March 29, 2024 

How a young Oregon State team outlasted the Irish

'This is a special team'

ALBANY, N.Y. — Perhaps one of the most salient storylines of the 2024 women’s college basketball season has been the youth movement taking over the sport. USC’s ankle-breaking JuJu Watkins, South Carolina’s savvy guard MiLaysia Fulwiley and Iowa State’s smooth-shooting post Audi Crooks, among others, have taken the game by storm. On Friday afternoon in Albany, the lights shone brightly on another young star — No. 2 seed Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo, who took the court for her Sweet 16 debut against No. 3 seed Oregon State.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

Overlooked prior to this matchup, and perhaps all season, however, were the rising young stars on Oregon State’s roster. Led by sophomores Raegan Beers and Timea Gardiner, the Beavers’ senior-less squad showed resilience, determination and poise down the stretch to pull off the upset, 70-65, against the Irish to advance to the Elite Eight.

“This is a special team, and they demonstrated every bit of that today,” said Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck. “I just couldn’t be happier for them or more proud of them for the way they operate every minute of every day, the way they take care of each other … We got the steal when it mattered. We hit the big three when it mattered. We executed late and made the free throws to separate.”

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

The Beavers played lockdown defense on Hidalgo, limiting her to just 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting and holding the Irish to 35.6% shooting on the afternoon. They disrupted the Irish’s rhythm and absolutely dominated on the boards. Beers (13 rebounds) and Gardiner (11 rebounds) combined matched the entire Notre Dame roster (24) while contributing to a total rebounding mark of 42 for Oregon State. Ten of each Beers and Gardiner’s rebounds were defensive rebounds.

“We kind of knew in order for us to get where we wanted to go, we needed to key in on defense,” said Gardiner. “All of us over the spring, over the summer and into this year came in with the mindset of understanding what we needed to accomplish defensively in order to win those close games. So this year that core group, we know what it takes now. So we know what it takes to win.”

Oregon State's Raegan Beers drives to the basket
Oregon State Beavers forward Raegan Beers (15) shoots a layup against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half in the semifinals of the Albany Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the MVP Arena at MVP Arena. (Photo Credit | Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

Gardiner, the Pac-12 Sixth Woman of the Year, came up especially clutch down the stretch for the Beavers, scoring 12 of her 21 points in the second half. Every time Oregon State needed a bucket Gardiner seemed to deliver. She paced the young squad and kept them grounded during a back-and-forth game that had 11 total lead changes before the final buzzer.

“She’s incredible, an incredible player,” said Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey. “Knew that going in —recruited her — as I watched her for a very long time … she’s very efficient. She had 21 points, 11 rebounds, but I felt like she hit us with some dagger, dagger plays. The three going into the fourth quarter with about five seconds left and her size, her presence. She’s very poised, plays with a ton of confidence, is having an incredible season. Credit to her.”

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Despite their overall efficiency, the Irish did defeat the Beavers in one critical area: turnovers. On the afternoon, Oregon State committed 26 turnovers to Notre Dame’s five. Carelessness with the ball and some empty possessions can be attributed to this young team feeling the pressure and stakes of tournament basketball.

“Can we prepare them in a way to manage whatever is coming on whatever stage it might come?” Coach Rueck pondered. “This team doesn’t play young in many ways, but you’ve got to give Notre Dame a ton of credit for disrupting. We did look young at times, of course, today … We clearly — that’s been a point of emphasis all year, and it’s one of those things that’s just continuing to be a challenge in some ways, and certainly it’s going to be tested as we go forward.”

The first test is undefeated South Carolina, Oregon State’s opponent on Sunday afternoon. Dawn Staley’s squad eked out a 79-75 win over Indiana in a game that got tight down the stretch. Though it will be tough to hand the No. 1 team in the country its first loss, the Beavers — despite their youth and perhaps because of it — are heading into that matchup with a tremendous amount of confidence.

“We always believed in ourselves and what we could do, and a lot of people didn’t know what we could do,” Gardiner said postgame. “We came in, we had nothing to lose, so we come in, we play our game. We play Oregon State basketball and we demonstrated that tonight, and we’re not done yet.”

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.