DALLAS — A few minutes before taking the floor at American Airlines Center on Friday for their final practice before Saturday’s Sweet 16 showdown with DePaul, the Oregon State women’s basketball players went through some stretches with several singing songs while they warmed up.
There were plenty of smiles and good-natured ribbing taking place as well.
If the No. 2-seeded Beavers were feeling any pressure prior to Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. (Pacific time) tipoff with the sixth-seeded Blue Demons in the NCAA tournament, it was hard to tell.
“We just have the mindset that this is any other game that we’ve been playing for pretty much our entire life,” senior Deven Hunter said. “We just have to play the game we’ve been taught for so long.”
One of the reasons the Beavers (30-4) have had such success the past few seasons is they have found a balance between competitiveness on the court and a laid-back and fun-loving attitude off it.
“We’re best friends off the court, and I think that just creates, like, we want to fight for each other on the court because we’re that close and we fight for each other and play for each other,” said senior Jamie Weisner. “I think that off court just really creates something different on the court for us.”
Added junior Sydney Wiese: “I think, too, our personalities are just care free and we’re genuine people, so obviously playing college basketball is a blessing and you realize that it’s sort of like your job so you have to compete. But we want to compete for each other. We want to push each other, hold each other accountable to higher standards.
“Then off court we just have fun. Even on the court you will catch us cracking jokes sometimes and we just like to have fun out there. I think at the end of the day you want to remind yourselves and each other that we want to do this to have fun to push each other and to reach new heights, but I think that helps us off court, too, just to relax and have fun with each other as well any moment that we can.”
That could be a difficult task at times, especially for a team that has faced so much pressure this season.
Oregon State was picked to repeat as Pac-12 champion — something the Beavers managed to accomplish despite an injury to Wiese just before the start of conference play.
The Beavers also overcame three losses in a five-game stretch in late December and early January. They then rolled off 14 straight wins to finish in a tie for the Pac-12’s regular-season title before winning the program’s first Pac-12 tournament crown.
The approach stayed the same through all of that and nothing has changed this week, coach Scott Rueck said.
“That’s the beauty of this group, every day is fun,” Rueck said. “That’s why it’s sustainable in my opinion. This team has had high expectations on it the entire season being a top-10 team from Day 1, expected to win the conference, which turned out to be the top conference in the country by RPI rating.
“They’ve had pressure on them the entire way and within that the pleasure has outweighed it. That won’t change. I don’t think there is anything I could possibly do to even change this. I don’t. I think this team knows who they are and we’re certainly not going to change who they are. That’s the beauty of them.”
The camaraderie began early in the careers of the upperclassmen and has had time to form.
And while there has been plenty of time to soak in the environment of the Sweet 16, the players know that when game time rolls around, it’s time to get to business.
“We’re focused and I think we’re having fun and that’s been translating (into) how we play basketball,” senior Ruth Hamblin said. “You see us having fun together and that’s when we are playing our best is when we are playing loose together.
Added Weisner: “At this point this is what we work for the whole season. I wouldn’t say being here is a distraction at all, I mean, we’re more dialed in than ever.”