After taking out Cal-State Northridge in a somewhat lackluster performance in the first round, top seed South Carolina now advances to the second round of the NCAA Women's Tournament. Their opponent will be the ninth seed Oregon St. Lady Beavers, who defeated eighth seed Middle Tennessee St. in the opening round.
Who is Oregon St.? On the season, OSU went 24-10 overall and 13-5 in the Pac-12. Outside of home victories over Arizona St. and Southern Cal, the Lady Beavers struggled against upper-tier Pac-12 programs such as Cal and Stanford. They were nothing if not reliable, though, losing only one conference game to a team with a losing record (UCLA) and stringing off a nice succession of eleven straight conference wins over lower- and mid-tier Pac-12 programs. That streak only ended with a loss to Southern Cal in the conference tournament.
OSU is led by freshman point guard Sydney Wiese, who signed with the Lady Beavers as a highly touted prep prospect out of the Phoenix, AZ. Wiese averaged 14.5 points per game and 4 assists per game. She's dangerous driving to the hoop, when she can both finish and dish, and her greatest strength is reflected in the fact that she averaged .437 from three-point range on the year. Wiese saved some of her best play for the win over Middle Tennessee St., when she scored 26 points, many on her six made shots from downtown. She added five rebounds and four assists in the game.
Carolina shares something in common with Oregon St. Just as Dawn Staley rebuilt Lady Gamecocks hoops after inheriting an underperforming program, so, too, did Oregon St. coach Scott Rueck build the Lady Beavers program from the ground up. In fact, Oregon St. hadn't won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 1995 prior to the win over MTSU. The program hadn't even played in the tournament since 1996. The story of this program is truly remarkable. When Rueck arrived, he had only two scholarship athletes on the team after several players left the program amid allegations of emotional abuse from the former coach. The athletics department considered suspending the program for a year while Rueck held open tryouts. His first game, he only had five scholarship players, some walk-ons, and cross-over players from other sports. Only a few years later, Rueck has his team winning games in the NCAA Tournament and primed for an opportunity to knock off a number one seed for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Like Staley, Rueck has made these strides using a combination of strong recruiting that has brought players such as Wiese to his program as well as a focus on defensive fundamentals as the centerpiece for his team's identity. This defense held a solid MTSU offense to 36 points in the first round; in fact, OSU held MTSU scoreless for the first five minutes of the game.
While Carolina is facing a hungry, talented Oregon St. team, the Lady Gamecocks match up well in this contest. Oregon St. lives on three-point shots, making 8.2 per contest. The Lady Gamecocks play disciplined perimeter defense, giving up only 3.5 treys per game. We're well-equipped to take away what OSU does best. USC also outshines OSU in post presence. While OSU is no slouch down low, with its roster including 6'6 Ruth Hamblin, the Lady Gamecocks trio of Aleighsa Welch, Elem Ibiam, and Alaina Coates has been the key to its success all year and is good enough to help carry the Lady Gamecocks to victory on this one if USC patiently works the ball to them on offense.
One benefit Oregon St. will have will be a friendly crowd. With the game in Seattle, WA, expect for the OSU faithful to outnumber the representation from Gamecocks Nation.