SEATTLE (AP) Five years to rebuild was probably a reasonable expectation for Scott Rueck when he arrived at Oregon State considering the disarray he was inheriting.
He arrived in Corvallis to take over a program that was devastated amid allegations of emotional abuse under former coach LaVonda Wagner. The roster was so barren, Rueck held open tryouts. His first game, the squad included two returners, three freshmen, three walk-ons, a soccer player and a volleyball player.
That was the fall of 2010. On Tuesday night, Oregon State (24-10) will play for a spot in the Sweet 16 when the ninth-seeded Beavers face No. 1 seed South Carolina.
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”I don’t think there’s any way you could have predicted that we would be here right now. I wouldn’t have,” Rueck said Monday. ”I thought best-case scenario would be year five or six.”
Both South Carolina (28-4) and Oregon State have undergone massive makeovers under their current coaches. Dawn Staley has elevated the Gamecocks to the elite of the Southeastern Conference, with the school earning its first No. 1 seed this season.
But what Rueck has done with Oregon State is worthy of more attention than it has received.
After 14 seasons at Division III George Fox, Rueck was tasked with rebuilding a crumbling program. The school seriously considered shelving the program for one season in an attempt to rebuild the foundation.
Rueck forged ahead during a challenging first season in 2011, leading the Beavers to a 9-21 record. The first breakthrough came a season later, when Oregon State was 20-13 and was selected for the Women’s NIT.
Even with a major step back in 2013, when the Beavers finished 10-21, Rueck knew winning was coming soon. Oregon State was landing players he assumed it would take many seasons to get.
Sydney Wiese was one of those. She believed in what Rueck was selling, that the NCAA tournament was obtainable. Her career-high 26 points in the 55-36 win over Middle Tennessee in the first round gave the Beavers their first NCAA win since 1995 and third in school history.
Their NCAA tournament history is so limited that the box scores take up only two pages in the team’s game notes and include the hand written boxes from Oregon State’s first two trips in 1983 and 1984.
”I believed in it. I believed that (Rueck) would recruit the right people that could get the job done and here we are,” Wiese said.
Here are five things to watch as the Gamecocks and Beavers each try to reach the round of 16:
FORGET BOULDER: South Carolina seemed to have a clear path to the Sweet 16 last season. After knocking off South Dakota State in the first round, the Gamecocks faced 12th-seeded Kansas in the second round, the result of the Jayhawks upsetting Colorado.
But Kansas pulled off a 75-69 win, holding the Gamecocks scoreless for the final 2:52 of the game.
Staley said what happened a year ago in the second round hasn’t been discussed.
”I think we have a totally different team, one that has proven that they can play with anybody,” Staley said.
DEFENDING THE 3: South Carolina is well aware it cannot play off Oregon State’s perimeter shooters. The Beavers made 10 3s against Middle Tennessee and are averaging 8.2 made 3-pointers for the season. The Gamecocks are giving up only 3.5 made 3s per game.
”We’re just going to have to hone in on their 3-pointer shooters,” South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell said. ”That’s where most of their production comes from. If we can eliminate that, we should be fine.”
NINE LIVES: No. 9 seeds have not found much success in the second round of the tournament, going 3-45 all-time. One of those – Arkansas in 1998 – reached the national semifinals but had the benefit of facing No. 16 seed Harvard in the second round. The other 9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16: Notre Dame, which beat Texas Tech, in 1998 and Michigan State, which beat Duke, in 2009.
MORE THAN ONE: Wiese’s scoring was enough against Middle Tennessee. The Beavers didn’t need much from others. Second-leading scorer Jamie Weisner – who missed nine games with a hand injury – finished with three points. Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State’s 6-foot-6 presence in the middle, was in foul trouble and also had just three points.
Oregon State will need scoring from others against South Carolina.
HOME COURT: There was a noticeable lack of local connections when the NCAA unveiled its bracket for the Seattle site. Oregon State was the closest thing to a local team.
Beavers fans showed up for the first-round game, with orange the dominant color inside Washington’s home arena among the crowd of 2,214.