Beavers head to NCAAs on a roll
SEATTLE - Oregon State finally conquered the Pac-12 where it counts, the conference tournament.
Senior center Ruth Hamblin had 23 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and five blocked shots on Sunday night to lead the seventh-ranked Beavers to a 69-57 victory over UCLA in the championship game of the Pacific-12 Conference women's basketball tournament.
It was the first title in school history for the Beavers (28-4), who fell to USC in 2014 in their only other championship-game appearance. It was also their 18th win in the last 19 games.
“This is an unreal feeling,” Hamblin said. “The Pac-12 is so competitive … we worked so hard and we played like our lives were on the line.”
Pac-12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner earned more hardware by being named the tournament’s Outstanding Player. She had 19 points and five rebounds on Sunday and 59 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in three tournament wins.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried after a win but that happened tonight,” Weisner said. “I’m just blessed to be part of this program. We came a long way in four years and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Junior guard Sydney Wiese had 21 points and joined Weisner and Hamblin on the all-tournament team. Senior forward Deven Hunter added five points and 12 rebounds to help OSU double the Bruins on the boards, 50-24.
“If you know the whole story of where we started to where we are now is remarkable,” sixth-year OSU coach Scott Rueck said. “The performance we put together tonight is what dreams are made of.
“Ruth was unbelievable. It’s hard to score against us 5-on-5 and a lot of that is because of Ruth. She has continued to improve and it’s been fabulous to watch.”
OSU used a 17-2 run over the final 6:38 of the first half to take a 44-17 intermission lead, and it led by 31 points late in the third quarter. UCLA got within 63-54 with 2:12 remaining, but Weisner answered with a basket with 1:43 to play to restore the double-digit lead and a layup by Hamblin with one minute left buried the Bruins once and for all.
“We were dialed, our shots were falling,” Wiese said of the first half. “To win this year means a lot,” after falling in the title game in 2014 and being upset in the opening round in 2015. “It was a team win. I couldn’t be prouder of everyone.”
The Beavers led by as many as 31 points in downing the Bruins for second time in three games this season. UCLA won in early January when Wiese was sidelined with a hand injury.
Hamblin had a double-double in each tournament game and totaled 50 points, 44 rebounds and 11 blocks. Her 20 rebounds eclipsed her previous high on 19, set against California on Feb. 28, and tied the school record.
She set the career tournament record for blocked shots (29) and also set a Pac-12 blocks record with 405. The old mark was 402, set by Stefanie Kaspersky of Oregon from 1987-90.
OSU advanced to the championship game by defeating USC 63-53 in the quarterfinals on Friday night and Washington 57-55 in the semifinals on Saturday night.
The Beavers started quickly, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers in the first quarter while building a 20-12 advantage. Weisner had two 3-pointers and eight points; Wiese had five points, and Hamblin had four points and six rebounds.
The poured it on in the second quarter, outscoring the Bruins 24-5 to take a 44-17 halftime advantage. Wiese was 4 of 5 from deep and had 18 first-half points; Weisner had 12 points, Hamblin nine points and 11 rebounds and Hunter five points, nine rebounds and four assists.
“It was amazing,” Wiese said of the first half. “It started with our defense, we were getting open, making shots and things were real clicking.”
UCLA was 8-for-34 from the field in the first half and missed both 3-point attempts. In the four quarters that essentially determined the championship – the second half of the semifinals and the first half of the finals – OSU held its opponent to 35 points, 14 of 66 shooting overall (.212) and 1-for-11 (.091) shooting from beyond the arc.
The Beavers will learn the destination and opponent for the upcoming NCAA tournament during the NCAA Selection Show, scheduled for 4 p.m. March 14 on ESPN.
The first two rounds of the 64-team tournament will be held March 18-21 at 16 campus sites around the country. The Women’s Final Four is April 3-5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.