Plenty to build upon for OSU, UO women's basketball
For the women's basketball teams at Oregon State and Oregon, the exits from the NCAA Tournament felt more like a beginning than an end.
The Beavers' loss to top-seed South Carolina March 23 in the second round and the Ducks' loss to No. 2-seed Louisville March 28 in the Sweet 16 were similar in that quick, assertive defenses kept both Oregon schools from finding an offensive rhythm.
And, in both cases, young Beavers and young Ducks just weren't quite ready to pull off the win. It should be noted that South Carolina rolled into the Final Four and Louisville led top-seed Stanford in the Elite Eight entering the fourth quarter before the Cardinal took over to reach another Final Four.
Oregon State had three true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a true sophomore play key minutes. And, as good as Aleah Goodman was as a leader and a player, the Beavers aren't a tournament team without the remarkable midseason arrival of Talia von Oelhoffen, who in normal times would have stayed at Chiawana High in Pasco, Washington, for her senior season.
The Oregon women had five freshmen and two key redshirt sophomores in 6-7 Sedona Prince and 6-5 Nyara Sabally, neither of whom played in two years because of injuries.
Transfer decisions might reshape the Beavers and Ducks — so far, OSU freshman Sasha Goforth announced she will transfer to play closer to her Arkansas home and junior Jasmine Simmons is returning to Australia — but Oregon State's Scott Rueck and Oregon's Kelly Graves contrinue to land elite recruits.
It took a terrific South Carolina team to put an end to a terrific late-season run by Oregon State.
Beavers coach Scott Rueck pointed to a Feb. 21 win at UCLA as the moment this Beavers team truly became believers. Beating UCLA, Rueck said, proved to his team that it was capable of playing good basketball against top-flight competition.
"That day was the day where this team saw themselves as I saw them," Rueck said. "As a teacher, you just hope for that moment where they see their potential — (that) they have a belief in them that you as their leader sees and you've been building toward that moment."
Goodman, the La Salle Prep grad and OSU team leader, joined Rueck in pointing to the pure joy of the win at UCLA as a special memory. But Goodman also pointed to a difficult moment as defining this team.
On Jan. 24 a double overtime loss to WSU dropped OSU to 3-5, 1-5 in conference play.
"After that Washington State game, we could have just (given) up," Goodman said. "We could have just put our heads down and moved on and focused on next year. That was a moment that just showed what this group was."
Goodman, as of this writing, had not announced if she might return for a fifth season — which the NCAA is allowing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If she leaves, the Beavers have plenty of leaders to take those reins. Goodman named Taya Corosdale, Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown — the 6-6 sophomore who started 23 games as a true freshman before an ACL tear in Feb. 2020 — as strong voices.
Oregon's journey was different. The Ducks won their first eight games, most of them in dominating fashion, before a couple of close losses took away their swagger.
Even when things got tough — including the loss of dynamic freshman point guard Te-Hina Paopao right at the end of the season — coach Kelly Graves believed his team would be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. That proved true, especially in the 57-50 second-round win over 10th-ranked Georgia. Prince and Sabally delivered big-time plays at both ends to decide the game.
The win over Georgia was also a big moment for freshman Maddie Scherr, who played almost the entire game in her second start at point guard.
In fact, it was Scherr's twisted ankle early in the Elite Eight game with No. 8-ranked Louisville that sealed the Ducks' fate. The injury took Oregon's best on-ball defender and only real ball-handler out of the game and allowed Louisville to build a comfortable lead. It didn't help, of course, that Sabally limped to the sideline after turning an ankle just when the Ducks made a run at the Cardinals.
While lamenting the injuries, Graves spent much of his postgame press conference on Sunday talking about the championship pedigree of his roster. He spoke about how much growth he expects to see from a regular off-season training program, about how high the ceiling can be if the players put in the work.
"This is going to be a really good group. This group isn't going away. We're only going to get better. Now that we have an opportunity to work with each other actually, I think you're going to see huge growth," Graves said. "This is a team that I'll be shocked and really disappointed if they don't not only get to this point next year but even beyond."
He added one qualifier:
"Now, we got to get better, OK? We got to get healthier, which I think means we got to get stronger. We got to put in the work on the court and off the court."
All of the above is a long-worded way of saying that the women's basketball programs at Oregon State and Oregon will continue to entertain and inspire.
• We are used to seeing the Oregon men's basketball team rise to the occasion in big games. That did not happen in the Ducks' Sweet 16 loss to USC. The Trojans set the tone back on Feb. 22, when their athleticism, length and aggressiveness overwhelmed the Ducks in their lone Pac-12 game.
Except for a stretch of desperate play in the second half, Oregon never got its feet under it against the Trojans. Seniors Eugene Omoruyi (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Chris Duarte (21 points, six assists) did their part, but it wasn't enough. Both are expected to depart the program, coach Dana Altman said.
Wonder what the Ducks thought as they watched No. 1 Gonzaga dominate the Trojans two days later?
• More on this in the near future, but Portland Pilots fans had to like the energy that new men's basketball coach Shantay Legans brought to a virtual event last week. He talked, as new coaches do, about recruiting — starting locally. But what stuck out was when Legans mentioned texts and tweets questioning why he would choose to take over a program that is entrenched in the basement of the West Coast Conference. The chip-on-the shoulder vibe is absolutely needed if Portland basketball is to become a program to watch.
• St. Mary's Academy graduate Bendu Yeaney is in the Women's Final Four. After transfering from Indiana to Arizona, Yeaney helped the Wildcats beat the Hoosiers in the Elite Eight. Over the last eight NCAA Women's Final Fours, six different Pac-12 teams have participated: Stanford, California, Oregon State, Washington, Oregon and Arizona.
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