A shot to lose
CORVALLIS — Oregon State nearly became a rare No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 15 seed in the NCAA Women's Tournament, but the Beavers escaped with a 56-55 win against Long Beach State on Friday at Gill Coliseum.
The Beavers (30-4) advanced to play No. 7 seed Creighton in the second round Sunday at Gill Coliseum. Creighton eliminated No. 10 seed Toledo 76-49 in Friday's second game at Gill.
Long Beach State, champions of the Big West Conference tournament, hit 10 3-pointers and played some gritty defense to make up for its lack of size.
The 49ers (23-11) had several opportunities to score in the final minute, including off some offensive rebounds. Long Beach State had the ball with 13.5 seconds left and, after a timeout, leading scorer Raven Benton worked for a great look — a free-throw line jumper off a screen — but it bounced off the rim. After a long carom, Anna Kim's desperation shot also missed.
"I thought we deserved to win that game," Long Beach State coach Jody Wynn said she told her players. "They felt the same way."
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck had been wary of the matchup, after seeing the 49ers play in a tournament in Las Vegas early in the season. His worst fear almost came to fruition.
Defense, rebounding and size kept the Beavers solidly in the game, and they overcame Sydney Wiese's 1-for-8 shooting and seven points — although Wiese scored the eventual game-winning points on two free throws with 1:07 left after being fouled while securing a defensive rebound.
"We take every game as a lesson," said OSU post Breanna Brown, who had 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. "This was definitely one of them, and I'm glad it turned out in our favor."
The Beavers hadn't played in 11 days (since a Pac-12 title game loss to Stanford). They were breathing a collective sigh of relief after squeaking out the win before another enthusiastic Gill crowd on a Friday afternoon.
"I thought absolutely there was a chance we could lose this game," said Rueck, who compared Long Beach State, style-wise, to Marquette and USC, two teams that had beaten the Beavers with defense, pressure, quickness and solid players.
"This is a team that was a tough matchup for us. Fortunately, we move on."
Long Beach State was once a perennial top-25 program. The 49ers looked the part on Friday. They were legitimate. And, the roster included three Oregonians: Jessica Gertz from Oregon City, who went 3 for 3 on 3-pointers; Martina McCowan from St. Mary's Academy, who helped hound Wiese; and Alzena Henry from Jesuit.
"This is what March Madness is all about. There was a little bit of madness out there, and Beaver Nation didn't know what hit them," said Wynn, who was very complimentary of Rueck, Wiese, the Beavers and the atmosphere. "It was everything we dreamed about, except the final score. ... The scoreboard was a little bit of a liar."
The 49ers, who have five seniors, showed heart and hustle and "I think they left some DNA on the court," their coach added.
It was a close game throughout; Long Beach State led by as many as four points, OSU by as many as six. "We were off our game," Rueck said.
The 49ers stayed in the game with 10-of-18 shooting on 3-pointers — three each by Madison Montgomery, the 6-1 post starter, and three by Gertz. Benton, who had 17 points, Montgomery (15 points) and others continually worked their way for good shots.
But Oregon State used its size advantage for a 44-29 rebounding margin and a 40-18 points-in-the-paint margin. Marie Gulich, who sat much of the second half with Brown playing well, added 10 points.
Freshman guard Mikayla Pivec had 10 points in her first NCAA tourney game. And the Beavers also had a 10-0 advantage on fast-break points.
It all added up to offset both Wiese's poor shooting day — she faced a combination of defenses, including box-and-one — and the Beavers going 2 of 16 on 3's, which didn't help to open up Wiese and the OSU offense.
"We tried to throw everything at her but the kitchen sink," Wynn said, of Wiese. "She's so good with the ball in her hands and not in her hands. So smart, a coach on the floor. ... We tried to limit her touches. We didn't want her to shoot that famous step-back 3."
Wiese went 1 of 8 on 3-pointers.
Said Rueck: "There's no scheme you can throw at Syd that we haven't seen. That was Pac-12-level pressure (by the 49ers)."
Several times it appeared OSU, the regular-season Pac-12 champ, would build a lead. But the visiting team kept in it.
The Beavers led 54-48 on Brown's cutting layup with 4:31 to play. But Gigi Hascheff (jumper), Montgomery (layup) and Gertz (3) scored for the 49ers, who then led 55-54.
Wiese missed some shots for the lead, and the Beavers, who had 13 turnovers, coughed up the ball. But, after a missed layup by Benton, Wiese grabbed the rebound and Benton sent her to the free-throw line with a foul.
Wiese calmly sank both free throws, setting up the frenzied final sequence in which the Beavers simply couldn't get one more rebound to close out the game.
The 49ers missed three layups before their final two jumpers missed. Benton's jumper out of the timeout could not have been any cleaner.
"It was a good look. It wasn't a prayer," Wynn said. "You want the ball in her hands. She's our killer."
It was a tough opening-round NCAA win for Oregon State, which advanced to last season's Final Four.
The Beavers know they have to play better, although Rueck wanted to give Long Beach State its deserved credit.
"They were a good team," he said. "Long Beach State was awesome."