Michelle Smith WBB Feature: OSU's Mikayla Pivec's team-first mentality is paying off

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Mikayla Pivec finished the interview with a thank you and one parting thought: “Go Beavs!”

Team-first is Pivec’s style, and has been since she arrived in Corvallis three years ago. The junior has done everything her team needed over her first three seasons, from playing impact minutes as a freshman to playing point guard last season, to becoming one of the nation’s most efficient and consistent players this season.

As the No. 10-ranked Beavers keep pace with Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12 standings at 4-0, winners of nine straight games overall heading into this weekend’s home games against Arizona and No. 17 Arizona State, Pivec is playing the best basketball of her collegiate career.

“It would be hard to find someone playing a whole lot better,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “She’s been as efficient as anyone. It’s really unbelievable.”

And yet completely believable, considering the many roles that Pivec has played for the Beavers since she arrived on campus.

Pivec is a three-year starter for a Beavers program that always seems to find a way to replace its best players and still take its spot at the top of the conference race. Pivec said it is part of the program culture to be prepared to step up and it’s a lesson that she is now teaching to her teammates by example.

With Kat Tudor - the Pac-12’s leading 3-point shooter - out for the season with a season-ending knee injury, Pivec all too aware that she needs to pick up some of the slack, particularly on the perimeter.

Pivec is averaging 18.3 points a game during conference play, shooting 59 percent from the floor. She has scored in double figures in 14-of-16 game and is shooting 57.1 percent on the season, second in the Pac-12, the third-best percentage by a guard in the country and the best percentage from a guard in a power five conference. She is also shooting 57.1 percent from beyond the arc to lead the Pac-12.

She is also pulling down a team-best 8.6 rebounds a game, the highest among guards in the conference. She also leads the team in steals and ranks second in points and assists.

Pivec said she is as aggressive on the offensive end as she’s ever been.

“I’ve been working at getting quality looks at the basket and I’ve been able to convert a lot of them so far,” Pivec said of her shooting percentage. “Coach Rueck always talks about taking quality shots and we have a 1-to-4 scale for measuring shot quality. The idea is that we make as many 3s and 4s as possible to give our team a high chance of winning.”

Pivec said she worked in the offseason on becoming more of a threat from beyond the 3-point arc.

“People always thought of me as a drive-first player, and I wanted to make them pay from the outside,” Pivec said.

Rueck said that Pivec’s experience at point guard last season - she replaced Sydney Wiese at the point while the Beavers waited for Destiny Slocum to be available after sitting out her transfer season, gave her a widened perspective on the game. And a versatility that’s irreplaceable. Pivec has played mostly at the wing this season, but also at the point, and also spends time at the ‘4’ spot.

“With all that knowledge, I think she understands the game at a complete different level and I think she was prepared to be a go-to player and leader,” Rueck said. “I’m proud of her and I love watching her play. She is really owning her spot and leading our team in a really important way.”

Playing various positions has made Pivec “more flexible as a player,” she said.

“I’ve had to adapt and play a lot of roles,” Pivec said. “It’s helped my playmaking and translated to me being able to slow down a little more. It’s been a big learning experience for me.”

She’s still learning, while teaching at the same time. The biggest lesson: the team always comes first.

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.