After a somewhat surprising run, the Oregon State women open March Madness with Eastern Washington

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Oregon State went from being picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 to a third seed and host in the NCAA Tournament.

A run of six straight victories — five against ranked teams — in late January and February really defined the Beavers, showing they deserved to be at the top of the Pac-12 along with Stanford, UCLA and USC.

“Nobody could have predicted it. I couldn’t have predicted that. But what I knew we had was a team that had all the pieces, and if the pieces came together we had a chance to be a tough out every night,” Beavers coach Scott Rueck said.

Oregon State (24-7) opens tournament play Friday evening against No. 14 seed Eastern Washington (29-5), which got in as the winner of the Big Sky tournament. Sixth-seeded Nebraska faces No. 11 Texas A&M in the late game Friday.

The Beavers are making their 13th NCAA Tournament appearance but first since 2021. They reached the Final Four in 2016, the same year they won the conference tournament.

Last season, Oregon State finished 11th among the league’s 12 teams. This season they were fourth in a loaded conference. Rueck said an exhibition game during a preseason trip to Italy gave him the first inkling that this season wouldn’t be more of the same.

“The way that they competed and the way they played, and how relentless it was and how competitive it was, it was uncommon. It was special,” Rueck said. “So I knew we had something.”

This season marks the end of an era for the Beavers. Because of conference realignment, the Pac-12 has dwindled to just two teams: Oregon State and Washington State. The Beavers and Cougars’ women’s basketball teams will compete next season in the West Coast Conference.

In the last Pac-12 tournament for at least the foreseeable future, Oregon State fell to Stanford 66-57 in the semifinals.

Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen pointed to the game-changing stretch in the season, when the Beavers beat No. 3 Colorado then routed No. 16 Utah 91-66. After a victory over Oregon, the Beavers went on to beat those two ranked teams again before downing No. 9 UCLA. The only ranked Pac-12 teams that Oregon State didn’t get by were Stanford and USC.

Von Oelhoffen said the team recently rewatched the Utah game.

“If we play like we did in that game against Utah, we think we can compete with anyone and that’s when we’re at our best,” she said. “I think it was really coming off that weekend where we kind of looked around at each other like, ‘We’re like that when we want to be.’ So I think that was a bit of a turning point.”

Eastern Washington is making just its second tournament appearance and first since 1987. The Eagles earned an automatic bid with a victory over Northern Arizona in the Big Sky tournament.

The Beavers will be challenged by Jamie Loera, the Big Sky’s player of the year and defensive player of the year, who is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals.

“As far as who we are as a team, we love to just find joy in every moment. We don’t let things pressure us too much,” Loera said. “I think that’s one of our strengths, just staying present, taking it one game at a time and embracing just the moments we get as this team because you know there’s not too many left.”


Should the Beavers get past the Eagles in the opening round, they’ll play the winner of Friday night’s late game. The winner of that game on Sunday heads to Albany, New York, for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

The Huskers’ last tournament appearance was in 2021 and it ended with a first-round loss to Gonzaga. Nebraska has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013.

The Huskers (22-11) finished fifth in the Big Ten but went all the way to the conference tournament final before falling to Iowa and Caitlin Clark. They’re paced by senior guard Jaz Shelley, who is averaging 13.7 points and 5.6 assists.

Texas A&M (19-5) vastly improved this season over last, when the team won just nine games in coach Joni Taylor’s first year. The Aggies finished fifth in the SEC and earned an at-large bid in this year’s tournament.

“They’re a really physical team and they’re really good at rebounding,” Nebraska center Alexis Markowski said. “I think they average about 14 offensive rebounds, so that’s really important for us, to just keep them off the boards.”

The Aggies are ranked 15th in the nation in rebounding, with a collective average of 42.3 total rebounds a game.

This is Texas A&M’s first trip to the tournament since 2021, when the team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season.


AP March Madness bracket: and coverage:

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