It is that time of year again! Basketball is now winding down their regular seasons and teams are energizing themselves up for the final push towards last chance glory into the postseason.
For Oregon State women's basketball this means their first stop on the March Madness postseason road will be in KeyArena in Seattle Washington for the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament. As with any postseason, questions abound and linger, and for Oregon State the story lines are many.
How will the experienced Oregon State team respond after winning another regular season conference title? Will the main leaders of the team, Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin, and Sydney Wiese lead this year's team deep into Tournament play? Who of the other players will find their game to help Coach Scott Rueck make even more of a national splash with a once down-and-out program? Will we see the younger players come of the bench to spark the postseason play of the team, and give us even more glimpse into a promising OSU women's basketball future?
And overall, what Oregon State team can we expect to show up in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments?
Answers will be forthcoming soon in the month of March for Oregon State. But as a preview we in at Building the Dam were honored to talk with Pac-12 Networks Mary Murphy to get her thoughts about some of these questions.
Mary Murphy is a Pac-12 Networks women's basketball analyst. Murphy played her college career for Northwestern University from 1977-1980, where during her senior season she was a finalist for the Wade Trophy as one of the top players in the nation. Mary also assistant coached at Notre Dame for six years, coached at the University of Wisconsin leading the Badgers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 50 years, and was head coach of the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs.
Tournament Woes: Scott Rueck's teams have been a marvelous success story for Oregon State Women's Basketball, winning the conference title last year, making two NCAA Tournament appearances, and just taking a down and out program and making it into a national story. But also the last two years have seen different levels of success and disappointment for the Beavers in terms of Pac-12 Tournament play. There was the great overall run to the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Championship game against USC, but were disappointed by not finishing the deal in the Championship game, when they were so close. And then there was the complete letdown last year after winning the conference title. What do you expect from this year's team?
Mary Murphy: I think the tournament is going to be like an event we have never seen before. I know we have got the top four seeds with first round byes, but in my mind we really do have four number ones seeds. I don't see Stanford as a four seed, I don't see UCLA as a three seed. I just think that the depth at the top, the quality at top, we have never seen it this good before, and because of that, I think anyone can win this thing. But I really think it will be one of those top four, and it is just going to come down to who can really play the most consistent, stay out of foul trouble that kind of stuff.
Specifically about Oregon State, I really think the Friday night loss at Stanford will be a huge wake up call. That its not going to come that easy, there's a lot of really really good teams out there, and they are going to have to bring their 'A' game.
Help for NCAA Seed: It looks like Oregon State is still being projected as a #2 seed for the NCAA Tournament. In terms of how they could perform in the Pac-12, Tournament, how much (or how little) is that likely to help, or hurt (there are 4 Pac-12 teams currently in the top 15, and they aren’t all even going to get to Sunday night in Seattle) NCAA seeding?
Mary Murphy: I think if you lose in that first game, for one of the top four teams, it could most definitely hurt your seed. But I really don't see beyond that it hurting anyone's seed unless there is an injury. I think when you play eighteen games of the quality that they played in the number one RPI conference in the country, a loss to another top 10, top 15 team in a tournament setting I don't really think it is going to set you back, especially with what these teams did in the preseason. I think if you win that first round game the tournament will only help you.
Foreshadowing for the NCAAs: How much will the Pac-12 Tournament foreshadow what we should expect from Oregon State in the NCAA Tournament? Does the style of play, officiating, etc., in the Pac-12 translate well to playing teams from the rest of the country? Does the Pac-12 Tournament do a good job of preparing teams for the NCAA tournament, or are they a different animal, given the differences in schedule, etc.?
Mary Murphy: I think this year's conference play and tournament will most definitely just continue to build what we have been doing all season long. I really feel like the top four teams in the conference can go to the Final Four, as long as you are not in the same bracket as UConn. I think when you are with UConn then your challenges are going to start a little sooner.
Strengths and Weaknesses: This is the most experienced and most well rounded Oregon State Women's Basketball team we have probably seen from this program's history. How would you describe the team's overall strengths and weaknesses in terms of postseason play, especially in terms of the Pac-12 Tournament?
Mary Murphy: I think they are in excellent position, with the five seniors they got great experience, they won two straight, they are sharing this year, but they got two straight regular season championships, they shoot the ball well, they keep their turnovers down. I think with Ruth Hamblin (the 2 time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year) inside defensively you got something that most teams don't have, and that is just a dominant low post player, and if you get beat off the drive can clean up a lot of messes.
