KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Beavers' senior center from Germany leads OSU to key Gill Coliseum win vs. USC, as Coach Rueck eyes a home regional

CORVALLIS — Senior Day with Oregon State women's basketball was a solo act, and Marie Gulich made the most of it.

In what could be her final appearance at Gill Coliseum, the 6-5 center from Germany was simply herrlich in OSU's 69-63 victory over Southern Cal.

Gulich scored 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked four shots and had the Beavers' two steals in a splendid show before exiting to a standing ovation in the final seconds.

As Oregon State's only senior, Gulich had pregame ceremonies to herself. To add to the festivities, her father, Johannes, teamed with radio play-by-play voice Ron Callan to sing the German national anthem.

The 15th-ranked Beavers (21-6 overall, 12-4 in Pac-12 play) hope to play host to an NCAA regional. If they don't get a bid, Gulich went out in style.

"I tried really hard to keep my emotions away this whole weekend," Gulich said afterward. "Being the only senior, everything is about you. Everyone asks questions.

"I just tried to keep perspective. I knew my dad was singing, so I was like, 'Just don't start crying.' I tried not to get too emotional. This might have been the last (home) game. I Iove Beaver Nation, and I'm super happy I got the opportunity to have this day. But I hope and wish we get another chance."

Gulich had collected 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in OSU's 67-64 overtime upset of UCLA on Friday. Her performance Sunday was a fitting bookend to what may be an auf wiedersehen to her home fans.

"What a great game and an incredible weekend," OSU coach Scott Rueck said. "I can't say enough about Marie and her leadership. It was one of those special days that we all hope for.

"This day is typically torture on a coach. You want to it go so perfect. I think it was torture on our team, too. We had some people play tight, instead of just relaxing. They wanted such a great day for Marie. It turned out to be that awesome Senior Day that you hope for."

The Trojans (17-10, 7-9) are quick and physical, and they used their assets to build a huge advantage in steals (17-2) and turnovers (17 for OSU to six for SC). They harassed OSU point guard Mikayla Pivec into seven giveaways, but they shot poorly — .343 from the field, including 3 for 19 from 3-point range — and were outrebounded 42-34 by the taller Beavers.

"I'm really pleased about the way we played," Gulich said. "Today was very tense in the beginning. In the end, it was really fun.

"I'm proud of the effort. Both of these games were huge for us. We had to prove to ourselves that we can play against pressure. It's not going to get easier from this point. We will face teams that will pressure us. This will help give us the confidence knowing we can face anything."

The Trojans — who had taken No. 9-ranked Oregon to double overtime on Friday — were a formidable test. But the Beavers were bound and determined not to lose in what could be Gulich's Gill swan song.

"We wanted to play our hearts out for her, and we did," said sophomore guard Kat Tudor, who scored 14 of her 17 points in the second half.

Gulich's final play of the day was magic. With Oregon State holding onto a 66-63 lead with 15 seconds left, Rueck called time out to draw up a play. Gulich took the inbound pass at the high post and fed Tudor for a back-door layup to put the game on ice.

"It worked out," Rueck said. "It's ironic. We had not practiced that play for more than a month. Thinking of things we might need, we covered it real quick in shootaround this morning. We executed well out of that timeout.

"Marie came in as a freshman with a complete skill set — face-up game, handle the ball. To put her in a position to pass and to dish off to Kat was a special way to finish."

Gulich, a first-team all-Pac-12 selection as a junior, is one of the conference's premier players again this season, averaging 16.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots while shooting .640 from the field. She entered Sunday No. 1 in the league in blocks, No. 2 in rebounds and seventh in scoring and among the nation's top 10 in blocks and field-goal percentage.

Gulich will finish her career ranked at least third in career blocks and fifth in rebounds and is currently 20th in scoring with 1,058 points. She is on a short list of great post players in OSU history, perhaps behind only All-American and Olympian Carol Mencken (1979-81) and All-American and Final Four participant Ruth Hamblin (2013-16).

"This place has had some incredible centers," Rueck said. "But if you look at what she has done over her career and the impact she has made on so many great teams, Marie has to go down as one of the best ever here, along with Ruth and Carol.

"I would guess she is the most multi-faceted center this school has had, where she has the dynamic inside/outside game and is a threat from all over. This year, she has added the defensive end of the floor to her repertoire, to where she is blocking shots at almost a Ruth level. That's remarkable."

Gulich would like one more chance to play at Gill, and her coach believes there's a good possibility.

Sixteen teams get to play host to NCAA regionals, and the Beavers will be ranked at least No. 15 heading into their final regular-season dates at Arizona and Arizona State. Then there is the Pac-12 postseason tournament at Seattle March 1-4.

Heading into Monday night's showdown between No. 9 Oregon (13-2 in Pac-12 play) and No. 7 UCLA (12-3), Oregon State was behind the Ducks, Bruins and Stanford (13-3). A UCLA win would leave the three-time defending conference champion Beavers a game behind UO, UCLA and Stanford entering the final weekend of conference play. An Oregon win would put the Beavers and Bruins in a tie for third place.

Five of the Beavers' losses have been to teams currently ranked in the top 20 — Notre Dame (No. 5) UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and Duke (No. 17). The other loss was to USC in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, a game in which the Beavers led by 17 points. OSU has split with Oregon and UCLA.

"A lot of things impact that opportunity (to host a regional), based upon what others do and how we finish," Rueck said. "We've done what we're supposed to do all year. Our worst loss is to USC down there, which has proven to be a very good team. That was the second week of conference on the road with a young team."

The Beavers — who entered Sunday leading the nation in 3-point percentage — were fifth in blocked shots and eighth in opponents' field-goal percentage. They have won five games in a row and 10 of their last 12.

"We probably have some more work to do," Rueck said of playing host to a regional, "but there is absolutely a chance."

OSU's biggest obstacle is an RPI (ratings performance index) that stood at No. 43 going into Sunday.

"RPI factors in a little too heavily on opponents and their strength of schedule, and their opponents' strength of schedule," Rueck said. "I don't think anybody would say we're the 43rd best team in the country, yet RPI says that.

"The selection committee is wise enough to look beyond it. It's one factor, but it's not the ultimate deciding factor. How you finish matters a little bit more."

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