March 30, 2024 

Oregon State wants to be ‘America’s team’

Beavers prepare for Elite Eight matchup against undefeated South Carolina

ALBANY, N.Y — The morning following their upset of No. 2 seed Notre Dame to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018, Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck addressed the media from the floor level of MVP Arena. Although the 9:15 a.m. ET start time for the press conference was earlier than the coach and his West Coast team “would have chosen,” Rueck was beaming as he discussed his team’s postseason run.

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“I love it. That’s what I’d say … This is living the dream. This is what we all do this for,” Rueck said. “So pushing the right buttons at the right time and making sure every syllable is the right syllable or the best you can do, making sure the team is in the right place, seeing the right things, all those things — that’s the joy in this entire process. I would say it’s extremely challenging, but of course it is. It’s beautiful.”

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Rueck and the Beavers now prepare to take on nation’s only undefeated team, No. 1 South Carolina.

“As you look at them, they’re undefeated for a reason. There’s not a lot of weakness out there. Very well-coached, experienced coach, and they’ve got a little bit of everything,” Rueck said.

“You’ve got inside presence like that, and then you’ve got a perimeter presence. You’ve got a defensive presence. Then everything you do kind of makes sense. Going to your strengths all game long. They’re an excellent team.”

Sunday’s game will be the third time that South Carolina and Oregon State have met in the NCAA Tournament, and the Gamecocks hold a 2–0 advantage. Nearly ten years ago to the date, the programs faced off in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a game which South Carolina won handily by 17 points. In 2021, during the ‘bubble’ tournament, the Gamecocks edged Rueck’s squad by just nine points to miss out on a shot in the Sweet Sixteen.

“South Carolina seems to always be in our region,” Rueck lamented.

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Although the challenge of overcoming the Gamecocks is a heroic task, the Beavers feel that a competitive Pac-12 schedule prepared them for this moment.

“We’ve been working against posts like that all year and have prided ourselves on being able to defend one-on-one in there. That’s what it’s going to come down to. Then obviously their defensive pressure is outstanding, and it’s who Dawn Staley is as a coach, and all of her teams play that way,” said Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen.

If defense was a strong point for the Beavers on Friday, turnovers were a major weakness. The young team committed 26 turnovers that translated into 27 Irish points. If Oregon State wants a chance to win, it absolutely must take better care of the basketball than it did on Friday against Notre Dame.

‘No longer a freshman’

Oregon State’s senior-less team includes a freshman running the point, 2024 Pac-12 All-Freshman selection Donovyn Hunter. Hunter was a steady presence for the Beavers on Friday — contributing 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, including two 3-pointers. Hunter is a member of a talented freshman class that has performed beyond their years all season.

“Whether you’re a freshman, at this point that’s not an excuse. Even if I make a mistake, ‘oh, I’m just a freshman, it’s my first time.’ We’re so deep into the season that any mistake I make, that’s just self-inflicted … being able to execute the plays for my team I would say signifies that I’m no longer a freshman, that I’m a point guard,” Hunter said.

Oregon State freshman <a rel=
Mar 29, 2024; Albany, NY, USA; Oregon State Beavers guard Donovyn Hunter (4) dribbles the ball against the Oregon State Beavers during the second half in the semifinals of the Albany Regional of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at the MVP Arena. (Photo Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

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Oregon State takes it cues from Coach Rueck who, in his 28th season, brings a calm and reassuring approach to leading his alma mater’s women’s basketball program.

“He is very level headed,” Hunter said. “And I think when it comes to games, especially this deep into the season, postseason, it takes a lot of making sure that you keep your team calm because at the end of the day you can’t really control foul calls or any of that. To have a coach that looks at [us] and calms us down helps a lot.”

‘America’s team’

Among a surge in popularity and press coverage for some of the biggest names in womens basketball — UConn guard Paige Bueckers, LSU forward Angel Reese and USC freshman JuJu Watkins, to name a few — von Oelhoffen feels her team isn’t getting the coverage that they deserve. She and her team took matters into their own hands, “submitting” via Tik Tok an application to be “America’s team.”

“We’re America’s team, we’re selfless, we play together, we’re a family, and that’s a story, that’s a headline that I can get behind and I think a lot of people should, too,” von Oelhoffen said.

With the country watching on Sunday afternoon, the Beavers have a shot to make the case on the court that they are are America’s team, a title they’ll need to pry away from a Gamecocks team looking to accomplish a program-first undefeated season.

“I like doing things that people don’t think are possible,” Rueck said. “Nobody thought Oregon State could win.”

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.

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