Back on November 19th, nobody blinked when Oregon State came up just short against then-ranked #5 Notre Dame, in a hard-fought 72-67 contest.
While the Beavers had led for the better part of the contest, allowing a lead to slip-away late in the fourth quarter, the intensity of the 7,570 fans packed into Gill Coliseum that day was just another sign of the changing tide for head coach Scott Rueck’s program.
Rueck after all, is still trying to build the Beavers into one of the programs whose name is mentioned alongside the likes of UCONN, Notre Dame, Baylor, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Louisville, on a yearly basis. And just like those powerhouse programs before him, Rueck clearly saw the value of scheduling a household name team to test his girls in the early season, unafraid of what a potential setback could do his squad’s NCAA Tournament resume.
Rueck wanted his team to be ready when it all counted.
He’ll see if his strategy paid off on Friday night.
While difficult non-conference slates and grueling conference schedules prepared the Beavers as well as they could for the grind of the NCAA Tournament, there’s no doubt that Oregon State will be up against their biggest challenge of the season later this week, when the sixth-seeded Beavers match up with a second-seeded Baylor squad at Rupp Arena.
The Bears, who currently sit at 33-1 overall, lambasted seventh-seeded Michigan, 80-58, on Sunday night, to draw a Sweet Sixteen match-up with the Beavers. So far, Baylor has beaten their two opponents in the NCAA Tournament (Michigan, Grambling State) by an average of 36 points per contest.
In contrast, Oregon State has knocked off their two tournament foes (Tennessee, Western Kentucky) by a combined total of 31 points.
To add to Baylor’s even more imposing stature is the fact that head coach Kim Mulkey’s group seems to playing with something to prove, possibly stemming from the fact that the nation’s #2 ranked team in the AP Poll was stunned by receiving a #2 seed on Selection Monday, despite holding one of the country’s more impressive resumes.
Apparently, winning an eight-straight Big 12 title isn’t enough for a one-loss team anymore.
The Bears want to prove that their season has been no fluke.
As the next team standing in line to stop them, Oregon State will need to have a strong week of preparation and not allow the Bears wide-spread athleticism to overwhelm them from the get-go, if the Beavers want to keep their strong campaign alive.
Otherwise, the next step in Rueck’s plan to pencil in Oregon State among the country’s elites, will have to be placed on stand-by.
At least for a little bit longer.