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Checking in with Women’s Basketball

It’s been nearly a month since the last Beaver basketball game. What can we expect when they get back?

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 16 Div I Women’s Championship - First Round - Oregon State v Western Kentucky Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Oregon State’s Women’s Basketball team has been shut down since December 19th. Due to COVID-19 protocols, the team has had to postpone their last 5 games; at Washington, vs USC, vs UCLA, at California and at Stanford. The team’s game at Arizona State, originally scheduled for this Friday, has also been postponed, though this one is apparently due to issues on the Sun Devils’ end.

That’s placed this season in a weird place. This was always going to be a transitional season for OSU; with the departures of Mikayla Pivec, Destiny Slocum, Kat Tudor and several others. The team was expected to take a step back while a new generation of young talent stepped in to fill the void. With half of the season so far now displaced, we haven’t gotten a look as to how the transition is progressing, so I thought I would share my thoughts.

So far, the season has produced mixed results. After a few early wins, the Beavers have dropped their last three conference games, including a blowout loss against Oregon. That has resulted in Oregon State dropping out of the Top 25 rankings for the first time in four years.

There were hopes that the Beavers could focus there game plan around two very talented young forwards, Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown. Brown is still recovering from an ACL injury she suffered last spring, but Jones has continued to be a key contributor for the team. She’s the team’s only forward that has been a consistent scorer this season, averaging 13.2 points per game. A few times this season she’s disappeared, such as during the game against Utah, when she got into foul trouble early and finished with just 6 points.

Colorado v Oregon State Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

The biggest change for the Beavers this season has been the guards. Aleah Goodman has returned as the team’s biggest veteran presence, and leads the Beavers in scoring with a 15.2 per game average. Freshman Sasha Goforth, who came into the season as one of the Beavers’ highest ever rated recruits, has been a steady contributor with some explosive games, including scoring 24 in the Beavers win over San Francisco.

Ellie Mack at guard and Taya Corosdale at forward have rounded out the starting five in every game, and while neither have been huge scorers they’ve both found their roles in the lineup; Corosdale has been one of the team’s leading rebounders and Mack has has given the team another solid three point shooter and assist generator.

The Beavers have also gotten some key contributions from the bench, especially guard Jasmine Simmons and forward Jelena Mitrovic. This feels very much like the kind of team the Beavers have had for the past few years, with a very good starting five focused on distance shooting, with a couple key bench contributors?

Oregon v Oregon State Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

So why is this team struggling in the few games we’ve seen? A lot of it seems to come down to team chemistry. The Beavers like to move fast, with rapid passing designed to find an open look from the three point line or an open lane to the rim. It’s a style that can be explosive offensively, but it can also lead to a lot of turnovers, especially if the players aren’t quite in sync. The Beavers aren’t in sync yet.

That’s understandable. Last season Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum handled most of the assists. With both of them gone, no one has really stepped up to become a designated shot caller. Goodman leads the team in assists, with 25, but Goforth, Mack and Corosdale all have double digits. Balance can be good, but something isn’t quite clicking with the team.

Problems crop up in a few places. If Jones gets shut down, the Beavers have a very hard time generating an interior presence, forcing them to rely on their outside shooting. This season, that shooting has tended to run cold. It happened in the Beavers loss against Utah. It was a quiet night from Jones, and runs of cold shooting in the second and fourth quarters let Utah take control of the game.

Oregon v Oregon State Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

When it works the Beavers’ offense feels very free flowing. It feels impossible to shut down completely because there are so many outs and constant motion to the defense can’t find its footing. When it doesn’t work, it feels like a tightly wound machine; when any one part stops working the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Hopefully once the team has the chance to resume activities, chemistry will get a chance to develop. If Kennedy Brown can return to the lineup, that would give Taylor Jones some help. This is a team that should get better as the season goes on, they just haven’t had the chance to yet.

Regardless, results are going to be slow to come by this year. Oregon State is still a very good team, but they’re not in the same echelon as the top teams in the conference; Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona and Washington State are all top 25 teams. The Pac-12 is still one of the best conferences in the nation, so when you slip back to being just a pretty good team, the slide looks bigger than it actually is.

We’ll hopefully finally get back to basketball this weekend. While the matchup against Arizona State has been postponed, it appears to be due to issues on the Sun Devils’ end. The game against Arizona, for now, is still on.

The Wildcats are very good. They’re ranked 11th in the AP poll, right behind the Oregon team that beat the Beavers by 20 points. Oregon State is going to come in as a heavy underdog, especially if they’re still working off some rust. There will be plenty to observe here for Beaver fans though; how well the team is communicating, how they control turnovers and momentum, and how they deal with a star player like Aari McDonald.

That’s where I feel like the team stands as we still wait for their first game of 2021. I am, of course, just a fan, so I’d be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you feel like the team is doing, and where do you think their headed?