Michelle Smith Feature: Oregon State, Pivec confident going into NCAA Sweet 16

Oregon State Athletics

Before this season, Mikayla Pivec last played point guard in middle school. In high school, in Lynwood, Washington, she was a post player.

When she arrived at Oregon State, she was a shooting guard, a wing, and a role player.

But as the Beavers prepare for Friday night’s NCAA regional semifinal matchup against Baylor, Pivec is nothing short of pivotal. She is the Beavers’ point guard, their floor general. She is exactly what her team needed her to be.

“When I got here, I told Coach (Scott Rueck), “Whatever you need, I’ll be ready to play,” the 5-foot-10 sophomore said.

She meant it.

About two weeks into practice, after she dished out 13 assists in a team scrimmage, Rueck settled on his choice to be the point guard that would succeed All-American Sydney Wiese. Huge shoes to fill, to say the least.

“I threw her in there and said, ‘Let’s see how you do’,” Rueck said. “After the scrimmage, it was evident that she was the choice.”

Pivec has turned into the type of point guard that will lead her team deep into the NCAA Tournament. She is averaging 11.4 points per game and 7.2 rebounds and has dished out 157 assists. In Sunday’s upset at Tennessee, Pivec finished with 16 points. And she also turned the ball over nine times. But she did what she had to do to lead her team to the win.

“She has just a completely different perspective on the game from that position,” Rueck said. “To run a team on the court at this level, without prior experience…it’s been daunting at times and I know it’s been a real grind. She’s had a lot to take in. But I’ve watched her do it. She came into some days knowing that for maybe 30 or 40 percent of our practices she was going to fail. But I think what she’s done is remarkable.”

Pivec said she was never discouraged, but she’s been plenty frustrated some days.

“We have an extensive play sheet,” Pivec said. “The first couple of months I was trying to figure out who to pass to, where to cut. I wouldn’t say it was overwhelming, but it was definitely challenging.”

Her frustration peaked with a difficult trip to Los Angeles in which the Beavers lost two in a row and gave up a 17-point lead to fall to USC on the road.

“Personally, I had too many turnovers and I knew I had to learn from it,” Pivec said. “It was painful to watch that film. But that weekend helped shape our season. And I became stronger with the ball.”

Rueck said he knows the learning curve has been steep and that Pivec wears her desire to do well for her team on her face.

“I know she wants to do well so badly, but I think she’s gotten the message that she doesn’t have to be perfect, and that she can handle the adversity when it comes,” Rueck said. “I know she’s experienced some doubt and frustration through this. But she deals with it so well and moves on to the next play.”

Looking ahead, Oregon State will have Destiny Slocum, a transfer from Maryland, on the floor, and Pivec’s experience at the point this season will make the Beavers an even stronger, deeper team.

But right now, as the Beavers prepare for the Sweet 16, Rueck knows his team wouldn’t be here without Pivec.

“We have been competing and playing at a championship level since the second half of the Pac-12 season, and that’s directly related to Mik and her comfort level,” Rueck said. “She’s handled the whole thing so courageously and graciously.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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