As Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck put it Sunday afternoon, the 79-76 double-overtime loss to Arizona State was tough but not the end of the world for the Beavers.
“It was a game where you’re bummed you lost but you look back and say how can we get better,” he said. “This was our sixth Pac-12 game. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Beavers (15-3) fell to 5-1 in conference action and dropped out of a tie for first place with Oregon and Stanford — both 6-0 one third of the way through the schedule.
Oregon State nearly overcame its worst shooting game of the season (26 for 70, 37.1 percent) from the field and also struggled at the free-throw line, making just 14 of 23. The Beavers were also outrebounded 42-40.
While those were some of the negatives, Rueck was impressed with what the Beavers did defensively, even though the Sun Devils were 30 for 65 from the floor.
“This team did some things today it hasn’t done all year defensively because we needed to,” he said. “We switched screens that we haven’t switched all year. I was really proud of them for thinking on the fly and communicating out there. They were finding ways to win this game so they were making suggestions, should we switch this screen, switch that screen? So it was fun to be a part of that process.”
Finally a big win
For the Sun Devils, it was a “signature” win, as coach Charli Turner Thorne said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Sunday.
“We’ve played some great teams,” she said. “We’ve played Baylor, we’ve played Louisville and Stanford already. I think we’re very good. I think this weekend has really showed this team again maybe where we can be and get to when it’s all said and done, which is exciting for us.
“We’ve got talent, we’ve got depth, we’ve got experience. They definitely have high goals for this year. Hopefully a lot more fun wins to come.”
Turner Thorne said the Sun Devils (13-5), who are now 4-3 in conference play, returned to their toughness that was lacking in late December.
“We didn’t have that same teamwork and toughness that we had had building up,” she said. “Each game were just getting a little bit better at getting back to kind of being the team that we can be.”
She added the Sun Devils are built to peak in February and March and are getting better as Robbi Ryan and Jamie Ruden get up to speed after offseason surgeries and injuries in practice leading up to the season.
Much has been documented about all that Mikayla Pivec does for Oregon State on and off the court. But there the Beavers’ junior guard was once again on Sunday selling out each and every play trying to will her team to a victory.
It seemed like Pivec had her hand on every 50-50 ball and kept alive several possession for the Beavers with her hustle and tenacity.
She hit the game-tying shot at the end of regulation and had a chance to win it in the first overtime but was just off.
Pivec finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while playing just over 46 minutes against the Sun Devils, and had 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists against the Wildcats.
She had zero turnovers in 78 ½ minutes this past weekend.
“She’s just a hustle player and well-rounded player,” said senior Katie McWilliams. “You can’t ask for anything more in a teammate and somebody that I get to play with.”
Added Rueck: “She was phenomenal in creating so many opportunities for us to score, hitting huge shots and then, because she created, made everybody else better by getting them the basketball and instilling confidence.”
Starting point guard Destiny Slocum played just over 30 of the 50 minutes in Sunday’s loss to Arizona State, scoring 10 points but going 4 for 16 from the field.
It was notable that Slocum wasn’t on the floor during stretches of the fourth quarter and the overtime periods.
“It was just a gut instinct,” Rueck said after the game. “I thought Aleah (Goodman) was executing. This was a halfcourt game, they did a good job jamming up driving lanes and so Aleah has just been a part of our offense longer than Destiny. So it just felt like the right thing to do at times. I just went back and forth with them.”
Despite the loss on Sunday, the Beavers moved up a spot to No. 9 in The Associated Press poll. Teams ranked Nos. 9-13 all lost one game last week, so there weren’t many drastic changes.
Oregon stayed at No. 5 and Stanford at No. 6. Arizona State moved up three spots to No. 16 while Utah entered the poll at No. 21, the first time in a little more than a decade the Utes have been ranked.
Utah (16-1, 5-1) will put that No. 21 ranking to the test as the Utes begin a brutal four-game stretch this weekend.
The Utes host California (3-3) on Friday then face Stanford on Sunday before heading to Oregon and Oregon State the following weekend.
Arizona was riding high two weeks ago, taking a 12-1 record into the same stretch. After beating Cal, the Wildcats lost to Stanford (30), Oregon State (22) and Oregon (33) by a combined 85 points to fall to 3-4 in conference play.
Arizona State did the same thing, going 2-2 over that stretch with losses to Stanford and Oregon and the double-overtime thriller over Oregon State on Sunday.
“Obviously, there’s no easy games in the Pac-12,” Turner Thorne said. “Hands down it’s got to bet the toughest conference in the country.”
Rueck agrees and knows the last half of the schedule will be tough to navigate through unscathed. The Beavers play at Stanford and Cal then have a home and home with Oregon in back-to-back weeks in February.
“This conference is a war every night, it’s uncomfortable and it’s beautiful,” he said. “Our team and every team, you have to just embrace it and enjoy it and you’ve got to love competition and you have to love what it does for you.
“But we will all be prepared for the postseason. I know that.”
Players of the week
Cal's Kristine Anigwe was named the player of the week after the senior post averaged 29.5 points and 20.5 rebounds in helping the Golden Bears sweep the Washington schools. She now has 18 straight double-doubles dating back to last season.
Arizona's Cate Reese was the freshman of the week. Reese averaged 17 points and five rebounds a game in losses to Oregon State and Oregon.