Sydney Wiese doesn’t mind admitting it.
Notre Dame has been on her mind since December when the Oregon State freshman made an error she won’t forget. The Irish were ranked No. 2 then, as they are now, with a perfect 10-0 record when they faced the Beavers at Gill Coliseum.
But the Beavers were in position to upset the Irish, trailing just 62-58, as Wiese was inbounding the ball to an open teammate with 2:23 remaining.
But her pass sailed out of bounds across the court, and the roar of the crowd fell to a hush. Notre Dame finished with an 8-0 run to win 70-58.
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“It was all my fault,” Wiese said. “I always look at that moment and think what could have happened because (teammate) Ali (Gibson) was open.”
“I’ll bet you the ball is in Montana by now,” Wiese’s father recently teased his daughter.
Wiese is the starting point guard for an OSU team on a nine-game win streak. Wiese, who leads the Pac-12 with 94 three-pointers made, and the Beavers are the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament that begins Thursday at KeyArena.
Oregon State (21-9 overall, 13-5 Pac-12) received a first-round bye to Friday’s quarterfinals and will play the winner of the Washington-Utah game in Thursday’s opening round. The finish is OSU’s best since placing second and advancing to the NCAA tournament in 1996.
“I just laugh because it’s part of the journey, I can’t get that moment back,” Wiese said of the mistake against Notre Dame. Wiese is second on the team in scoring (13.6 points) and the assist leader (4.0).
“When I committed, I knew the vision coach (Scott) Rueck had for this team but I didn’t know how long it was going to take,” said Wiese, a star at Pinnacle High in Phoenix. “Toward the beginning of the year, I was like, ‘Wow. We have a lot of work to do.’ Then there was a stretch where I was thinking, ‘Maybe next year.’ Then all of a sudden we’re on a win streak and we’re playing for a postseason bid. It’s an incredible experience.”
Oregon State’s story is made for the movies. Rueck, an OSU alum, was hired in 2010 after a mass player exodus due to conflicts with coach LaVonda Wagner.
Rueck held tryouts, borrowed athletes and pleaded with others to remain to field a team his inaugural season, with just one player from Wagner’s reign left on the roster. OSU was 9-21, finishing 10th in the final year of the Pac-10.
Rueck entered this season with a 39-55 record with one 20-win season, one Women’s NIT berth and lots of questions. So many questions, the Pac-12 coaches and media pegged the Beavers to finish eighth in the preseason.
Before the shoot-around against Notre Dame, Rueck played for his players the clip from the movie “Gladiator” when Russell Crowe’s character shows his team how to fight and win together against the Barbarian Horde in the Colosseum. OSU was about to face a challenge, three consecutive games against teams with Final Four experience, beginning with Notre Dame and followed by then-No. 23 California and No. 4 Stanford in eight days.
The Beavers gave Notre Dame a scare but lost all three of those games. They won four of their next six games. Next up was a game at No. 15 Arizona State. The Beavers led by seven points with 1:53 to play but lost by two. Since then, they’ve won nine straight, each victory by double figures.
“We didn’t understand how hard it was mentally to be a championship team,” said Rueck of his roster that has just one senior. “Now, it’s so nice and refreshing to see this team figure that out on their own. My role has really been reduced and theirs stepped up.”
OSU’s success can be seen throughout the program. Sunday’s regular-season finale drew 5,208 fans, the largest home crowd since 2000. Canadian sophomore Ruth Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 center, grew from a little-used reserve as a freshman to the nation’s fourth-leading shot blocker (115).
And the Beavers’ 14-1 record at home is the program’s best, the one loss (Notre Dame) possibly being the biggest win in forming the team’s new identity.
“It was eye-opening in what we could do,” Hamblin said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.