CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) After scoring six 3-pointers in a win over Arizona, Oregon State sophomore guard Sydney Wiese passed out chocolates to reporters covering the game.
Then she joked with teammate Gabriella Hanson about binge-watching past seasons of ”Grey’s Anatomy” to catch up with the rest of the team. Coach Scott Rueck chimed in that he prefers ”Friday Night Lights.”
”This is what my teammates do to me!” Wiese said, laughing.
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The upbeat mood surrounding Oregon State – no disrespect to the Wildcats at all – is a product of the team’s confidence as it faces the final four games of the season, positioned well to finish atop the Pac-12.
On the court, the players are clearly all on the same wavelength. If Wiese struggles, someone else picks it up, whether it’s fellow guard Jamie Weisner or 6-foot-6 center Ruth Hamblin, or fellow starters Ali Gibson or Deven Hunter.
The Beavers (23-2, 13-1 Pac-12) have won 21 straight games at Gill Coliseum, a streak that dates back to January 2014. They are in first place in the league and have already clinched a bye for the first round of the conference tournament.
Oregon State’s only losses so far this season came to then-No. 8 Tennessee back in late December and on the road at Washington earlier this month. The Beavers are a win away from tying the team’s record for wins in a season, set last year.
”This is a team contending for a conference championship at a BCS-level. It’s a high level,” Rueck said. ”They bring it every single day at practice. It’s our job as coaches to make sure that that effort is consistent. So certainly we have to bring it. … Doesn’t matter who, where or when. `A’ game all the time.”
In his fifth year as head coach, Rueck is proving that last year’s NCAA tournament appearance wasn’t a fluke.
When Rueck took over as coach at Oregon State in 2010, the team was in turmoil, down to two players and three recruits who were on the fence. The coach, who returned to his alma mater after 14 seasons at Division III George Fox, had to hold open tryouts to fill out his roster.
Last season, Oregon State returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 seasons. They finished 24-11 overall after a second-round loss to South Carolina.
”Scott has done a terrific job of building this program,” USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said. ”They do a tremendous job defending with Hamblin on the inside and offensively they always make the extra pass.”
Weise, a 6-footer in just her second year, has already set the school record for career 3-pointers with 186. She’s hit a 3 in all but two of her 60 career games with Oregon State. Previous record-holder Felicia Ragland played in 118 games.
Hamblin leads the team with an average of 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. The 5-foot-10 Weisner is averaging 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. And Weise is averaging 12.6 points.
Hunter, a 6-foot-3 forward in a starting rotation that features three guards, has had double-digit rebounds four times in the last 10 games, and is averaging 7.2 for the season.
”Obviously they prevent you from getting to the basket. That’s too much size in there,” Arizona coach Niya Butts said. ”It’s hard to hit the basket when you’re shooting through the trees.”
But for all the swagger, the Beavers are far from smug. First on the agenda is those final four regular-season games starting Friday at Colorado. The team’s biggest remaining test before the conference tournament comes on Feb. 26 at home against No. 18 Stanford.
Then the Pac-12 tournament starts March 5 at Seattle’s KeyArena.
”We still have done nothing, for what we want to accomplish,” Rueck said. ”Everybody wants a bye (in the conference tournament), so that’s great, but I don’t think you’re satisfied until you win the ones you want to win. We’ve got four games to go to get to where we want to be.”