Andy Wooldridge from SB Nation's Oregon State site, Building the Dam, kindly answered some questions for us so we can get to know UConn's Final Four opponent. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
1) Seems like it has been a steady climb these past few years from a 9-win season in Scott Rueck's first year as head coach in 2011. What have been the keys to the rise of the program to a Final Four team?
BTD: Accumulating and developing talent. It actually started with Ali Gibson, the only senior that graduated last year, as the first notable talent Rueck was able to sell on his vision. But it really took off when Jamie Weisner signed on. She was a major talent other notable programs wanted, and the kind of recruit Oregon State had never been able to get. That set the table for Sydney Wiese to come on board the next season.
But it was also Rueck's ability to recognize what Ruth Hamblin, from literally the middle of nowhere in northern Canada, could become, which is one of the most imposing post presences in the game today. Rueck is about defense, first, second, and third, and then we can talk about offense, and in Hamblin, he developed a large but raw talent into the 2 time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
2) How would you describe the style of play for this OSU team?
BTD: Oregon State is definitely a half court team. They will run when they can, but they don't have the speed or quickness to try to force an up and down tempo. Hamblin is a traditional post player, both offensively and defensively, and Rueck's preferred defensive style is to contest passes and shots in the half court, and force opponents to take shots they don't want to take late in the shot clock.
Offensively, expect a lot of perimeter passing, and a lot of picks and screens. Opponents mostly won't move Hamblin or Hunter, and guards can't go under a screen, because Weisner especially will simply step back into an uncontested jumper, and she hits 45% of the 3s she puts up.
Wiese seems to enjoy passing off the pick and roll as much as she does scoring.
3) What would you say is the team's biggest weakness?
BTD: Turnovers have been an issue. And since UConn's most notable quality seems to be their ability to capitalize on opponent's errors, and turn them into a run that blows an otherwise competitive game wide open, it's what Oregon State must minimize.
Quick guards have given the Beavers trouble, knocking balls loose, and then out-running them in transition. Most knowledgeable folks seem to feel Oregon State must keep their turnovers to single digits to keep the game competitive, by not giving the Huskies the extra possessions that they make such good use of.
4) Does OSU have enough offensive firepower behind leading scorer Jamie Weisner in the event that she is stopped or has an off night?
BTD: Wiese, as the point guard, usually doesn't put up the points that Weisner does, though she was the team's leading scorer in the Dallas Regional win over Baylor. She can do anything Jamie can, and, as Coach Rueck likes to say, she was given the green light the minute she signed her LOI.
Hamblin has had a dozen double-doubles this season, but depending on what an opponent chooses to do defensively, her scoring sometimes dips.
Beyond that, there's no night in, night out point producer. However, most people know Oregon State shoots down a lot of people with their 3 point shooting, and all 4 starters besides Hamblin can and will knock down the 3 (if Hamblin is found more than 15 feet from the hoop, something is wrong).
Junior Gabriella Hanson's job is to defensively shut down the opponent's best perimeter player, but she has saved several games during her career with a scoring spurt when no one else was "on". And Deven Hunter, Oregon State's power forward, can and will drill 3s, something that opponents often don't account for. Hunter's 3-point shooting essentially beat Stanford this year, when she hit 5 of 7, something Stanford's Hall of Fame Coach Tara VanderVeer hadn't anticipated or game planned for.
And there are 2 players on the bench (freshmen Taylor Kalmer and Katie McWilliams) Rueck is comfortable with taking 3 point shots as well.
5) Has anyone been able to contain or match up with Ruth Hamblin in the paint?
BTD: It's actually happened several times. Stanford sold out to stop her in the first meeting, and succeeded, but the consequence was no one paying attention to Hunter, and that cost them the game. UCLA, in their win over the Beavers, also kept her off balance, but in that game, Oregon State was without Sydney Wiese, who missed several games midseason with a hand injury.
Utah actually did as good a job as anyone, as they were committed to double teams plus passing lane pressure. However, that came at the price of losing contact, and any hope of help, with Weisner, who hung 23 & 27 on them.
6) Who is going to be tasked with defending Breanna Stewart, and is she ready?
BTD: Inside, it will be Hamblin, and she's playing the best ball of her career of late. But Stewart will also leave the lane, and she may well choose to in order to get away from Hamblin's physicality. That I think will actually be the key to this game, as Hunter or Marie Gulich (who backs up both Hamblin and Hunter, and plays extended minutes in rotation with them) will be the one to go with Stewart.
They are good, and very big and strong, but I suspect Stewart's quickness will make the difference, and it will happen 9-18 feet from the basket. Stewart will probably have success in that area, and that will facilitate success in other areas as well.
7) How is the fanbase feeling about the matchup with UConn knowing that the Huskies tore through a lot of top competition in the regular season (Ohio State, Florida State, DePaul, Notre Dame, Maryland, South Carolina) and are now playing its best basketball in the NCAA Tournament?
BTD: Anyone with any objectivity knows this is a huge challenge, but Oregon State has beat DePaul too, as well as Baylor, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona St. and Washington, also in the Final Four, twice. They have also been competitive at Tennessee (this is the game Weise injured her hand in), and came within a point at Notre Dame, and that was without Wiese, when the Beavers had a freshman playing point guard who had 1 total game at the point going all the way back to youth ball.
They played the toughest schedule in the toughest conference in the country (the Pac-12 had the highest conference RPI).
The odds on success are heavily in favor of the Huskies, but the fans seem to be playing off the players' attitude that they want to play the best, and at least if they get beat, it will only be by the best.
8) Along those lines, what are the best reasons to believe OSU can pull off the upset?
BTD: If the 3s are falling, Oregon State can then get Hamblin going, and score enough points to compete.
Defensively, many teams have had one of their lowest offensive production efforts of the season against the Beaver defense, and so not a lot of teams can get away from them.
Hamblin and Weisner have international experience as well, so they know what kind of player they are up against.
Thanks for the insight, Andy! A couple of interesting matchup notes after what we just learned:
- Hamblin guarding Stewie inside means that leaves a big opening for Morgan Tuck to do her thing down low.
- If quick guards give them fits, they are not going to like the Moriah Jefferson experience.
- UConn likes to run the court so it will be interesting to see if the Huskies can tire out Oregon State.
- Still, with the Beavers' defensive prowess and a crew of three-point shooters, Oregon State can definitely stay in this game longer than any previous NCAA Tournament opponent. It looks like Katie Lou Samuelson might be a game-time decision due to illness, so anything can happen.