In a battle of unbeaten ranked teams, 14th ranked Oregon State banged out a 15 point win at #6 North Carolina Tuesday afternoon.
The Beavers, who began the season ranked #21, have slowly edged up in the polls. But with BYU the only team that offered any actual resistance, and playing an otherwise non-descript array of opponents with no one watching, a product of playing off-continent, on Thanksgiving Day, on Civil War Day, and during the day during the week, there were still real questions about how good Oregon St. really is.
There were no such questions about the Tar Heels, who came in with a 9-0 record, including 4 wins against ranked opponents, and 3 double digit wins against the Pac-12, having already beaten UCLA and perennial Pac-12 Champion Stanford both by 16 points, and Oregon by 17 at Matt Court.
All that changed, and fairly quickly, as Oregon St. opened a double digit first half lead, and though North Carolina and some less than sympathetic officiating posed game long challenges, once the lead reached double digits, it never dropped back to a single digit margin at any point.
The Beavers never trailed, but the game was close in the early going, tied on several occasions. Oregon St. began to pull away in the latter portion of the first half, opening a 15 point 37-22 leas a minute before half time, on Kolbie Orum's basket, and taking a 12 point, lead to the locker room.
Oregon St. continued to pull away early in the second half, opening a 20 point margin, the largest of the game, 8 1/2 minutes after the break, on Marie Gulich's basket.
North Carolina could have rolled over at that point, but didn't, roaring back with a 7-0 run to quickly cut away a third of Oregon St.'s lead.
But that 13 point spread would prove to be the line in the sand, or stripe on the floor in this case, as the Beavers were always able to answer Tar Heel charges that cut the deficit down to 13 points on 6 different occasions. North Carolina never got closer until Alisha Gray's 3 pointer pulled them within 12 points, but that didn't happen until there was less than a minute left in the game, and by then it was too late, and Oregon St. pulled away for the 70-55 win, their first ever in a true road game against a top 10 team.
It could have, and probably should have, been a blowout win, but the Beavers had to battle through being in all kinds of foul trouble, and overcome a poor shooting night, including a terrible game at the free throw line.
Both Deven Hunter and Ali Gibson fouled out, and Ruth Hamblin finished with 4 fouls. Both Sydney Wiese and Jamie Weisner had 3 fouls down the stretch as well.
Oregon St. shot less than 44% from the field, and only 25% on 3 pointers, making only 7 of 28 shots from beyond the arc, as Wiese was only 4 of 15 from the floor, and Gibson 3 of 10.
The Beavers really struggled at the line, shooting a terrible 59%, and that was after making 6 in a row in the final minute to bring their line up to 13 of 22.
But the difference was the 1-2 punch inside by Hamblin and Hunter. Despite the foul trouble, Hamblin had a double double, her 6th of the season, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, as well as 5 blocked shots, and Hunter, characterized as "An Animal" by more than one journalistic observer, had only 7 points, but brought down a career high 16 rebounds. A couple of them led directly to put-back baskets at critical junctures in the second half when a lost possession could have opened the flood gates for North Carolina.
Between them, Hamblin and Hunter were 10 of 12 from the field, and combined for over half of Oregon St.'s 50 rebounds.
Team defense was the other component of the upset of what head coach Scott Rueck described as a "total team effort type of win".
If Oregon St. struggled offensively, North Carolina was knocked, literally, completely out of their game.
The Tar Heels shot less than 28% from the floor, including just 1 of 14, 7%, on 3s, and an even worse than the Beavers 46% from the free throw line.
Everyone, even Rueck and the Beaver players, openly admitted that the Tar Heels were overall, more athletic.
"We had to stop them in the open court," Hamblin explained, "and make them play us in the half court."
Once forced into a style of game where everything was contested, the only question was whether Oregon St. would run out of fouls in what was not an artistic masterpiece, but was the signature win Rueck has been looking for as he continues to elevate the Oregon St. program from literally below ground zero when he started.
Gray finished with a game high 20 points for North Carolina, but Stephanie Mavunga was the only other Tar Heel in double digits, with 14 points.
The Tar Heels made only 3 baskets from the floor over the last 8 minutes of the game, after Rueck took a time out to reset the Beavers' defensive strategy.
In addition to Hamblin, Weisner had 14 points, and despite one of her more struggling nights shooting, Wiese still scratched out 13, and more importantly, dished out a game high 8 assists. Gibson just missed double digits, with 9 points, but also had 5 rebounds, as well as 3 assists and 3 steals.
Oregon St. improved to 8-0, their best start to a season ever, and will continue their current road trip Friday night and Saturday in the New Orleans Shootiut, taking on Southern Illinois (6-2) at 8 PM Friday night (6 PM PST), and Nevada (4-5 entering their Friday game against Toledo) Saturday evening at 5:30 PM (3:30 PM PST). Another pair of wins could have the Beavers sniffing around the top 10 in the polls for the first time ever.