The are the ultimate team, they are not about one player. Deven (Hunter) had a kind-of a tough weekend, Deven has got to have a solid performances on the defensive end, rebounding, contributing offensively. Syd Wiese didn't have a great offensive weekend, she has got to be able to consistently knock down that 3-point shot because the 3-point shot really helps spread the defense out, now I got the in side game and am I going to double-down on Ruth or am I just let it be single coverage down low.
I think a big strength is the freshman, (Katie) McWilliams comes off the bench, and can give you a huge lift playing the point. She can shoot it, and she makes great decisions and she's a solid defender.
I think Marie Gülich is one of the most improved players in the conference. Scott last weekend played her a little bit with Ruth, and I thought that combination worked well. I think she gives the team as a sophomore a huge lift off the bench.
Another big key is Gabby Hanson has got to find her game on the offensive end. She's got to find the confidence, and just has to believe shots are going in.
And this is the ultimate team, and they all have to pull on the same oar and really make that boat move.
Match Ups: The Pac-12 conference this year has been very dynamic, and very deep in terms of talent. It is no longer just Stanford's sandbox to play in. And from the conference regular season, different teams have very different match-up issues for each other. What teams out there in the conference do you think would make the most interesting, or most challenging, matchups for Oregon State in the Pac-12 Tournament?
Mary Murphy: I don't see there's a single big one. Every team is different, but I don't see it as they don't do well against one team or another. They did not perform well against UCLA down in Pauley, they had a lot of trouble scoring, they didn't handle the pressure well, but they didn't have Syd Wiese; and if you commit 26 turnovers against a team like UCLA, you are not going to win. But I think when Syd with her length and her ability to handle the ball, she does a really great job and you can be small and quick, and because of her length she can take control of the game and not let that impact her.
For me what the revelation of Friday night with Stanford was, and the challenge for Scott Rueck and Oregon State is, Stanford gave everybody that is going to play Oregon State in this tournament, and the NCAA Tournament, a blueprint of how to beat them. Tara's game plan is really based on analytics and taking away what people do with most frequency, and what spots on the floor; and Jamie Weisner couldn't get the touches. She worked really hard but the defense worked just as hard as Jamie did and that doesn't happen that often.
At some point, Jamie's work ethic from side-to-side, north-to-south, and just how many screens she comes off of, at some point she has the ability to exploit a team giving up, a team missing a hard edge, a team just missing something; and Stanford never missed, you know they simply never miss. I thought Ruth had one of Ruth's better games as I watched it, and I thought Syd had opportunities but again they took Syd tendencies away, and when you get to tournament time and all these coaches have scouted all season long, they know exactly what your first and second move is, so you have got to be able to go down on your offensive possession and go to your third and fourth option and have it be effective, and that's the challenge.
Tournament Drama: What kind of match ups in general in the Pac-12 Tournament can give us some possible drama? What match ups are out there that might give us something we don't expect?
Mary Murphy: I don't have an expectation for specific matchups. Just an expectation that it is going to be amazing! And that is if you go through the season and you think about Arizona State beating Stanford at Maples with the shot with one second to go; or the games at Gill where Oregon State just dominated UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, where they just took over ball games.
So much of it was home-base, what can happen on a neutral floor? That's really the question, who's going to shoot well at Key Arena, and who's going to be able to come out and play their game. But the drama, whoever it is, it's every game to me once you get to that semi-final round. It's going to be magnificent.
Our Leader: We in Beaver Nation think VERY highly of Jamie Weisner's skill, athleticism, grit, and leadership. So with that set up (!), what are your thoughts about Jamie, who was just named this year's Pac-12 Player of the Year, and her potential to lead this team deep into the Pac-12 Tournament and deep into the NCAAs?
Mary Murphy: Well I really feel like I am one of Jamie's biggest fans too, so I'll join you all in that clubhouse!
I just see a player who every year who has gotten better, every year has gotten more mature, every year has refined her game. I really think she is the top shooting guard in the country. Her range certainty, but she's not a gunner, you know that is not all she does. She's got a whole repertoire, she reads screens and what a defense is doing as well as just about anybody. She rebounds as well as any guard maybe in the country. She has a passion, and you know how she's feeling, and if she's feeling frustrated and you just kind of see her throw herself around and on the floor, and all the things that she does you can't help but just love her game, and just hard knocks and just goes out there and plays basketball the way it should be played.
I just love watching her play. I wish we just could have a camera isolated on her, she could probably make a whole lot of money on how to use the screen and how to get open.
