Fit to be tied
CORVALLIS — Rivalries are ultimately more meaningful when both teams are good, and Oregon State and Oregon are all of that these days in women's basketball.
Oregon State got revenge for Friday's loss in Eugene and evened the season series with a 67-62 win Monday night in Gill Coliseum, taking down the nation's No. 2-ranked team and ending the Ducks' national-best 17-game win streak.
Oregon and the 12th-ranked Beavers slugged it out toe to toe before a sellout throng of 9,301 and an ESPN2 audience in a showdown that left coaches, players and viewers equally spent.
The Ducks won the first meeting 77-68 before a packed house of 12,364 at Matthew Knight Arena.
For now, this is one of the nation's best in-state rivalries.
"It's as good as anywhere," said Scott Rueck, in his ninth season as Oregon State coach.
It doesn't appear it's going away any time soon, folks.
Oregon State loses only seniors Katie McWilliams and Joanna Grymek and has a pair of five-star recruits waiting in the wings for next year.
Oregon's future is a little more hazy with the potential loss of junior point guard Sabrina Ionescu to the professional ranks. But the Ducks have plenty of other talent on hand, including Nyara Sabally, a redshirting 6-4 freshman from Germany whose sister, Satou, already is a starting forward.
"We're the standard in the country," said Kelly Graves, in his fifth season at the UO helm, of the Beavers and Ducks. "Sellouts in back-to-back games, two (top-12) teams, two great games, a lot of star power, good basketball — and I don't see it's changing. We're not going anywhere, and Scott isn't. You're going to see the same type of intensity for a long time."
Rueck has had the upper hand against Oregon since taking over at Oregon State in 2010. The Ducks won the first meeting in Eugene, but the Beavers rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to pull out a stunning 61-59 upset in Corvallis four weeks later, tipping off a 14-game win streak against their rivals. Rueck's record in the series is now 15-3 to Graves' 2-8, and Rueck has never lost to Oregon in nine meetings at home.
"We're both really good teams," Graves, 0-5 in games played at Gill while at Oregon. "We treated our fans to two outstanding games. Maybe one of these days I'll get these guys here."
The Ducks sounded a warning last season by going 33-5 and wresting the Pac-12 championship away from the Beavers — who had won the previous two — as both teams made it to the Elite Eight.
"Who would have thought this 10, or even five years ago?" said Rueck, who took Oregon State to the Final Four in 2016. "The full house is amazing, but the quality of basketball is unbelievable. The level these two teams compete at is magnificent. We're in two communities that support their teams.
"I don't know where else it's happening quite like this, with two programs this close together geographically. It makes everything we're doing more special. All eyes are on (the state of) Oregon right now. It's really neat to see this come to fruition, where we're both getting the attention that we are."
Oregon (24-2 overall, 13-1 in Pac-12 action) is all but assured of the conference's regular-season title, holding a two-game lead over Oregon State (21-5, 11-3) and Stanford (21-4, 11-3) with four games to play. But the Ducks' Final Four chances took a potential downturn Monday with the right-knee injury to junior Ruthy Hebard, honored as the national power forward of the year (though she's a center) in 2017-18.
Hebard, Oregon's second-best player, landed awkwardly on the knee in the second quarter, limped to the sidelines and didn't play the rest of the way. It hampered the Ducks' chances of winning Monday. But in the bigger picture, if she is out of action for a significant period of time, Oregon's postseason chances will take a serious hit.
Asked about the injury after the game, Graves answered, "Doesn't look good, but we have a lot of season left to play for. We were good enough to have a chance to get it done without her tonight."
Pressed if there were structural damage to Hebard's knee, Graves said, "I don't know. She didn't look all that good. When she's not walking healthy ... (but) I don't know the severity."
Later, Graves was asked what the Ducks will do if Hebard has an extended absence.
"We're going to pray," he said. "The answer is, I don't know."
Oregon has a thin bench that was outscored 24-4 by its Oregon State counterparts — though 22 of those points where scored by guard Aleah Goodman. Oti Gildon, a 6-1 senior who had one point and two rebounds in 11 minutes against the Beavers, would be the likely replacement.
