Defense has been key to Oregon State’s recent success

By Steve Gress / Corvallis Gazette-Times

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No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 7 Washington State

When: Thursday, 6 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

No. 3 Oregon St. vs. Utah/Washington winner

When: Friday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

CORVALLIS — Scott Rueck says playing defense in the Pac-12 Conference is no easy task.

“It takes a lot of sacrifice,” Oregon State’s fourth-year women’s basketball coach says.

Rueck’s players have bought into that facet of the game and it has paid off.

The Beavers (21-9) are riding a nine-game winning streak and finished in a tie for second place in the conference with California following Sunday’s 66-43 blowout of then No. 20 Arizona State in Gill Coliseum. As the No. 3 seed, they will have a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, which begins Thursday at KeyArena in Seattle, and will take on the winner of the Washington-Utah game at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.

“Just our overall attentiveness on that end of the floor has been incredible,” Rueck says.

The numbers have been impressive.

OSU held Arizona State to a 15-for-58 shooting performance (25.9 percent) and allowed the Sun Devils just one field goal in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

They have given up more than 19 field goals just twice in the last nine games.

“Defensively, this is as good as we’ve played since I’ve been here,” Rueck says.

The Beavers were near the top in almost every defensive category in the Pac-12 this season.

In conference play, OSU finished second behind top seed Stanford in points allowed per game (61.1 to 61.7) and tied the Cardinal in field-goal percentage against at .362.

The players are having fun playing defense.

“Like Ali (Gibson), I think of her scrapping on the floor and it just gives so much energy,” says sophomore center Ruth Hamblin. “And like for me, if I can provide blocks, I feel like it’s just a momentum changer when you’re selling out on defense and everyone is getting those hustle plays. It’s huge for the team’s momentum and energy.”

At 6 feet 6, Hamblin has been a factor in the paint. She has 115 blocks this season, tying the school record, and needs just five more to set the Pac-12 record.

“In every game we know that if we get beat, which we sometimes get beat, she’s behind us and she can get those blocks,” Gibson says of Hamblin. “It’s just good to know that we have confidence in someone down low who can do such a great job.”

Gibson has done her fair share on the defensive end as well. While the stats do not do her justice, she has a knack for always getting her hands on loose balls.

“I’d like to give props to her because she was guarding the (opposing point guard) and she’s done that a few times this season because I can’t handle it sometimes,” freshman point guard Sydney Wiese says of Gibson. “She has the quickest feet and she just has quick hands too. Her and Gabby (Hanson) both are just huge defensive stoppers and they’re a big part of the reason we’ve gotten these wins the past few weeks.”

The Beavers have also not been outrebounded over the past 12 games. And they have been able to keep the offensive rebounds to a minimum, or not allow second-chance points.

Hamblin has gotten the numbers and publicity, but Rueck says having Deven Hunter, Samantha Siegner and Breanna Brown in the paint at times has also helped.

“I thought we just scrambled with a different level of urgency, we are scrambling with a different level of urgency when we give that up,” Rueck says of offensive rebounds.

The defense has helped the Beavers to a scoring margin of plus-7.7, second behind Stanford’s 18.5 margin.

“My offense is sometimes sparked by my defense, and I think that happens for most people,” Gibson says. “When we have a great defensive possession it just gets the crowd into it and I feel that just sparks our offense.”

Pac-12 tourney end of the road for UO coach

The contract of University of Oregon women’s basketball coach Paul Westhead will not be renewed following this season, the university announced Tuesday. That means this week’s Pac-12 Conference tournament is likely to mark the end of Westhead’s five seasons with the Ducks.

Oregon (15-14) are the No. 10 seed and will face No. 7 seed Washington State in the first round of the tournament Thursday at 6 p.m. at KeyArena in Seattle. The Ducks enter the postseason on a bit of a roll, having swept Arizona State and Arizona at home last week. The win over No. 20 ASU marked the first time Oregon has beaten a ranked opponent since 2007.

The Ducks will be looking for their first tournament win under Westhead, who last month turned 75 years old. Westhead, noted as a guru of fast-paced, high-scoring offense, has a lengthy coaching resume that includes winning an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980.

—Bulletin staff report

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