Aleah Goodman knew when she arrived at Oregon State that it was a long shot for her to start right away for a women’s basketball program accustomed to making deep runs in the NCAA tournament.

Still, it was quite a shock to her system after having been a starter for most of her basketball life.

So she focused on taking advantage of the moments she had coming off the bench.

Goodman gained valuable experience and took the advice of her coaches in the offseason by working on areas of her game that would allow her to battle for one of the starting positions this season.

But while she did all she could to improve — and she did — Goodman still found herself on the outside looking in on a starting spot.

Goodman’s first reaction was simple: Dang.

“But over time I kind of got over that,” Goodman said Tuesday, shortly after learning that she had been named the Pac-12 Conference’s inaugural sixth player of year. “Whatever, starting’s just a title — I don’t let that influence how I play. I knew every time I stepped on the floor I had to take advantage of that.”

Goodman takes a lot of pride in being the first recipient of the sixth player of the year award because it validates the importance of players who don’t start.

“Growing up, that’s something that girls need to know, that you don’t have to be a starter in order to make a difference in the game and be a really good player,” she said.

Goodman has definitely been a "really good player" for the Beavers. She is averaging 10.7 points a game — 11.9 in Pac-12 play as she has helped fill the void of Kat Tudor, who tore her ACL in the Pac-12 opener — and has come off the bench in 27 of the Beavers’ 30 games this season.

She has scored in double figures in seven of her last nine games and is 23rd in Division I shooting 42.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

“It shows a lot about her character and how she’s always team first and willing to do whatever the team needs,” said junior guard Mikayla Pivec. “To not complain or worry about that and just focus on what she can do for this team and to help this team.”

Pivec said having someone whom the team can count on coming off the bench has been a big relief.

“Having that spark from the bench provides so much because everybody on the team isn’t always going to be playing their best every game,” she said. “So if somebody is off their game, having her to come in and fill that role and fill that gap is super-important.”

Coach Scott Rueck is equally impressed with Goodman and what she means to the team’s success.

“She’s been as valuable to this team as anybody,” he said. “At the beginning of the year I said we had eight starters and she was one of them. She has played lights-out basketball from Day 1. I felt that it was just better for our team to have her in that role even though she could easily warrant a starting spot.”

While she may not have been a starter, she has certainly played starter’s minutes — and has delivered. It’s rare when Goodman isn’t on the floor in crunch time.

And she has hit numerous big shots this season.

Goodman admits she was a little nervous at first to have the ball in her hands in some of those situations.

“I know that when Scott calls my number that I have to be ready to go, I’ve got to be hitting shots and my team needs me to do that,” Goodman said.

One of the main reasons Goodman has seen more time has been the improved play of her defense. She was the one defending UCLA’s Japreece Dean when Dean took a tough 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game, one the Beavers won 75-72.

And it was Goodman who forced Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, the Pac-12 player if the year, into a travel late with the Beavers clinging to a three-point lead. OSU won by five.

“That was something the coaches all harped on was my defense, and I had to step up so I was able to stay on the court longer because that was one big thing that was keeping me off the court was I couldn’t defend,” Goodman said.

“You come here and you can’t hide anyone on the defensive end. Everyone has to be a great defensive player and it’s a completely different level than high school basketball or even AAU. Everyone can attack, everyone can shoot so you just have to be ready to go on defense.”

That weakness on the defensive end also limited Goodman’s ability to be as vocal of a leader as she has been this season, where she has been able to be a calming and reassuring voice.

“Her confidence now and throughout the game in every part and aspect of the game is so high that she commands respect,” Rueck said. “So when she talks, everybody listens. Including me. She gives me such a valuable perspective into the game. And she’s made huge plays for us.”

Goodman and her teammates hope she has a few more big moments late in games this week, at the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, and the ones to follow.

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald