A big reason for the Oregon State women’s basketball program’s success under coach Scott Rueck has been because of what the Beavers have been able to do on the defensive end of the court.
Oregon State has had a player named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year by either the conference (Ruth Hamblin in 2015 and 2016 and Gabby Hanson 2017) or the media covering the conference (Hamblin in 2015 and 2016 and Marie Gulich in 2018) in each of the last four seasons.
The Beavers (9-2) are once again in the top 15 in field goal percentage defense and are outrebounding the opposition (44.4-30.4) heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. nonconference finale against Cal State Bakersfield (4-7).
However, defense is the main area Rueck and the players say needs to continue to improve as the conference season begins next week.
“I feel like this team, we’re good but we have room to be great,” said junior Maddie Washington. “There’s things we can still improve on, little things that we can tweak to make this team better. So I’m excited to see what this team looks like at the beginning of March.”
Fellow junior Kat Tudor agrees: “I think we definitely have a lot of room to grow defensively. It comes with accountability. You just have to have the mindset of I’m not going to let my person score and I think we still need to grow in that. I think we’re getting there.”
While Rueck said he has seen the players embrace that end of the floor more as the season has progressed, “we’re still not 100 percent understanding how much we can control a game on the defensive end.”
He said they have had some really good stretches defensively, like the Saint Mary’s game, but also times when they didn’t defend anywhere near what they need to, like the Texas A&M and Notre Dame losses.
“Now they’re needing to and learning to adapt a defensive mentality,” Rueck said. “We’ve done that in the past and some of these players have done it but you look at the anchor that Marie was defensively for us last year — she covered up a lot of errors on the outside. We don’t quite have that shot blocker like she was and provided ... it’s coming but not yet.
“So that puts a premium on the perimeter so those players are learning, hmm, I guess I can’t get beat off the dribble. No you can’t, it’s killing us. So they’re learning how to slow the ball and be just more of a cohesive unit on that end of the floor, which is a different mindset for a lot of them.”
Tudor said playing defense is more mental and that the players have shown in practice what they are capable of physically.
“We all know how to keep somebody in front of us in practice you just watch us and we’re killing each other doing it,” she said. “We just need to take that to the game, I guess, and everybody needs to be on the same (page) and we’re all getting there.”