Hanson's defense plays critical role in Oregon State's title run
Looking at a box score, one would think that Oregon State guard Gabriella Hanson played poorly in Sunday’s Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament final against UCLA.
She scored just one point. She shot 0 of 7 from the field, missing all three of her 3-point attempts and rimming out a couple of relatively easy layups. She couldn’t even play much of the fourth quarter due to foul trouble.
But on a team that had Jamie Weisner, Sydney Wiese and Ruth Hamblin combine for 86 percent of the team’s scoring during the Beavers’ run to the conference tournament title, Hanson isn’t asked to score. She’s asked to guard. On the nation’s leading field goal percentage defensive team, Hanson is the front line in charge of slowing down opposing guards.
In Seattle, she did her job to a tee. One night after playing a role in limiting the Pac-12’s leading scorer to nearly half her season average, Hanson helped Oregon State to a 69-57 tourney-clinching win over UCLA by containing guard Jordin Canada much of the night and getting other Bruin perimeter players off their game. Canada finished with 17 points on 8-of-20 shooting, but was 4 of 12 from the field when Hanson left the game with her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter.
[Related highlights: Highlights: Oregon State women's basketball defeats UCLA for the Pac-12 title]
“I thought that tonight she again set the tone for us,” Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck said. “Gabby was phenomenal again tonight. I wish she didn’t pick up her fourth foul so early; I thought that kind of helped their momentum in the fourth quarter.”
To be sure, Hanson had help. Oregon State’s front-line wing defender isn’t the only line, and a guard as good as Canada can’t be stopped by one player alone. When Canada got by her (and UCLA head coach Cori Close said after the game that she thought Canada did well in getting past the Beaver junior), help was right there in the form of Ruth Hamblin, a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and others.
All Canada could do in those situations was throw up a tough shot or defer back outside. With Hanson’s help, the Beaver defense also limited Canada’s playmaking abilities for others, holding a 6-assist-per-game player to just two helpers.
“It’s all of us against her, or her against all of us,” Hanson said. “I’m kind of like the first step in all of this process, but thank God I have my backup with Ruth and Deven. It was a team effort guarding her.”
When UCLA made its late-game push, eventually cutting the deficit to as little as nine points, Hanson’s attention turned to Kari Korver, a deep-range threat for the Bruins. Korver did score one bucket with Hanson guarding her late, but Hanson chased her off the 3-point line and conceded a runner in the lane out of a player who had made just ten 2-point field goals all season heading into Sunday. Later on with the Bruins really up against it, Hanson forced Korver to take a rushed and contested 3-pointer. It clanked, and the Beavers dribbled out the clock from there.
On Saturday night, Hanson’s primary assignment was Washington guard Kelsey Plum, the Pac-12’s leading scorer at more than 26 points per game who was one night removed from becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer. Hanson and the Beavers bothered Plum all Saturday long, limiting her to 14 points on 4-of-19 shooting en route to a 57-55 nailbiting win to advance to the Pac-12 tournament title game.
“I don’t know how you can put value on what she did in the last 80 minutes of basketball that we’ve played,” Rueck said. “She’s set the tone for us, and our defense is what won us both games.”
There’s no denying that the Beavers will go as far as their big three of Weisner, Hamblin and Wiese take them. That trio will primarily determine Oregon State’s postseason fate, so NCAA tournament games likely won’t come down to Hanson’s ability to score. But her role is a big one on a team that prides itself so much on defense.
“You have the best scorers in the nation on our team,” Hanson said. “I know what my biggest role is, and that’s whoever I have to guard on defense.”