If you are a fan of college women’s basketball then you will want to pay attention to the Vancouver Showcase this Thanksgiving weekend.
The eight-team field is headlined by the last two national champions — Notre Dame and South Carolina — as well as Oregon State, which has been to the Final Four and the Elite Eight (twice) in the last three seasons.
But it doesn’t end there as three other teams in the field — Gonzaga, Drake and Western Kentucky — were in the NCAA tournament last season.
Rounding out the tournament field are Rutgers, coached by C. Vivian Stringer, who just collected her 1,000th career win, and East Tennessee State.
“It would be interesting to find out if there’s been a tougher field in an eight-team preseason tournament,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said Monday. “So it’s something we’ve been looking forward to a long time. Part of me at the beginning thought we were crazy for doing this. At the same time it’s what it’s all about. Great challenges.”
The tournament, which takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
The tournament opens with No. 1 and reigning national champion Notre Dame (3-0), coming off a 101-77 win at No. 16 DePaul, taking on Gonzaga (4-0) at noon. Drake (4-0) and Rutgers (4-0) square off at 2:30 p.m.
The evening session pits No. 13 South Carolina (2-1), coming off an 85-61 home loss to No. 7 Maryland, which jumped both Stanford and Oregon State in this week’s poll, against East Tennessee State (0-4) at 6 p.m.
The No. 9 Beavers (3-0) will face Western Kentucky (1-4) at 8:30 p.m.
“It’s going to a great tournament, great kind of test for us and we’re really excited to get on the floor against some of these teams,” Oregon State sophomore guard Aleah Goodman said.
Oregon State and Western Kentucky met in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee, with the Beavers capturing an 82-58 win to start a run to the Elite Eight.
The Hilltoppers have played a tough schedule with games against No. 5 Louisville and No. 12 Iowa, as well as Central Michigan and Oklahoma.
If the Beavers win, it could set up a nice challenge in the semis, and possibly the finals.
“The reward for that could potentially be South Carolina (and) if you get out of that one the reward could be the No. 1 team in the country,” Rueck said. “A lot of possibilities up there but there’s a lot of great teams. So you roll with the punches and take it one possession at a time.”
Added senior Katie McWilliams: “Obviously we’re going to take it game by game and hopefully we’ll get to the top and be able to face those top-10 teams.”
South Carolina won the national title in 2017 and the Beavers had a chance to face the Gamecocks in the Stockton Regional but lost to Florida State in the regional semifinals.
Notre Dame, which rallied to beat Oregon State in Gill Coliseum last November, won the title last season, thanks in part to the heroics — twice — from Arike Ogunbowale, who hit the game-winner in the national semifinal as well as the title game.
It will be the first game away from Gill Coliseum for the Beavers, who have started 3-0 and haven’t played a close game. The first away game is always a little challenging.
“My assistant coach (in high school) would say when you go on a road game you’re always 10 points behind so we’ve just got to think of it that way,” McWilliams said. “We’re going to have to battle. Obviously it’s an away game for everybody but it’s not going to be the same as playing here in Gill. So we just have to be ready for that change of environment. Either way we just have to play our game, make shots and execute.”
Added Goodman: “Just don’t let the different atmosphere get to you too much. Because it can if you let it affect you so just play normal, play your game and don’t let the court affect you or the atmosphere.”
Playing three games in three days is never easy at this level, and is unique until teams get to their conference tournaments.
“For our staff to have a trial run and then for our players to have a run at three games in three days is really valuable that we can reflect back on and say hey we’ve done this before so let’s do it again,” Rueck said.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, it will be a learning experience for a team that has high expectations.
“I think it just shows what we need to work on,” McWilliams said. “I feel like a lot of things we will be able to draw from in these games, positives and negatives. It would just be a great opportunity, great experience and just make us better for Pac-12 season and postseason.”