Oregon State's women's basketball team trailed Texas A&M 69-68 with 22 seconds left when Mikayla Pivec grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled.
Pivec stepped to the free-throw line with an opportunity to give the Beavers, who trailed by as many as 16, their first lead since the first 24 seconds of the game.
Even though the junior guard was just 1 for 4 from the line in the game to that point and had struggled from the charity stripe most of the season up to that moment (20 for 39), coach Scott Rueck was confident she would knock the shots down.
Unfortunately, Pivec's struggles continued as she missed both free throws and the Aggies were able to make seven of eight of their own to fend off Oregon State and win the Maui Jim Maui Classic on Dec. 15.
It was a devastating moment for Pivec, her lowest by far this season, and she was moved to tears following the game.
“I let my team down, all these people who came to Hawaii, paid thousands of dollars to support us,” she said Tuesday, recalling a moment she won’t soon forget.
“And I know there were a lot of plays that could have factored into that game, but the facts were I had the opportunity to put us over the top and I didn’t.”
Rueck said it was clear how much those missed free throws hurt Pivec and the blame she put on herself for feeling like she let her teammates down.
"And for Mik, that’s her No. 1 motivator is to take care of the people around her and to be what everyone needs,” he said.
The loss dropped the Beavers to 8-2 overall, and the 1-for-6 performance at the line dropped Pivec below 50 percent for the season (20 of 41) at the free-throw line.
Her struggles were a bit puzzling as Pivec entered the season having made 74 percent from the line during her first two seasons.
“It was one of those things that happens in sports, where a little bit of doubt creeps in and then it takes on a life of its own a little bit,” Rueck said.
It was strange because Pivec spent a good amount of time this past summer working on that aspect of her game and was accustomed to having success.
“I could make lots of free throws in a row and I know this summer I put a ton of time into my free throws. It just wasn’t translating to the games well so I knew something was in the way there,” she said.
Pivec wasn’t about to let that moment in Hawaii define her or her team’s season. Instead of dwelling on that failure, Pivec attacked the new challenge with a relentless pursuit to get better.
She met with Rueck and they discussed her form, and she took advice from her grandfather and implemented some visualization to try to get through her free-throw woes.
Pivec tweaked her form slightly, changing the balance on her release from falling backwards a bit to staying on her toes and leaning forward.
She not only got up plenty of reps, she competed against teammates to see who hit the most. She made sure each time she shot it wasn’t just a regular rep but a competitive one to try as much as she could to simulate a game moment.
In fact, one day after practice, Pivec made 91 straight attempts with assistant coach Jonas Chatterton rebounding for her.
That hard work has certainly paid off.
Since that loss to the Aggies, Pivec is a sensational 23 for 25 (92 percent) from the line and was 8 for 8 in Sunday’s win over USC. She went 12 for 12 from the line on the two-game road trip and has hit 18 in a row dating back to a miss in the first quarter against Washington on Jan. 6.
“Really proud of her for not only addressing the issue and overcoming it, but just the example that she set for our team,” Rueck said. “It was an incredible display of resilience and toughness and courage to not shy away from it.
“… She walked straight into it and said 'how can I fix this' and did everything it took to fix it.”
The effort is also not lost on her teammates.
“It just shows how much she’s dedicated to this team and willing to sacrifice her time and energy,” fellow junior Maddie Washington said. “… When she was going through that struggle you could see a little bit of doubt and now it’s like steps up to the line, give me the ball, I’ve got this. Of course it’s always great to see that.”
As painful as that moment was against Texas A&M, Rueck says it has been one of the defining moments so far this season for not only Pivec but the team as well.
“That may have been the best thing that ever happened to her and that game was probably the best thing that has happened to us,” he said. “All of us learned some really tough lessons that night.
“That game moved us forward several steps. You take the hard things and turn them into lessons and you turn them into great opportunities and she gave us a great example.”
Just because Pivec has seemed to find the groove at the line, don’t expect those extra reps and focus to change moving forward.
“Even though I was successful this past weekend with my shot, I know it’s because I’ve been putting in the reps and have that confidence. So I want to continue to be able to help my team I need to continue to put in the reps,” Pivec said.
That A&M game may have taken place a month ago, but Pivec hasn’t put it in the past. And she probably never will.
“I’m still using it as fuel,” she said.