Weisner, Beaver women deal on the Devils
CORVALLIS Sydney Wiese sat in the right of three chairs at the postgame podium, prepared to address the media after Oregon State's 67-44 demolition job of Arizona State Monday night at Gill Coliseum.
Then teammate Jamie Weisner arrived, asking quietly if she could sit in her lucky seat.
"Ninety-percent shooters can sit wherever they want," Wiese said, smiling as she moved over a chair to the middle.
"Torrid" best describes Weisner's shooting touch in the ninth-ranked Beavers' beat-down of the eighth-ranked Sun Devils. "Solid" paints the appropriate picture of the way her teammates filled in the blanks around her.
Weisner bombed in 25 points -- sinking 9 of 10 shots from the field and 3 of 3 from 3-point range -- to provide the primary firepower as the Beavers (18-3 overall, 9-1 in Pac-12 play) moved into a tie for first place with the Sun Devils (18-4, 9-1) in the conference.
But this was the essence of a team win in a performance coach Scott Rueck termed the Beavers' best of the season.
Oregon State shot .581 from the field, including 8 for 15 from 3-point range, and outrebounded Arizona State 34-23. OSU held the Sun Devils to .309 shooting -- one percentage point higher than the Beavers' national-leading .308 figure entering the game -- and their lowest scoring output of the season. A suffocating defense held the Devils to 5-for-28 shooting in the second half.
"Not quite the big showdown we all hoped for, huh?" Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said afterward. "Credit Oregon State. (The Beavers) stepped up. Every time we made a mistake defensively, they made us pay.
"They're the best rebounding team in the country (actually seventh), and we didn't handle that very well. We wanted to focus on rebounding and our team offense, and we were really bad at both tonight."
In her fourth game back since missing eight games with a broken right hand, the left-handed Wiese contributed 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals in 33 stellar minutes. The junior point guard also had six turnovers, but as Rueck noted, "Syd took care of the ball as well as you can take care of the ball against a team like that."
Center Ruth Hamblin was a fortress in the middle, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking three shots.
"Ruth gives us such a defensive presence against this team," Rueck said of his 6-6 senior. "She impacted shots. Her rebounding was important. In the second half, she gave us a few easy buckets, and her presence was dominating. There were a couple of blocks that set the tone for us."
Power forward Deven Hunter battled Arizona State's interior players all night, chased down loose balls and made herself a nuisance to the visitors.
"Deven played the best defensive game she has ever played," Rueck said. "She was phenomenal."
Then there was first reserve Katie McWilliams, the 6-3 freshman, who provided stability wherever needed and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter when the Beavers turned a tight game into a laugher.
The first matchup of top-10 women's teams in Gill Coliseum history was part of ESPN2's "Big Monday" package. First place in the Pac-12 was on the line, and the Sun Devils brought the swagger of a 15-game win streak to the arena. The partisans in the crowd of 4,427 were stoked, and so were the players on both sides.
"(The Devils) were so confident coming in, and for good reason," Rueck said. "They'd risen to the challenge of winning 15 straight games. It was no secret we were on national TV. It was a big game.
"For this group to lock in defensively and to perform at that elite level for so long to put a great team away -- it has to be our best performance to this point."
It was a battle for a half. Oregon State led 31-29 at intermission after a grind-it-out 20 minutes in which defenses on both sides denied many open shots. The Beavers had 11 of their 18 turnovers before intermission.
Fortunately for OSU, Weisner -- who had sat out Saturday's win over Arizona with a concussion -- was just this side of unconscious at the offensive end. The senior guard was 5 for 5 in the first half and hit her first seven shots. She missed one, then banked in a running 360 spinner that proved she was in a zone players don't often visit.
"I started off being aggressive going to the hoop, and that opened up my 3," Weisner said. "I just felt good."
Asked about Weisner's play, Turner Thorne shook her head.
"I called Promise Amukamara at halftime," she said, the reference to a former ASU defensive stopper. "She didn't pick up.
"Weisner) played really well. She is one of the top players in our conference and in the country. We were supposed to be helping a lot more on her. We didn't keep the ball out of her hands. We let her catch it in the comfort zone. I would say close to half the shots she made were with a hand in her face, or at least contested."
The Beavers opened the third quarter on a 16-2 run that put the game away.
"At halftime, we talked about increasing our intensity defensively, challenging a little better than we had in the first half," Rueck said. "And we were able to continue to get into a groove offensively. We found a rhythm that worked."
Said Wiese: "We played pretty good defense the first half, but we were better in the second half. And once we put the scoreboard pressure on (the Devils), they stopped hitting those hard shots."
Turner Thorne -- whose team came to Gill with an 18-1 record in its previous 19 road games -- was gracious in praise of the Devils' conquerers.
"We knew it was a big game, and we let things bother us," she said. "We're pretty good, but I'm not going to lie. We'd won 15 in a row. I saw a little bit of complacency. You can't be like that against Oregon State at home. (The Beavers) did a fantastic job. They're a great team.
"When you're playing one of the best defensive teams in the country, you have to make the extra pass. We did that in the first quarter, then we completely got away from that the rest of the game. We didn't even make them have to make adjustments that much. We did a lot of things that were not what we want to do. (In the third quarter), they came out and threw the first punch, and we didn't respond well.
"This will probably be really good for us. This team will respond well, trust me."
Turner Thorne was asked what kind of impact the raucous crowd might have had on the game's outcome.
"We have a pretty experienced team," said Turner Thorne of the Devils, who start three seniors and two juniors. "We've played in a lot of venues with big crowds. We get excited about it, but usually we do a better job of keeping the crowd out of the game. We didn't do that tonight. We gave them a lot to get excited about.
"It's fantastic what Oregon State has done here, the atmosphere they've created for our conference and for their program. It's great for the game."
It was the first time since before Christmas the Beavers have had their starting five together.
"We've missed it, no question," Rueck said. "I'm so proud of our players for weathering the storm."
After winning the program's first Pac-12 championship a year ago, the Beavers were upset by Colorado in the first round of the conference tournament, then lost their second game (to Gonzaga at home) in their second NCAA Tournament contest.
With a veteran crew returning, the bar this season was set higher -- to successfully defend the Pac-12 title and to advance to the Final Four.
With eight regular-season games remaining, the Beavers are in position to achieve those goals. But Rueck and his players have been careful not to get ahead of themselves as they progress through the season.
"I try not to allow myself or our team to be distracted along those lines," he said. "We have enough experience now where (the players) don't read the headlines or listen to outside influences. They've been very disciplined and mature about staying focused. We need to maintain that. We know the race we're in and what we're fighting for every night."
Oregon State's only league loss was a clunker, a 71-51 setback at UCLA on Jan. 4 with Wiese on the shelf. Since then, the Beavers have won eight in a row, and momentum seems to be gathering.
"I love where we're at," Rueck said. "We would have liked that UCLA game back, but (the Bruins) played great that night, and we were without an important ball-handler in Syd. But I like where are heads are. I like the trajectory we're on. We're getting better. We're seeing improvement from week to week. Our depth is growing. When we've gone to it, it's produced.
"Looking back on it, Syd's injury was really for this group a blessing in disguise. It got some of our (reserves) some valuable experience. We're in a different place now than we could have been had she not been injured."
Arizona State, 29-6 and a Sweet Sixteen participant a year ago, isn't going away. There are other roadblocks along the way for the Beavers, who will have to be at the top of their game to reach the goals they have set for themselves.
If they can bottle the ingredients they mixed together on "Big Monday," they'll have a chance. That much is for sure.