A month and half ago, the prospects of a seventh straight NCAA women’s basketball tournament berth were not very promising for Oregon State.
But the Beavers were finally able to play some games and get into a rhythm on both ends of the floor.
The result was an 8-2 finish to the season, with both losses coming against a Stanford team that was announced Monday as a No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament.
That closing stretch helped Oregon State earn the No. 8 seed in the Hemisfair Regional on Monday and a date with No. 9 seed Florida State in the first round of the tournament.
The Beavers (11-7) and Seminoles (10-8) will meet at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific) Sunday in San Marcos, Texas.
“This team's played as well as most teams in the country, with very few exceptions,” coach Scott Rueck said. “No matter what, in this tournament, nothing's easy, and certainly this path isn't easy. Eight, nine is never an easy road.
“… I just couldn't be more proud of this group for coming together like they have and staying positive through all the things that we could not control that that led to maybe a slower start than any of us would have wanted, but also led to just a magical finish to the regular season for us.”
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The entire tournament is being played in the San Antonio area.
The teams last met in the 2017 Sweet 16 with No. 3 seed Florida State overcoming an early deficit to advance to the Elite Eight with a 66-53 win over No. 2 seed Oregon State in Stockton, California.
The winner Sunday will most likely face No. 1 seed South Carolina in the second round. The Gamecocks, who won the SEC tournament title, face No. 16 seed Mercer on Sunday.
“Florida State's obviously a great team, we have history with them,” Rueck said. “South Carolina, you know, really good team. We have history with them. So the opening weekend we'll see some familiar faces.”
Florida State did hand Louisville one of its three losses, a 68-59 decision at home, so senior guard Aleah Goodman knows the Beavers will have their work cut out against the Seminoles.
“It's going to be a great game and I'm excited,” Goodman said. “It's a fresh start, it's a new start, nothing really matters what you've done in the past. … I know the coaches are getting down to business, starting film and stuff, so we'll learn a lot about them in these next few days and be ready to go.”
While the Beavers had to play their way in, there was a feeling of a bit of a slight by the selection committee to only be a No. 8 seed.
It was certainly a difficult season to try and compare teams with so few nonconference games and pauses for many teams.
“In a year like this you’ve got to go off what your eyes see," Rueck said. "And that's what I said after our last game. Your eyes have to tell you, and you got to do the work and find the best teams and put them in the spots that they deserve. And so it wasn't up to us whether we played more than 18 games or not. We played all the games we possibly could. That made sense and. And so I have no idea.”
Added Goodman: “I mean, how this team is playing right now, I don't think I would have us as an eight seed but that's where we're at and so we're going to go with it. I came into this day kind of not really caring what seed we were at because I have full confidence in this team and I would take these guys over anyone.
“So I'm excited, I think gives us a chip, I think we've been playing with a chip on our shoulder these past few weeks, and so I think we just play with grit, play with toughness, play with that chip on our shoulder and we're ready to go.”
Beavers get verbal commit
Oregon State also got some big news on Sunday evening when Timea Gardiner announced on Twitter her verbal commitment to the program.
The 6-foot-2 forward from Freemont High in Plain City, Utah, is listed as the No. 4 overall player by ESPN and the No. 2 player at her position.
Gardiner, who averaged 13.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 13 games this past season, chose the Beavers over Stanford and UCLA. She had earlier eliminated Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame from her top six.
She will join ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect, Raegan Beers, a 6-2 post from Valor Christian High in Littleton, Colorado, in the 2022 class.
Beers was the 22nd-ranked player overall when she verbally committed back in October. She averaged 15.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. She also had 1.6 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals.
Also on board in the class is Texas guard Adlee Blacklock, who reportedly chose the Beavers over the likes of Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Blacklock averaged 21.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore. She is not listed in ESPN’s top 60.