2016 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament: Oregon State's 'Big 3' helps Beavs avoid another early exit
SEATTLE – In the mid-2000’s, the San Antonio Spurs leaned on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The early-2010’s Miami Heat had LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
In women’s college basketball, the mid-2010’s combination of Ruth Hamblin, Jamie Weisner and Sydney Wiese for Oregon State isn’t too shabby, either. After losing its first game in Seattle last year, Oregon State’s Big 3 made sure history didn’t repeat itself by combining for 54 points and 27 rebounds to hold No. 8 USC at bay in a 63-53 win Friday night to get the top-seeded Beavers into the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament semifinals.
“We’re at our best when it’s coming from everyone, and those three certainly carry a big load for us,” Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck said. “We get in a situation like this – it’s a do-or-die in this tournament – you need your all-conference players to play like it, and tonight they did.”
Oregon State came into the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament on a program high, having clinched its first-ever Pac-12 regular-season championship. But the conference tournament was the beginning of the end for the Beavers – Oregon State lost to ninth-seeded Colorado in its first Pac-12 tournament game last year and lost two of its final three games overall, making an early exit in the NCAA tournament with a second-round loss to Gonzaga.
“First time in that favorite position, first time as a No. 1 seed going into the tournament,” Rueck told reporters on a conference call earlier in the week. “I think we assumed that we could keep it going and lost focus on the steps that it took to get there.”
It should come as no surprise that the loss to Colorado in Seattle last year was a huge motivating factor for this year.
“We didn’t really talk about it too much, but it was in the back of everyone’s mind,” said Weisner, the Pac-12 Player of the Year. “Just that feeling we had last year is enough to drive us to never let up again.”
Oregon State came out like a team possessed, hitting eight of its first nine shots en route to an 18-6 lead. But USC never let the deficit get out of hand, scratching back to within three points late in the second quarter and keeping it within five at the half.
Every time USC made a push, though, one of the Beavers’ big three stepped up to pad the cushion. There was the time Weisner went on an 8-0 run to pump Oregon State’s lead up to 11, or the time Hamblin followed up a Wiese three-pointer a few possessions later with a right-shoulder baby hook to increase the edge from 53-48 to 58-48.
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And then there was the dagger – Wiese’s cold-blooded three to make it 61-53 with 2:48 to go in the game and effectively put the game out of reach. There was still time on the clock, but two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Hamblin and the rest of the Beavs clamped down to suffocate any remaining threat, holding the Trojans scoreless over the final 3:20.
“When you talk about Weisner and Wiese and Hamblin, you pick your poison,” USC head coach Cynthia Cooper said after her team’s hard-fought loss. “They hit a couple of huge shots that really put it out of reach for us.”
With Weisner going for 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, Hamblin contributing 17 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks and Wiese chipping in 17 points, nine dimes and five boards, the big three made sure the Beavs didn’t have to go through another quarterfinal disappointment.
“We knew that pain, and we didn’t want to experience that again, so I think we were really focused in how we scouted and prepared for this game,” Hamblin said.