Pac-12 feature: Oregon State claims first Pac-12 tournament title
When the deepest, most competitive Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament ever played was in the books, the best three players on the best team had more than made their mark.
Oregon State’s Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin and guard Sydney Wiese propelled their team to a title in eye-popping fashion.
In the Beavers 69-57 championship game win over UCLA – the program’s first-ever tournament title - the Beavers trio combined for 63 points and 28 rebounds.
Weisner was named the tournaments Most Outstanding Player. Wiese and Hamblin were named to the All-Tournament team.
And Oregon State finally got what it came to Seattle to get, capping a three-year odyssey in which the Beavers have ascended to the top of the Pac-12.
“This is an incredibly special group that deserves what they got tonight,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “They know we have a lot more to do this year. This is just the next segment. So this group gets a banner and they got to earn this trophy. And they did. This is hard. They persevered through it and they have a really, proud, happy coach.”
The Beavers were in the title game for the second time in three years, and book-ended their second straight regular-season title this season with a tournament championship, positioning themselves for a high seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and a deep run into the brackets.
They have Weisner, Hamblin and Wiese to thank for transcendent performances.
Rueck was asked after the game, with the Pac-12 Tournament Trophy on the table in front of him, whether he could have gotten any more from his three star players.
“I guess, the answer is no,” he said, looking at the box score. “These three carry a large load for us. They should and they do. Basketball is their identity, in that this is more than what they do, it’s who they are. They are the leaders of our team and on the biggest stage in our conference, they play the biggest. They are superstars.”
And each of them brings something different to the floor.
Wiese, the junior from Arizona with the trademark headband, is all hustle and energy. She got the Beavers off to a great start with 18 first-half points, and even as OSU built a 31-point lead in the second half, she never stopped running at full speed.
With 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Wiese attempted to run down an errant pass that was clearly heading out of bounds, but the junior point guard was going to try to run it down anyway. She hustled out of bounds, managed to sidestep some spectators sitting on the sidelines and didn’t stop until she was about a quarter-way up the steps in Key Arena.
Wiese finished the game with 21 points, including five 3-pointers, a Pac-12 record for a tournament final.
It might have been easy to forget this season what a pivotal role Wiese plays on the floor for the Beavers. It was her backcourt mate, Weisner who ended up as the conference player of the year after a stellar senior season. Wiese was injured and missed eight games and the Beavers still found a way to win without her until she returned to the floor.
But make no mistake, what Wiese does for Oregon State never been more important. And the junior guard proved that Sunday night.
“This has definitely been a much different experience for me,” Wiese said. “I got a good opportunity to be a leader in a different way and people stepped up in big ways (while she was out). This team is experienced in handling adversity. But it does feel really good to have this (championship) hat on my head.”
Hamblin has earned the nickname the “Canadian Hammer”. The 6-foot-5 is not only one of the best student-athletes in the country, but one of the toughest guards in the women’s game because of her size and agility.
Her 23-point, 20-rebound performance was the first 20-20 game of her career. She set the conference record for blocks and turned in one of the her most dominant performances of the season.
“My team did a great job of getting me the ball and I just worked early for position for those rebounds,” Hamblin said. “I’m just glad I could help bring that for us and cut down the net.”
Meanwhile, Weisner did what she does. Play winning, consistent basketball. The senior guard and Pac-12 Co-Player of the Year ended up with 19 points and five rebounds and was lifted on to her teammates’ shoulders after the game.
“I just love being a part of this team and I wouldn’t want to go to work with any other than these girls every day,” said Weisner, who has scored in double figures in 27 games this season. “So just to see the success that we have, this is huge. I’m incredibly blessed.”
UCLA coach Cori Close credited the Oregon State trio on their game-turning performances.
“I don’t think you can shut them down,” Close said. “They know how to find their “big three”. We knew if they were in a rhythm, they could find them in stride and that would not be to our advantage. They are a really good team and they play their roles really well.”
Wiese hugged Hamblin and cried as they prepared to take the stage and accept the championship trophy, the Beavers releasing a joy that’s been building for several years.
“We are not satisfied,” Wiese said. “Even with this victory, we are obviously going to enjoy this today, but then come tomorrow and the next day we are going to start preparing for whoever we are going to face in the tournament. It’s been a different mindset that we’ve had all year that we never relax and always stay hungry.”
Oregon State will enjoy the week off before next Monday’s Selection Show and likely a repeat of last year’s No. 2 seed, one that will bring them back to Gil Coliseum for a second chance to reach the NCAA regional round.
And then, there is more to do for a team that feels like it is built for a run to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
“Our mindset doesn’t change at all. As a senior, you come into the season knowing it’s going to be your last everything,” Weisner said. “But I think we played every game all season like it was our last one.”