplicate that on Friday, it will be quite the feat.

Baylor leads Division I with a plus-19.1 edge on the glass. Oregon State is sixth at a distant 10.2 margin.

"I felt good about what we were doing, 10.2 or something and for a while we were second,” Rueck said. “Then you look at who’s (No. 1) and it’s Baylor plus-19. That’s just an incredible number. So the rebounding battle is obviously going to be a huge factor in this game.”

End is near

It’s inevitable that Gulich’s season will come to an end sometime in the next 10 days.

But Gulich hasn’t been focused on that.

“I’m trying to just be in the moment and have fun with the team,” she said. “Obviously I don’t want to lose, I want to keep playing with the girls and just have fun.”

Road warriors

Oregon State punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 on Sunday in Knoxville, Tennessee, then flew home and arrived in Corvallis just shy of 2 a.m.

The players then had to arrange to take finals Monday and Tuesday so they could pack up and head to Lexington on Wednesday.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” sophomore Mikayla Pivec said. “… The professors have been nice and flexible in scheduling those.”

Rueck opened his press conference Thursday talking about the travel.

"Well, we just completed a quick down-and-back, back home, and we're back in the eastern time zone," he said. "We've got our airline miles and we've got our finals taken care of for the most part, and this team has done a really impressive job handling it all with maturity and toughness, and seem to be taking everything in stride and having a lot of fun along the way."

The Beavers had a similar turnaround following a trip to North Carolina over the Thanksgiving weekend. After returning home, they were in town a couple days before heading to Hawaii for a tournament.

“At this point it doesn’t really matter, we’re going to be ready to go and prepared as much possible,” McWilliams said.

Is this normal?

With the Beavers advancing to their third straight Sweet 16, junior guards McWilliams and Taylor Kalmer have never had their season end before the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

“You don’t really know what you’re going to expect when you go into a college program and so it’s been pretty special and something I’ve dreamed of since being a little girl,” McWilliams said.

Final Four field

All four teams in the Lexington Regional have been to a Final Four at least once since the 2012 season.

“To say that we’re in that company just means that we’re doing things right,” Rueck said. “Competition is competition and we have amazing individuals to coach. They’re people who are courageous ... enough to not only to choose to participate in it but to believe that they want to win and they want to be the best.”

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Copy desk editor

Steve Gress is the lead copy desk editor for Mid-Valley Media and a member of the Editorial Board. He spent the better part of his 30-year journalism career covering sports in Eureka, California, and the mid-Willamette Valley.

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