Oregon St. already had the #1 spot in the Pac-12 wrapped up, and the #1 seed in the conference tournament next weekend in Seattle, but the Beavers needed one more win to remove talk of tie-breakers or "co-champions", after suffering their first home loss of the season Thursday night against Stanford. And they needed to send senior Ali Gibson out, or at least on to the post season, on a high note. Both were accomplished via Saturday afternoon's 73-55 win over California, though not without some drama.
The afternoon began with ceremony in recognition of Gibson, the lone senior on the squad, and the first player to sign on with head coach Scott Rueck in his first recruiting class, after he took over the program 5 years ago, who has started every game of her career.
There might have been a bit of distraction of "Ali-love", well deserved as it was, though, as the Bears, and their all-star duo of Reshanda Gray and Brittany Boyd, roared out to an 8-0 lead in the first 3 minutes of the game, forcing Rueck into an early timeout to refocus.
It took 10 minutes for the Beavers to run down the Bears, finally forging an 18-18 tie with just over 7 minutes left in the first half, on a 3 pointer by Sydney Wiese, and then moving ahead on a 2 + 1 3 pointer by Gabriella Hanson 6:40 before the break.
"Syd the Kid" shot down the Bears Saturday afternoon.
Another Wiese 3 would start a 10-0 run that also featured a 3 by Gibson, and 3 baskets by Hanson, who came off the Oregon St. bench with a first half high 12 points, to open a 38-24 lead, and only a late basket by Boyd got California to a higher score than the Beaver
football team had posted in Gary Anderson's first game against an FCS foe baseball team had posted in their 25-3 win over Grambling a block away, as Oregon St. took a 40-26 lead to the locker room.
Cal again came roaring out of the locker room, this time with a 9-0 run to pull within 40-35, while Oregon St. came out ice cold, missing their first 8 shots, and forcing Rueck into another early timeout, with the first media timeout pending.
The stumbling start to the second half put on display simultaneously two of Oregon St.'s biggest issues heading into the post season, ones that if not addressed could cost the Beavers at the worst time possible.
If you need to put meat on the table, you might go hungry if you go rabbit hunting with Ruth Hamblin, who misses an awful lot of bunnies at point blank range. Hamblin accounted for 6 of those 8 misses, and wound up falling short of double figures scoring as she did against Stanford.
And it wasn't the first time Rueck, in his efforts to get diversity into the Oregon St. offense, and still feature the bread-and-butter half-court offense, sometimes strays from whatever the hot hand(s) of the moment are.
During the early portion of the second half, the Beavers' leading scorer to that point, Hanson, was on the bench, and Oregon St.'s second hottest hand, Wiese, only took 2 shots.
After the timeout, Hanson was back in action, and the green light on the 3-ball was turned on.
Jamie Weisner's 3, above, actually got the Beavers going offensively, but it was Wiese, who knocked down 3 3s in a row, that broke the game open.
The third area of concern for Oregon St. is lazy ball-handling, and the turnovers that resulted had a hand in California's fast start to the game, and again in the second half, when the Bears were able to shut out the Beavers for nearly 4 minutes, preventing Oregon St. from putting the game away sooner. The Beavers would turn the ball over an alarming 16 times.
But the stat line of the game was posted by Wiese, who shot 80% from the field, and with all but one of her shots from beyond the 3 point line, where she went 7 of 9.
It was part of the Beavers making 15 3 pointers, and shooting 57% from beyond the arc. The Bears by contrast took only 7 shots from afar, and missed them all.
Relying on jump shooting, and especially the 3-ball can be risky, but when Oregon St. is dialed in like this, they are virtually unbeatable.
The largest lead of the game was 18, and came twice, including the final score, and both came, fittingly, on 3s by Gibson, above, who shot 60% from 3 point range in her final home regular season game (A couple of wins in the conference tournament should earn Oregon St. an opportunity to host in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament).
Gray finished with a game high 20 points for California, and Boyd, above, had a monster game, with 15 points, a game high 15 rebounds, and a game high 8 assists. But no other Bears were close to notable numbers at anything.
Wiese, after having struggled to only 7 points, on 3 of 14 shooting, including 1 of 10 on 3s, against Stanford, recovered her early season form at just the right time, and finished with a game high 23 points, to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and a blocked shot.
Hanson, above, had 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals off the bench, and Weisner was also in double digits, with 11 points.
Gisbon finished with 9 points, and also 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots.
Hamblin may have struggled offensively, shooting only 31%, but she still came close to a triple double, with a team high 10 rebounds, one ahead of Deven Hunter's 9, and 8(!) blocked shots, including the one above, to go with her 9 points. In all, the Beavers blocked 11 of the Bear's shots.
Oregon St. finished the regular season 26-3, and won the Pac-12 regular season championship, their only one ever, with a 16-2 record, both school records.
California heads to the Pac-12 Tournament, where a rematch with the Beavers is a distinct possibility, after a 21-8 season, and a 13-5 conference mark.
It was a happy day for Gibson, who got a championship cap, above, and a lift from Hamblin below, as most of the crowd of just over 6,000 stayed to help celebrate.
It was also another milestone win for Rueck, his first ever against either of the Bay Area schools, and earned a net-cutting only 5 seasons after taking over a program that Athletic Director reminded everyone as recently as last Friday that the university was seriously considering suspending at the beginning of fall term when Rueck took over after the LaVonda Wagner era ended in total meltdown, over concerns about being able to field a team capable of safely taking the court against Pac-12 competition, never mind competitively.
In a class move, Rueck presented a piece of the net to Alyssa Martin, who graduated last year, and was the only player from the Wagner era that didn't quit on the program, and returned to see her former team-mates claim the conference.
"It's hard to put something like this into words when you have been where we were," Rueck said. "It is an emotional day. It has been, to say the least, a grind to get to this point. This team is not only capable at winning at this level, but deserves it and that is the thing I am so happy for. You don't always get what you deserve, but when you do you have to be so grateful. Grateful to be part of this, grateful to be the coach of such an incredible group - great people from great families"
It was indeed a great day to be a Beaver.
Cue the Fight Song!
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)