LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Oregon State’s two NCAA Tournament upsets this week have coach Scott Rueck curious to see what the sixth-seeded Beavers do with their next challenge.
OSU’s women (26-7) dealt No. 3 seed Tennessee its first home NCAA loss on Sunday and led No. 2 seed Baylor most of the way in Friday night’s 72-67 victory that earned a berth in Sunday’s Lexington Region final against top-seeded Louisville (35-2). The Beavers aren’t awed by the Cardinals either, though they face a different hurdle.
Louisville is also playing its best basketball at the right time with 10 consecutive wins, including three NCAA routs by an average margin of nearly 26 points per game. Rueck’s objective is maintaining his team’s focus, and especially that budding swagger.
“It’s just a healthy confidence in knowing that you believe, you belong and that you can do it,” the coach said Saturday. “That’s evident. This team is full of people that won a lot in their careers at every level.
“Toward the end of January, this team starting speaking the language of a champion. And now because of that, that consistency and that togetherness has allowed them to play extremely confidently. Everybody’s on the same page.”
OSU is playing in its second Elite Eight in three seasons. Louisville is appearing in its fourth regional and first since 2014. Competing as an NCAA top seed for the first time in school history, the Cardinals’ quest for a third Final Four berth will take place just over an hour east of campus on the home floor of the rival Kentucky men’s team.
Louisville made good use of its near-home court advantage to rout No. 4 seed Stanford 86-59 Friday night and establish a single-season program record for wins.
The Cardinals owned most statistical categories, including 22 points off 19 turnovers and 52 percent shooting along with four double-figure scorers. Their complete play against Stanford doesn’t mean they can’t improve, especially with a Final Four berth at stake.
“Every game you learn something new, and every game you’ve got to grow,” said senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen, who become Louisville’s third 2,000-point career scorer in the victory.
“We didn’t start the tournament off like we should have, and from then on we’ve gotten better. But we’re not stopping here; we’re trying to go far in this tournament.”
Louisville’s challenge is stopping a Beavers team impressive for how they’ve patiently eliminated powerhouse programs six days apart - especially Baylor.
OSU lost only the second quarter against the Lady Bears and remained poised while trailing and when the Lady Bears rallied late to get to 69-67. The Beavers worked the ball around and found Katie McWilliams open in the left corner for a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to seal another upset.
Besides shooting at least 45 percent for the third consecutive game, they recorded 19 assists on 24 baskets. Six-foot-5 senior Marie Gulich got her share of passes and created opportunities to score 26 points. The German also poses a defensive presence the Beavers will need against the 6-2 Hines-Allen and 6-4 Sam Feuhring.
“I know it’ll be tough and be like a really tough challenge to play against a quick team like that,” Gulich said, “but as a team we prepared really well, so I’m excited.”
OSU isn’t surprised by its play or this week’s remarkable wins because players believed it would come together. That the Beavers still have room to grow is scary, given their current success.
“It’s been neat to see,” Rueck said. “That’s what every teacher or coach would want with their group, that they’re reaching their potential. That’s what I thought this year, and I think this group is approaching that.”
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