Scott Rueck has Oregon State believing
It wasn't even two years ago that Oregon State had a women's basketball program in name only.
Coach LaVonda Wagner had just been fired and the roster consisted of two players. Most of the rest who hadn't already graduated had transferred, quit or chosen not to return.
Enter Scott Rueck, the Oregon State alum who had been coaching at George Fox for 14 years, winning the Division III national championship in 2009.
In his first season, he took a remade roster that included last-minute recruits, a couple of athletes from other sports and only one player with Division I experience, and went 9-21. Many had assumed they might not win a game all season.
In Year 2 of his tenure, his roster now has six players from the junior college ranks, a talented freshman (guard Ali Gibson) and the belief that they can be competitive. The Beavers are one of the season's biggest surprises, sitting all alone in third place in the Pac-12 at 8-5 (17-7 overall) and getting ready to host the conference's two best teams -- No. 3 Stanford and Cal -- in the biggest games in Corvallis in a long while.
Rueck said the early part of the season was full of "unknowns."
"We were blending personalities and there are so many new people," Rueck said. "But we have more pieces and some depth, and I could see the confidence and belief. As soon as the kids got that hope, everything changed. We've been more efficient and upbeat. We are here to compete."
Gibson is the team's leading scorer at 12.5 points a game. Rueck has the tallest player in the conference, 6-foot-7 Thais Pinto, and junior Patricia Bright is 6-4.
Earlier in the conference season, Oregon State took Stanford to the limit at Maples Pavilion, with the Cardinal pulling out a 67-60 win. The Beavers have beaten Arizona State and USC and head into the Stanford rematch with six straight wins.
Rueck said he believes that his team's close game with the Cardinal makes things tougher, not easier, on Thursday night.
"They are going to want blood because of the way we competed with them," Rueck said. "I am so proud of our team for putting themselves in this position. Not just in this game, but overall. This is an awesome opportunity."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has been impressed with the job Rueck has done.
"He's doing a great job," VanDerveer said. "He's brought in some big kids, he has a system and his players buy into it. The first time we played them, we didn't play well. I think the orange on Oregon State's jersey might not have been as bright to our players as the orange on Tennessee. But we have to come out on Thursday and be ready to play."
UCLA coach Cori Close said Rueck has succeeded in what looked like "an impossible situation."
"I'm thrilled for them," Close said. "And I am glad we don't have to play in Corvallis this year."
The rebuilding job looks to continue as Rueck has signed an incoming recruiting class ranked 29th nationally by ESPNU HoopGurlz.
"We are taking everybody's best shot now, and that is maybe a little different than last year," Rueck said. "This is a process. People were impressed a year ago that we were playing people close and competed against the odds. This year we have found ways to win. The reality is that we can win at Oregon State."
Five on the marquee
Meighan Simmons, Tennessee. The sophomore guard came up big at a defining moment for Tennessee. Simmons finished with a season-high 26 points on Monday night in the Lady Vols' 91-54 blowout win over first-place Kentucky in Knoxville.
Carolyn Davis, Kansas. The Jayhawks' leading scorer sustained a dislocated left knee and torn ACL and will be out for the season, a devastating blow to the team. The junior forward was averaging 16.9 points per game.
Notre Dame. The Irish are regrouping after Sunday's upset at the hands of West Virginia and began that process Tuesday night with a 66-47 win over Providence.
Elizabeth Williams, Duke. The Duke freshman has been named the ACC Rookie of the Week for the seventh time this season, setting a school record. With 15 blocks in three wins last week, Williams claimed the Duke freshman record with 94.
North Carolina. It was a tough, rough week for the Tar Heels, with losses at Duke, at Miami and at home against Georgia Tech in a six-day span. That's three straight losses to ranked teams for North Carolina, which dropped to fifth in the ACC standings.
Five names you should know (but probably don't)
Stefanie Yderstrom, Miami. Yderstrom is not one of the "big" names on this Miami roster. That designation belongs to Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson. But the junior guard had a huge day with a career-high 26 points as Miami defeated Maryland 76-74. She has scored in double figures in five of her last six games.
Fresno State. The Bulldogs hit a school-record 18 3-pointers in a road win over Nevada on Saturday and are off to an 8-0 start in the Western Athletic Conference.
Anne Marie Armstrong, Georgia. Armstrong put up a career-high 23 points in Georgia's 76-63 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday and was named the SEC Player of the Week for the first time in her career.
Michelle Plouffe, Utah. The sophomore forward averaged 18.0 points in weekend wins over Arizona State and Arizona, marking Utah's first-ever weekend series sweep in the Pac-12 Conference. Plouffe scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds against Arizona.
Megan Vasquez, Yale. Vasquez established career highs in back-to-back games, scoring 25 points in a win over Cornell and following up with 28 in a win over Columbia. In the process, she surpassed 1,000 points for her career.