"We won't have that anchor in the middle, but we'll see," Graves said, adding about the UO reserves, "I trust all these guys. They can play."
Oregon entered the game leading the nation in scoring (89.7-point average) and 3-point shooting (.441) and tied for the national lead in field-goal percentage (.524). The Ducks, who were 5 for 22 on 3-point attempts, didn't approach those numbers Monday against an Oregon State defense that came in 13th in the nation in opponents' field-goal percentage (.352).
"When the best-shooting team in the country shoots 35 percent, you're not going to win many games," Graves noted.
Rueck used his customary man-to-man defense for 40 minutes, focusing on limiting Ionescu and making her teammates provide the bulk of the offense. With Goodman, Mikayla Pivec and Katie McWilliams taking shifts on-ball and teammates there for help defense with every move to the basket, Ionescu scored 21 points but was only 9 for 25 from the field, missing all six of her attempts from beyond the arc.
"She may have rushed a few," Graves said. "She was a little off-balance. Her positives are so many, but there are nights when Sabrina feels like she has to do it all. She's such a great player, you allow it a little bit. Tonight was one of those. She played hard, but it wasn't her best shooting night. This will drive her next weekend, and the following weekend after that. That's who she is."
The Beavers, said Graves, "are one of the best defensive teams in the country. What they do is they force you into quick, bad shots. The struggle we've had with them is once we get to one side of the floor, we stay on that side. We usually move the ball much better, but for whatever reason, when we play these guys, we don't get top-side action like we want to."
Defense kept the Beavers on top most of the way on Monday, and they finished 12 for 12 from the foul line, making eight straight — two each by McWilliams, Goodman, Destiny Slocum and Taya Corosdale — over the final 14 seconds to wrap things up.
"Give (the Beavers) credit," Graves said. "They made the plays down the stretch, made shots when they needed, and they made their free throws. That's what a good team does."
Rueck made an important change before Friday's game in Eugene that improved Oregon State's chances, inserting Grymek early for 6-1 junior Maddie Washington and using 6-7 freshman Patricia Morris as Grymek's backup. Grymek started at center on Monday, with Morris getting eight minutes in reserve. Why the switch?
"Ruthy Hebard," Rueck said. "Ruthy was confident against Maddie. Maddie is a great post defender, but Ruthy is bigger, and that right hand is hard to stop unless you have length. We needed to do something."
Grymek scored only four points with six rebounds in 22 minutes, but she blocked a pair of shots and "impacted the game defensively, especially in the first half," Graves said. "We didn't get anything easy around the basket."
Oregon State's guard trio of Goodman, Slocum and Pivec was superb. Goodman, the cocksure sophomore from La Salle Prep, scored her game-high 22 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Slocum provided 20 points, including a step-back jumper and a 3 after Oregon had tied it at 52-52 inside the final three minutes. And Pivec did a bit of everything with 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and a game-high number of floor burns in scooping up loose balls.
It was an altogether fulfilling night for Rueck, who notched his 200th win at Oregon State.
"What a way to get a milestone victory," he said, flanked by Goodman, Slocum and McWilliams in the postgame press conference. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to coach at my alma mater, and to coach people like this."
The Ducks may yet get one of the four national No. 1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament, and the Beavers are looking at potential No. 2 or 3 seed as both schools play host to the L.A. schools later this week.
With Grymek and Morris poised to man the center spot and Washington headed for mostly backup duty at power forward behind Corosdale, OSU seems better suited for a long NCAA Tournament run.
"I've pushed this team as hard as any team I've coached, because they've needed to grow up quick," Rueck said. "There's still more growth ahead. They're just scratching the surface of what they're capable of."
If Hebard's injury isn't serious, Oregon can still make a serious run at a Final Four berth. Maybe more. No one is invincible.
"With Connecticut getting beat the last couple of years, you want to believe you have a chance," Rueck said. "Not only does that impact the players, it impacts the coaches, too. It's, 'We can get this done. There is hope.' Everybody feels like they have a chance."