It was an incredibly important game for #7 Oregon State (24-4, 15-2), for the Beavers were coming off a hugely shocking and disappointing 76-54 loss to #13 Stanford. The loss was not only disheartening at the lack of competitiveness Oregon State was able to muster after the first quarter, but also dumped the Beavers into second place, one game behind first place #9 Arizona State.
As such the regular season ending match up against California (13-15, 4-13) was a must win situation for Oregon State to have any hope of a tie-breaking conference title if Arizona State were to lose to UCLA in a game being played at the same time.
Cal though was looking for just a little more redemption to what has been a hugely disappointing 2015-16 season. The Golden Bears have dealt with player stability adversity including a key player dismissal early in the season, other players missing important games, and key injuries that has contributed to a rare program lack of depth issue . But California was able to take advantage of Oregon's own misfortune with UO's superstar Jillian Alleyne out for the rest of the season with a ACL tear that occurred in practice, and the Bears were coming into this match up with OSU off a 65 to 54 victory over the Ducks.
Indeed with this incoming drama one would expect something to break for one of the teams, and as expected the start of the game saw Scott Rueck going with his stand-by veteran five: Deven Hunter, Gabriella Hanson, Ruth Hamblin, Sydney Wiese, and Jamie Weisner.
The first quarter started in favor of Oregon State with the Beavers opening up a 4 to 0 lead before Cal answered to cut the lead in half. The Beavs' defense though was sharper than was seen against Stanford Friday night, and Deven Hunter was able to extend the Oregon State lead to 7 to 2 with a 3-point basket. The quarter did settle down into a sloppy back and forth defensive struggle, and it finally came down to Jamie Weisner's first basket of the game, a big 3-pointer, to up the Oregon State lead 14 to 8 at the buzzer.
Coach Rueck then went with the youth by bringing in Katie McWilliams and Taylor Kalmer to see if the freshman could spark some scoring with Jamie Weisner and Sydney Wiese both struggling to again find the bottom of the net in this Bay Area trip. Cal's defense was aggressive throughout the second quarter, which kept the Bears in much of the first half of the game. But even with some sloppy turnover play Oregon State was able to stay ahead of Cal in the last four minutes of the half, and the Beavers were able to take a 24 to 19 lead into the halftime locker room.
The first half stats told a slightly better Bay Area story for Oregon State as the Beavs made 10 of their 29 shots from the field (34.5%), which included OSU only making 3 of their 13 three-point baskets. The Beavers converted 1 of their 2 free throws, and OSU had 19 rebounds along with 7 first half turnovers. OSU's defense was again back to form and was able to hold California to shooting 8 of 33 field goals (24.2%), including not allowing the Bears any 3-pointers (Cal had four attempts from beyond the arc), and the Bears converted 3 of their 4 free throws. Cal also had 23 rebounds and 8 turnovers.
Oregon State’s first half leading scorer was Deven Hunter with 8 points, followed by Gabriella Hanson with 6 points, and Ruth Hamblin and Jamie Weisner both had 5 points. California's Kristine Anigwe led all scorers with 11 points.
The second half begun with some physical energy by both teams, and to the dismay of Coach Rueck the physical play saw a lack of calls going his team's way. Behind this aggressive tempo Cal was able to tie the game at the 8:37 mark. The game then became an all important weather another storm situation for Oregon State, this time with a possible conference title on the line. Sydney Wiese finally scored her first basket out of the OSU timeout to help the Beavers retake the lead, but Cal had an answer and the game went tied up yet again, 27 to 27. California then took their first lead of the game, and was soon able to extend the lead to 37 to 32 at the 2:52 mark.
Oregon State's veteran leadership was able to finally weather the high energy third quarter run by the Golden Bears, and answered with a 7-0 run of their own.
Wiese tied it at 37 all with a 3, turned to Coach Rueck and said "We got this, coach.", and the Beavers went into the final quarter of the regular season with a slight 39 to 37 lead.
In the deciding quarter, for the game and Oregon State's regular season, California's problem with depth began to show itself as Marie Gülich gave the Beavers an important spark off the bench scoring the first four OSU points of the fourth quarter. Then a Jamie Weisner three point play put Oregon State up 46 to 39, and the play also put leading Cal scorer Kristine Anigwe into foul trouble, with four fouls, with 7:31 left in the game. From there Oregon State just was able to wear down the Bears, and behind a 15 to 0 scoring run in the late stages of the final quarter OSU earned a big 54 to 44 regular season ending win.
"To say we're back-to-back Pac-12 champions, you dream of stuff like that," Rueck said. "This is the No. 1 conference in the country, and to come out on top is a great accomplishment. I couldn't be happier for this team, or prouder of them, and for the support we have received from Beaver Nation."
For the game Oregon State hit 21 of their 57 field goals (36.8%), which included 7 of 20 three-point baskets. The Beavers ended up converting 5 of their 7 free throws, pulled down 43 rebounds, and turned it over 16 times. On the other side California made 19 of their 60 field goal attempts (31.7%), and the Bears made only 2 of their 10 three-pointers. Additionally Cal converted just 4 of 12 free throws, had 36 rebounds, and turned it over 12 times.
The leading scorers for the game for Oregon State were Ruth Hamblin (who also had a career high 19 rebounds) and Jamie Weisner with 11 points each, Deven Hunter and Gabriella Hanson each both had 9 points. California's leading scorers were Kristine Anigwe with 21 points and Mikayla Cowling with 9 points.
Oregon State has had a wonderful season overall, winning 25 games total, getting to their longest program win streak at 14 games, and putting themselves into position to win back-to-back Pac-12 conference titles. But the two conference losses were troubling for a team that has higher Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament expectations.
Were the two conference blow-out losses blips on the radar? Were the more solid losses to (at the time of the games) Top 25 ranked opponents more at the level of competitiveness the Beavers will bring to the postseason? It is hard to say for both losses in conference play came against the type of teams Oregon State will see in postseason play. The early loss to UCLA was without Sydney Wiese, and in the rematch Scott Rueck and the Beavs adjusted well to handle the Bruins. But in the case of Stanford, the team went from an excellent come from behind, and halftime adjustment, win to an ugly loss that saw Stanford outcoach and outplay the Beavers.
What will we know for sure is that Oregon State will begin its postseason play in the Pac-12 Tournament, being hosted in Seattle, Washington, this Friday. And more answers will be forthcoming soon in the month of March for Oregon State. Hopefully the Beavs can build on the high level of play they have showed for much of the 2015-16 season and finish their postseason strong.
The Beavers will face the winner of the 8-9 matchup Thursday, between USC & Washington State, Friday night at 6 PM. A rematch with Stanford could be in the offing for Saturday night, as the Cardinal are the 4 seed, after UCLA claimed the 3 seed with their win over Arizona State. Stanford will play the winner of the 5-12 matchup on Thursday between Washington and Colorado Friday night at 8:30 PM.
It also means Oregon State won't have to face both Arizona State and UCLA, the only team besides Stanford to beat the Beavers in conference play, as they would encounter each other first. The Sun Devils, as the 2 seed, will play the winner of Thurdsday's 7-10 matchup between Utah and California on Friday at 11:30 AM, and the Bruins await the winner of the 6-11 matchup between Oregon and Arizona, and will play at 2 PM Friday. This may be the easiest road to the final 4, given that the Ducks have lost Jillian Alleyne.