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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Win over Washington State helps give Oregon State some momentum

CORVALLIS — I'm not sure about Oregon State's odds to go far in the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament this week in Las Vegas.

But the 17th-ranked Beavers are a sure bet to have a good handle on their first-round opponent — and vice versa.

OSU came from behind in the second half to put away Washington State 73-58 Sunday at Gill Coliseum in the final regular-season game for both teams. And guess who will face each other in an 8:30 p.m. first-round game Thursday at Mandalay Bay?

"This is halftime right now," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said after Sunday's game, looking ahead to a second matchup with the Cougars in four days. "It's an 80-minute game with Washington State. We have to win both halves."

Oregon State (22-8 overall, 10-8 in Pac-12 play) took care of the first 40 minutes on Senior Day, but Washington State (11-19, 4-14) didn't go down easily, even after losing its best all-around player in pregame warmups. Senior guard Chanelle Molina — who leads the Cougars in rebounds and assists and is their No. 2 scorer at 14.8 points per game — suffered a knee injury that held her out of action.

There are three Molina sisters on the WSU squad, though, including senior Celena and sophomore Cherilyn.

In her first start all season, Cherilyn stepped in for Chanelle and played well, scoring 12 points and helping Wazzu forge a third-quarter lead that didn't last. She knocked down three straight jumpers as the Cougars, who led 36-35 at the half, upped the margin to 42-37.

"(Cherilyn) played a great game," Rueck said. "She's a great player not known for shooting, but she rose to the occasion and knocked down some perimeter shots when we dared her. I could see her hitting one shot, but three? Wow."

To that point, the Cougars had made 19 of 28 shots (.679) from the field. Then the Beavers took over, going on a 19-2 run to forge a 56-44 advantage. Over the final eight minutes of the third quarter, Wazzu went 1 for 15. The Cougars drew to within 61-52 with 5:40 to go, but OSU followed with a 10-2 run to put them away.

"We did not make them uncomfortable in the first half," Rueck said. "We were a little bit loose defensively, but you have to give (the Cougars) a lot of credit for the poise they played with.

"The second half, after those three perimeter shots (by Molina) went down, our defense changed. The energy we played with changed. And we got out in transition; that was the separator. It took a lot of energy and effort from us in that second half to get away from them."

Mikayla Pivec made what could be her final Gill Coliseum performance a memorable one, scoring a game-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with seven rebounds. Junior Destiny Slocum contributed 17 points and five assists, and junior Aleah Goodman came off the bench for 13 of her 15 points in the first half.

Four OSU seniors were honored in a pregame ceremony. Forwards Maddie Washington and Janessa Thropay have been role players for teams that have gone 109-29 overall and 54-18 in Pac-12 play, and have reached at least the Sweet 16 in each of the previous three seasons. Guard Kat Tudor ranks third on the career list for 3-point baskets (225) and has been, in Rueck's terms, "our designated sniper."

Then there is Pivec, the most complete player in OSU's 44-year history of women's basketball and one of the best. She ranks eighth in career scoring, fourth in assists and, with 10 more rebounds, will become the school's all-time leader in that category. That despite being a 5-10 guard this season playing out of position at power forward.

"What our four seniors have accomplished, and the way they've carried on the legacy of what Oregon State women's basketball is, has been extremely impressive," Rueck said.

Pivec got emotional during the pregame ceremony, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,739 as she was brought out last among the seniors.

"There were a lot of memories going through my mind that led to tears," she said. "And seeing Kat get emotional — to see her tear up a little bit shows how much it means to our four seniors in this class.

"Having my family there to support me was huge. It was fun having my parents (Michael Pivec and Pam Paudlier) and grandparents (Frank and Linda Paudler) walk out onto the court with me in front of my second family — Beaver Nation. And we're not done yet."

The Beavers take some momentum into the Pac-12 tournament, having finished the regular season with wins over conference cellar-dwellers California, Washington and WSU. OSU tied Arizona State for fifth place with its most conference losses since 2012-13. The teams split their season series, but the Sun Devils take the fifth seed into the Pac-12 tournament on the basis of a victory over conference regular-season champion Oregon.

The Beavers are 3-4 since losing 6-6 freshman center Kennedy Brown for the season to an ACL knee injury in a 64-62 win over Arizona State, which left them decidedly thin on the front line. Rueck is starting Washington in Brown's place and relying on 6-3 freshman Taylor Jones for most of OSU's interior offense.

"I like where we are," Rueck said. "We're very comfortable now with everybody's role. We've been the same now for a while. The communication is getting better. Our efficiencies are up. There's still growth in front of us, but that's possible because of the consistency."

Oregon State would love to get to the finals of the Pac-12 tournament, but it will take some doing. If OSU gets past Washington State in the 6/11 matchup, it will face fourth-ranked (and No. 3 seed) Stanford. Also on the Beavers' side of the bracket is ninth-ranked (and No. 2 seed) UCLA.

It's not that the Beavers can't play with those teams. They lost 56-51 and 63-60 to Stanford and fell 83-74 in overtime at UCLA. OSU needs to shoot well from the perimeter to survive those tests, though. The Beavers made only 6 of 21 3-point attempts Sunday against Wazzu.

Goodman, who has moved back into a sixth-player role, has regained her touch after a midseason slide and, over the last 14 games, shot 44 for 94 (.468) from 3-point range. The Beavers need Tudor to join the party. Tudor missed her first seven 3-point attempts Sunday and finished 2 for 10. She is .324 from the field and .320 from beyond the arc this season.

Going into the weekend, Oregon State was No. 17 in RPI rankings. The top 16 teams get to host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games, so the Beavers must climb at least one spot. This week, they might move ahead of No. 16 Central Michigan (22-6), which lost to Ball State on Sunday.

With a pair of Pac-12 tournament wins, OSU would put itself in great position to host a pair in the NCAA Tournament.

"We need to win, no question," Rueck said. "We're building our resume; everybody is."

Four OSU seniors, along with their younger teammates, are well aware.

"Hopefully, we can come back and celebrate more with our fans in Gill for two more games," Pivec said. "We'd love two more games at Gill. We'll have to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament to make that happen. Let's go take care of business in Vegas."

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@kerryeggers


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