Michelle Smith Feature: Oregon State's Rueck and UCLA's Close discuss significance of their matchup
Last weekend in Los Angeles was one to remember in the Pac-12 for one of the road teams and one of the home teams.
Not the kind of memory that one keeps in a scrapbook, mind you, but the kind that one keeps in the back of their mind as they move forward with the next game and the one after that. The kind of memory that stings.
Oregon State is back in Corvallis after losing a pair of games, the Beavers’ first back-to-back losses since 2013-14. OSU opened the weekend with a surprisingly lopsided loss to UCLA at Pauley (the program’s most lopsided loss since 2013), followed on Sunday by a defeat against USC in which the Beavers led by 17 points through three quarters before the Women of Troy staged a comeback and pulled off a 65-61 win. A 2-2 start, and a call to regroup is an unusual place for the team that has won three-straight Pac-12 titles. And the path does not get easier with No. 18 Arizona State coming into town on Friday at Gil Coliseum.
“Nobody likes to lose, of course, but I know of no substitute for learning how to win than losing,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck, whose team fell to No. 22 nationally after the tough weekend. “Sometimes you have to lose to know how to win.”
Rueck said UCLA did what Oregon State did to the Bruins last season, overwhelmed them defensively.
“They are veterans. They are a senior-led team and they are playing with urgency,” Rueck said. “We are experiencing some of these things for the first time and we didn’t handle the pressure. We missed some shots early and then one thing led to another and they didn’t let up and we never got traction.”
Sunday’s game against USC was different. The Beavers built their lead and then, as Rueck simply put it, “couldn’t finish.” Again, the Beavers were susceptible to turnovers – 27 of them, in fact (16 in the second half), and still had several chances to win at the end.
“USC turned up the intensity, they started to turn us over and get some easy baskets,” Rueck said. “We still had two shots to win it, another shot to tie it and we missed a wide-open lay up. It was a tough loss, but we will and have responded to adversity.”
All four of Oregon State’s losses have come against teams with experienced guards.
“We graduated nine key players over the last two years,” Rueck said. “We have lessons we need to learn and we will.”
Meanwhile, UCLA was feeling great after its win over the 16th-ranked Beavers, its second-straight dominating performance over a ranked conference foe (following an 82-46 win over Cal last week), and then couldn’t finish the weekend sweep, falling to No. 9 Oregon in a battle of the two highest-ranked teams in the league that ended UCLA’s 20-game home winning streak in conference play.
“What am I thinking after Sunday? I’m thinking our conference is really, really good,” said Bruins head coach Cori Close, whose team – the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 – is 2-2 after playing four ranked Pac-12 opponents in the first two weekends of the conference season. UCLA held its place at No. 14 in the AP top 25 poll. “I knew when I saw the schedule that we would be facing four of the top teams in the league. It forces you to have an intensity level. Our kids competed hard, but all credit to Oregon.”
The Bruins opened the Pac-12 with a loss at Stanford and the Oregon game was another disappointment.
“I was interested to see how we would respond today,” Close said. “I got to the gym about 20 minutes early and every kid was out there working on something and I thought ‘O.K., they are ready to learn from this.’”
Close said she thought Oregon forced her team to take their game to another level, and that her backcourt was challenged by Oregon’s talented guards.
“Oregon’s guards are elite and our pressure didn’t cause them as much trouble as Cal or Oregon State,” Close said. “You learn, you make adjustments and you figure some creative things out as a coach. The styles we have played against are so varied, from Stanford to Cal to Oregon State to Oregon. When I think about what we’ve already game-planned for, I feel like we are well-prepared for what’s to come.”
UCLA will head to Utah and Colorado this weekend looking to gain some momentum.
“We are growing significantly,” Close said. “When you make mistakes, you aren’t going to come out with a ‘W’ in this league. But we are learning and getting better.”