The Canadian Hammer: What about Ruth Hamblin, what do you think about her and her ability to possibly lead this team deep into the postseason?
Mary Murphy: I just loved what I've seen over the last couple of weeks out of Ruth. And that is like her focus was good and it has just got better and better as the season has come to an end. I thought she was terrific this weekend. She's working incredibly hard, and when she gets the ball now all she has to do is turn and shoot it. All her work early defensively, her blocked shots, she has an amazing sense of timing and doesn't get herself in a whole lot of foul trouble.
She's an anchor. 6' 6" and runs the floor. Whatever you need. As a teammate, as a student athlete, as a representation of Beaver Nation, what it means to be a Pac-12 superstar, but at the same time a superstar in the classroom and the floor. She's just a shining example of what college athletics is all about. I just love watching her play and develop over the last four years.
The Coaches and the Program they have built: What about Scott Rueck and what he's done for the program? From the perspective being a former coach yourself.
Mary Murphy: You know you have coaches of the year, and you have coach of the century, and then you have Scott! I don't know if there is another person in America, on any level who could come to Oregon State and done what he's done.
I think a big part of that is that he grew up a Beaver, got ties with his family, from the area, and he loves to play. I think that he's taken his passion and his focus to a level others wouldn't have had taking over that job. And he was a head coach long enough that he knew the kind of player, and the kind of student athlete, that would work for him. So he did not go out and cast this big wide net and whatever he could haul in he took it, he was really specific about the kind of person and the kind of player he went after, and look what it turned into. And on pretty short notice, there's programs that could go forever and never achieve what they achieved.
I just think the staff has done a magnificent job. Mandy (Close) for me in particular, having played there and just how she represents, so classy, and knowing what she was like as a player, and what she's like as an assistant coach. I just stand back and look at what they have done and I am just in awe that for a program where they just were going to take a year vacation because they didn't know if they were going to have enough players, I just marvel at it; its a remarkable accomplishment.
Program Expectations and Measurements of Success: As fans, we all have our ideas about what we think "success" should mean to a program, but it is much more complicated for players and coaches. As a former player and coach, how would you define the ways in which we should measure Oregon State women's basketball success?
Mary Murphy: Enjoy the moment, enjoy the ride! I don't know what this team is going to do. I don't know if they are going to win a championship. I don't know how far they are going to get in the NCAA Tournament. But if I'm a fan of Oregon State, I'm just going to every minute watch this team. I would just enjoy it because success can be fleeting at times, you never know where it's going, or what's going to happen next.
And this is such an exceptional group of individuals, and such an exceptional team of basketball players, people, the character they have. The way they play game that whatever they do, whatever they accomplish, they're going to give it a 100% effort, and if they disappoint, they are going to go down just doing the best they can. So as far as effort you can never question it, and if the result is you wanted more, the only way you don't want more is you win the championship. To me the journey for this team has been so amazing that I don't think I could ever be disappointed in this team. The things they have achieved to me is just beyond, is just beyond, I say enjoy the heck out of it!
Final Thoughts for Upcoming Pac-12 Tournament Weekend: Any last thoughts about the upcoming weekend in Seattle?
Mary Murphy: For us we're thrilled to be there, to be doing every single game. We're just going to do everything we can so that the teams represented can get the best seeds possible in the NCAA Tournament. Its going to be an exciting month to see the Pac-12 conference go out there and really show the country why they are the number one conference in the country this year. There is a reason why, and we're going to see it this weekend, and we're going to see it as we move forward into the NCAA Tournament.
Pac-12 Tournament Schedule
Thursday, March 3
Cal vs. Utah - 11:30 a.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Bay Area, Pac-12 Mountain)
Arizona vs. Oregon - 2 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Oregon)
WSU vs. USC - 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Washington, Pac-12 Los Angeles)
Colorado vs. Washington - 8:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Mountain, Pac-12 Washington)
Friday, March 4
Cal/Utah vs. ASU - 11:30 a.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona, corresponding network)
Arizona/Oregon vs. UCLA - 2 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Los Angeles, corresponding network)
WSU/USC vs. Oregon State - 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Oregon, corresponding network)
Colorado/Washington vs. Stanford - 8:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Bay Area, corresponding network)
Saturday, March 5
Semifinal Game 1 - 6 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, corresponding networks)
Semifinal Game 2 - 8:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Network, corresponding networks)
Sunday, March 6
Championship - 6 p.m. PT (ESPN, corresponding networks)