Beavers lose, but make believers of Team USA
CORVALLIS — For a half, Oregon State hung in with the greatest women's basketball show on earth.
Then the U.S. national team cranked up the volume, and the Beavers got a sense of their own mortality.
Team USA outscored OSU 45-27 to pull away to an 81-58 victory Monday night before a lively Gill Coliseum crowd of 6,134 as part of a four-game exhibition tour against the elite of women's college hoops.
"The first two quarters, we held our own," said junior point guard Destiny Slocum, who led the Beavers with 15 points and five assists in 36 minutes. "What happened in the third gives us something to work on."
Oregon State — ranked sixth and seventh in the two preseason college polls — led through most of the first quarter and trailed only 36-31 at intermission.
"You have to give credit to Oregon State," said Team USA co-coach Dan Hughes, head coach of the WNBA's Seattle Storm. "(The Beavers) made us raise our game, which is what this tour is about. They executed their stuff. They were persistent. What we talked about at halftime, we put it on the court in a big way in the second half."
The national team got after it at both ends in the third quarter, outscoring the Beavers 24-12. Team USA clamped down at the defensive end and went at the rim on offense, posting up 6-6, 210-pound Sylvia Fowles, 6-2, 190-pound Nneka Ogwumike and 6-5, 195-pound A'ja Wilson.
"They flexed a little bit in the third quarter and just pounded it inside, and they stepped up their defensive intensity," OSU coach Scott Rueck said. "That impacted the game, and it got away from us."
Team USA shot .603 from the field (35 for 58), and did very little damage from the perimeter, going 4 for 9 from 3-point range. Fowles, Ogwunike and Wilson combined for 48 points on 22-for-30 shooting and accounted for 19 rebounds, seven blocks and six steals between them.
"In the second half, we made sure we got the ball to where we wanted to, and that wore them down as the game went along," Fowles said.
Rueck unveiled his prize freshman duo, starting five-star posts Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown, and they acquitted themselves well. The 6-4 Jones missed all five of her free-throw attempts but finished with six points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes. The 6-6 Brown had seven points and three boards in 31 minutes.
"They played hard," Fowles said of the Beavers' twin towers. "They showed they have a lot of grit about them. They weren't afraid to post up or attempt to block shots. That's always a good sign, that they were aggressive."
"They played big; they played bold," Rueck said of Jones and Brown. "They've shown they're not going to back down from anyone. If you don't back down tonight, you won't back down to anyone.
"That's a great sign for us moving forward, and a credit to our upperclassmen for bringing them along from Day One and making them a part of the team and expecting a lot from them."
Oregon State was without 6-3 junior forward Taya Corosdale, a two-year starter who has missed all three of OSU's exhibitions with a sore hamstring, and 6-foot senior guard Kat Tudor, who continues to rehab from ACL knee surgery.
"I know a couple of pieces were missing tonight," Hughes said. "That's only going to make them better — wow."
Team USA began its exhibition tour with a 95-80 win at third-ranked Stanford on Saturday as it gears up for a bid at a seventh consecutive championship at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer. The national team moves on for a Thursday game at No. 6/7 Texas A&M before finishing its tour Saturday in Eugene against top-ranked Oregon.
Hughes called the environment in Gill "fantastic."
"We're trying to get prepared for a run at the gold medal (in Tokyo)," Hughes said. "That's what we're all about. This tour, though, is also in part to promote women's basketball. When USA basketball goes to places where the atmosphere is like it was out there tonight, we can talk about this product and make it a celebration of what it's about.
"Oregon State did a great job of it. We're pushing our sport out and letting people see it and talk about it in a way that we can help it grow."
The national team members mingled with fans and signed autographs afterward. Earlier in the day, they invited the OSU players to their shootaround at Gill.
"We were able to spend time with them, talk to them and ask them questions," Rueck said. "Listening to them talk, you hear wisdom and graciousness. It was authentic. It was one of those things that just doesn't ever happen, and it happened today."
"Everything that came out of their mouth was gold," said OSU guard Aleah Goodman, who scored 14 points and knocked 3 of 5 3-point attempts. "Just being able to talk to them and hear what they have to say was worthwhile. One of the things they stressed was watching women's basketball, and how much you learn from just watching the game."
"A big part of the next step for me is taking care of my body," Slocum said. "Once you're at the pro level, there is a lot of wear and tear on your body from years of playing. They stressed what you need to do, and about having the mind-set of a competitor."
Said Hughes: "Our players are invested. Makes me so proud to be associated with them. The interaction with those college players — and potential pros — what they said to them ... man, you couldn't have scripted it better."
Hours later, the Beavers were on the court, competing against some of the legends of the women's game.
"We're out there playing across from people we've looked up to our entire lives," Slocum said. "Having watched Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird while I was growing up and then having them guarding you, you're like, 'Wow.' There's so much to learn from."
Said Rueck: "It was an amazing day overall and an amazing opportunity tonight. To take the court in that environment and look down at the other end and see the best team in the world warming up — that was really something."
The Beavers shot only .362 from the field, including 7 of 25 shots from beyond the arc (.280). They were 9 for 19 from the line, turned the ball over 17 times and still trailed only 48-42 midway through the third quarter.
"I loved our team's effort," Rueck said. "I loved our mind-set. I loved the way we approached it. It's 100 percent something to build on."
Hughes was asked for a comparison between Oregon State and Stanford, and how they might fare in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament.
"We've played two very well-coached teams that are in the process of developing their system very effectively," he said. "It's going to be a whale of a battle, to be honest with you. Both teams really impressed me, and both put us in the same situation. At halftime of both games, we had to talk about what we had to do. Those are top-10 teams for sure."
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