Oregon State women like what they learned
CORVALLIS — If there is trouble in paradise, it sure didn't look that way Sunday morning at Gill Coliseum.
Sure, 18th-ranked Oregon State couldn't get it done against sixth-ranked Notre Dame, falling 72-67 after leading for most of three quarters.
But on a day when 7,570 spectators were on hand to see the breakfast-session marquee matchup, as well as the unveiling of a banner commemorating a third straight Pac-12 championship, optimism for the immediate future prevailed.
"Disappointing to lose, because we had our chances," OSU sophomore Mikayla Pivec said. "But this gives us a lot of confidence that we can play with the best teams in the nation."
Oregon State has done just that the past few years, reaching the Final Four in 2015 and the Sweet Sixteen last season. But seniors Sydney Wiese and Gabby Hanson departed after last season, the final remnants of a glorious three-year run in which the Beavers went 92-15, including 48-5 at home.
So a new era is emerging, and the look ain't half bad.
Pivec is the centerpiece. The 5-10 Lynnwood, Washington native, a starter but role player as a freshman, is now the floor general, taking over the point guard role relinquished by Studly Syd. Through three games, Pivec leads the Beavers in scoring (17.3 points), rebounds (9.7), assists (7.0), field-goal percentage (.633) and sleepless nights for opposing coaches.
"Pivec makes them go," said Muffet McGraw, in her 31st year at the Notre Dame helm. "She is so aggressive. We talked and talked and talked about keeping her off the glass. She will not be denied.
"She is one of those players who wills them to victory. She's a really great leader for them — the heart and soul of the team. I have a lot of respect of her."
Pivec had 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds and six assists against the Fighting Irish. Reluctant to shoot among a bevy of veterans last season, Pivec is taking it upon herself to be more assertive looking for her shot this season. That's a must if the Beavers are to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Pivec also took on the challenge of defending Notre Dame's top scorer, 5-8 junior Arike Ogunbowale, harassing her into a 5-for-18 shooting day.
Quiet by nature, Pivec is embracing a leadership role at the point.
"Mik provides strength up top to the team," OSU coach Scott Rueck said. "It's a calming influence for a young team. It's great to hear her be more vocal. There are so many great things in (her head). To hear it come out is important."
Rueck wasn't sure who would succeed Wiese at the point. At first he thought it might be 6-2 junior Katie McWilliams, but she's better suited for the wing.
"The first week or two of practice, I wasn't getting that many reps at the 1,'" Pivec said. "I was playing mostly 2. But then I started playing mostly (the point). I like facilitating. It fits my personality well. My teammates can hit shots if I set them up."
Oregon State (2-1) got the jump on Notre Dame (3-0) during Sunday's matinee, going ahead 8-0 in the first two minutes and 14-4 shortly thereafter. The Beavers were on top 44-33 early in the third quarter before the Irish seized momentum, taking their first lead of the game at 51-48 late in the period.
It was a battle from there, Kat Tudor give OSU a 65-64 lead on a 3-point shot with 3:02 remaining. The Irish scored on each of their final four possessions, though, to take home the win.
Notre Dame ruled the boards, outrebounding Oregon State 47-36 — 23-12 in the second half. The Irish hauled down 21 off the offensive glass to 13 for the Beavers.
"That was the deciding factor in the game," Rueck said. "If we win the boards, we win the game."
But there are plenty of good signs for the 2017-18 Beavers.
Marie Gulich, OSU's only senior, had a poor shooting game, going 5 for 12. But the returning all-Pac-12 center contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. The 6-5 German will be one of the better posts in the country this season.
Her understudy, 6-8 JC transfer Joanna Grymek, had two points, two boards and two blocked shots in 10 minutes. She's a project, but the junior center will prove valuable once she adjusts to the level of competition.
There's some depth, with Grymek, Taylor Kalmer, Janessa Thropay and Taya Corosdale coming off the bench.
It's a calmer Kalmer this season. The 5-8 point guard, who contributed 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting with no turnovers in 19 minutes, was poised and willing to take tough shots.
Thropay, who played hardly at all a year ago but sings one hell of a good national anthem, had two rebounds, two assists and two steals in nine minutes. The 6-2 sophomore looks ready to contribute.
Corosdale missed all four of her shots Sunday, but she's a talented 6-3 freshman who is going to be a star at some point in her OSU career.
The Beavers are an excellent shooting team from the 3-point line, a key ingredient in today's game. Tudor and McWilliams are both willing to take big shots and can hit them. They'll provide some foundation while the youngsters behind them grow up.
"We have a lot of new faces," Rueck said. "There's growth to come from it. You wait for the moment."
Sunday felt like one of those moments.
"I don't feel like you have to lose to learn lessons, but you want to play against great teams to figure out where you are," the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year said. "In many ways, our team surpassed expectations today.
"We competed like crazy. We made plays defensively. We made (Notre Dame) work at at the offensive end. I was encouraged and pleased by the way we played. It shows we have good things ahead."
Or, as Gulich more succinctly put it, "Losing sucks, but we learn from it and move on."