Oregon State held off UCLA down the stretch to claim the Pac-12 Tournament Championship, their first ever, with a 69-57 win, after blowing most of a 31 point lead. (More on that later.)
The rubber game of the season series between the 12th ranked Bruins and the 8th ranked Beavers couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Oregon State, or one that would have better forecasted both the outcome, and how that outcome would come about.
The Beavers buried 4 of their first 5 3-pointers, and by 3 different players, with Sydney Wiese, Deven Hunter, and Pac-12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner twice connecting from long range.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Ruth Hamblin also connected twice, from much closer range, and Oregon State opened an early double digit lead, going up 18-8.
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
And the Beavers carried a 20-12 lead into the what would wind up being the decisive second quarter, after the Bruins' Nira Fields fouled Wiese while she was firing up another 3-pointer with 1 second left in the period, and Wiese connected on 2 of 3 free freethrows.
The game got away from UCLA in the second quarter, and Wiese was the main reason, gong off for 13 points in what would wind up being a 24-5 quarter. Oregon State ran off a 12-0 run to the locker room, and took a 44-17 lead there with them.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
"The first half might have been the best first half we've maybe ever played, to be honest. I mean, we were executing and firing on all cylinders on both ends of the floor. We moved the ball so crisp and clean. Didn't really matter what defense they ran, we had an answer for it." - Coach Rueck
The Beavers picked up where they left off in the third quarter, with Hamblin quickly notching her 27th career double double, and Oregon State twice opened 31 point leads, first on a Hamblin basket, and then Wiese's 5th made 3 out of 7 attempts. Notably, that was Wiese's response to UCLA's first made 3 of the game midway in the 3rd quarter, which made it 53-22.
Oregon State then turned their attention to other matters, most notably, Hamblin getting 3 3rd quarter blocked shots, which established her, with 405 in her career, as the all-time Pac-10/12 leader in blocks.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
UCLA didn't head for the bus early though, and the Bruins closed the quarter on a 9-2 run. A 24 point lead heading into the 4th quarter still looked safe, but if the early 3-point shooting success Oregon State had foretold what was to come, so did the way the 3rd quarter ended.
Jordan Canada went off early in the 4th quarter, and Oregon State coach Scott Rueck sat Hamblin down too soon, and a 16-4 Bruin run later, UCLA was within 3 possessions, after a 5 point play, thanks to a Technical on Weisner that turned into two Kari Korver free free throws in the middle of a 2 + 1 by Kelli Hayes.
Suddenly it was only a 63-54 lead with well over 2 minutes to go, but Rueck reinserted the Canadian Hammer and Weisner reasserted herself, and the Beavers re-established control for the first time in 15 minutes.
As Coach Rueck described "So give them credit for really fighting like crazy. We ended up handling adversity well, but there was a stretch that we could have certainly handled better, so, yeah, we'll learn. Hopefully we'll be in that position again."
"Every moment is a teaching moment. We as coaches, that's our job to never let one go by without using it. So, yeah, fourth quarter we did some uncharacteristic things. But, man, momentum shifted quick. I mean, that was kind of, I mean, I don't even know how to explain it what I saw in the fourth quarter." - Rueck
Postgame talking points included the blocked shot record, but Hamblin, who did finish with a game high 23 points and a career high 20 rebounds to go with the 5 blocks was focused on the bigger picture.
"I'm really just really happy I could help our team win," Hamblin said. "That's all I really care about right now."
Wiese, above, wound up with 21 points, on 6 of 11 shooting, including finishing 5 of 9 from 3 point range, and Weisner was right behind, with 19, as the "Swish sisters" combined for 40, and with Hamblin, all but 6 of Oregon State's points.
Hunter had 5, but that was still more than in the first 2 games of the tournament combined.
Weisner was named the Player of the Tournament, with a weekend total of 59 points, 20 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Canada wound up with 17 to lead UCLA, but Korver was the only other Bruin in double digits, and she finished with just 10. More importantly, the Oregon State defense shut her down until just before the end of the 3rd quarter.
More importantly, Fields was totally neutralized, and was held to a single free throw.
Further, Lajahna Drummer was limited to 8 points, frustrated most of the game by Hamblin. This was crucial, given that the Bruins were playing without Kacy Swain, who injured her knee just before halftime in the game against the Beavers in Corvallis, and hasn't played since. UCLA does expect that after a nearly 2 week layoff until the NCAA Tournament, they will have Swain back.
Indeed, injuries were the story in all 3 games between the Beavers and Bruins this season, all of which wound up being double digit margin wins in what were expected to be down to the wire contests. UCLA's 20 point win at Pauley came in the midst of Wiese's 8 game absence due to a broken bone in her right hand, and as noted, Swain was hurt in the first half of the rematch at Gill last month, which Oregon State won by 10, holding UCLA to their lowest point total of the season.
3-point shooting is not one of UCLA's strong suits, and it was critical today, much moreso than just the overall shooting percentage differential. Oregon State shot 45% overall, but also 45% on 3s, making 8 of 21, while UCLA shot just 31%, and only made 3 3s, out of only 10 attempted.
The other big difference, also one Swain's absence didn't help with for the Bruins, was a staggering 50-24 edge on the boards the Beavers held, with Hamblin the key, though Hunter did have 12 boards, all crucial, and Weisner got 5 from her guard spot.
"Ruth was unbelievable," Rueck felt. "It's hard to score against us 5-on-5, and a lot of that is because of Ruth. She has continued to improve, and it's been fabulous to watch."
Rueck also attributed a lot of Hamblin's late season surge to her getting most of her course work in order to graduate at the end of this term, and getting that behind her for the stretch run, with the pressure of a mechanical engineering degree taken care of.
Oregon State will carry a 28-4 record, and a school record number of wins, into the NCAA Tournament, which will begin play March 18 - 19, and made at least a case for a 1 seed, with a 2 seed the minimum that will likely come out of tournament selections.
UCLA finished the season 24-8, and has a shot at a 2 seed as well.
But for the more immediate future it is time to celebrate!
(Above photos: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
(RVM & Taz006 also contributed to this report.)