Oregon State’s rise to the top of the Pac-12 Conference in women’s basketball has been due in part because of its defense.
The Beavers have had the last three defensive players of the year — Ruth Hamblin twice (2014-14, 2015-16) and Gabby Hanson (2016-17) — and have been among the best teams in all of Division I the past few years.
Nothing has really changed this season.
The Beavers are second in field goal percentage defense at 30.7 (Baylor leads at 30.5); fourth in defensive rebounding (32 per game); fifth in blocked shots (6.9 per game); eighth in rebounding margin (12.5) and 11th in scoring defense (52.9 per game).
No. 17 Oregon State is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the season in last week’s 61-47 win over UC Davis. The Beavers held the Aggies (9-2) to a 16-for-67 performance (23.9 percent), well under their season average entering the game (47.9 percent).
That came four days after coach Scott Rueck was unhappy with the way his team closed out a win over UC Santa Barbara in the Dam City Classic on Dec. 16 at the Moda Center in Portland.
“Especially the second half, I thought we lost our focus in that game, we were satisfied playing even with them and not to our ability,” Rueck said.
That was far from the feeling last Wednesday night.
“I thought we just impacted shots all night and that takes effort and focus and it takes 40 minutes of it and we gave that,” Rueck said.
The Beavers also dominated on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 57-35. They gave up just 10 total offensive rebounds and no second chance points against the Aggies.
“There were two stretches in the game where I thought we lost rebounding intensity, we gave up some offensive rebounds — granted long shots are long rebounds — but in that area I just feel like we’re getting better and better,” Rueck said.
Freshman forward Taya Corosdale moved into the starting lineup the past two games. She replaced Maddie Washington, who started the first nine games.
Corosdale had 12 points and three rebounds against the Aggies and is averaging 7.1 points per game in 10 contests.
Rueck said the 6-foot-3 Corosdale is difficult to defend because she stretches the floor by knocking down the 3. Corosdale is 9 for 22 from beyond the arc.
Her passing and defense have also allowed her more opportunities to play.
“Every play we ran she was on point with,” Rueck said last Wednesday. “We’ve got a pretty thick playbook, it’s a lot to take in, and there’s a steep learning curve there. I thought she executed very well, recognized plays and so her offensive execution was on point.
“She’s rising to the challenge.”
The Beavers have put up some gaudy offensive numbers this season and entered Tuesday third in Division I, converting 52 percent of their field goal attempts. Only Connecticut (52.5) and Baylor (52.3) are ahead of them.
The 61 points against Davis were a season low, but Rueck said the Beavers had to find ways to get points against the Aggies.
“They get back and they want you to play five on five and they made us really grind,” Rueck said. “They kept us out of transition, which nobody’s really been able to do yet this year.
“Then you’ve got to play at a slower pace and you’ve got to execute and I think in a way that’s a blessing for us to be in that kind of a game. We’ve been able to kind of just flow freely all year. Even against Duke and Notre Dame (losses) we were able to run into our offense.”
The Beavers have three players averaging double figures (Marie Gulich 15.4, Mikayla Pivec 13.5, Kat Tudor 13.5) and two more — Taylor Kalmer (9.8) and Aleah Goodman (9.0) — are not far behind.
The Beavers remained No. 17 in this week’s Associated Press poll with Oregon at No. 10 and UCLA No. 11. California moved up to No. 20 while Stanford dropped out of the poll for the first time since before the start of the 2001-02 season (312 weeks).
The Cardinal, Arizona State and USC also received votes.
Pac-12 play opens
The conference season begins this weekend with the Oregon schools hosting the Washington schools.
The Arizona schools are at the Mountain schools and the Bay Area schools host the L.A schools.
Games are Friday and Sunday.