SEATTLE -- If there's been one theme that's endured for this Oregon State women's basketball team, it's that they know how to enjoy themselves. Individual egos and catty cliques don't exist for this team. Instead, they all believe in the team as a whole, and it's allowed them to turn the program around.
A perfect example is how freshman point guard Sydney Wiese reacted to her career-high 26 points that she scored in Oregon State's first NCAA Tournament victory in 19 years. Instead of getting a big head or focusing on her personal achievements, she modestly deflected the praise to her teammates.
"I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates, like I've been saying, because all I do is knock down shots," Wiese said. "They're the ones that do all the hard work -- setting picks, getting the rebounds, put-backs. I wish that everybody on our team could get some type of recognition or award. For some reason, I'm the one that can knock down the shot, so I'm the one that ends up getting the award or whatever, but they deserve it more than I do."
Over the past four years, this program has been built from the ground up, and it's because head coach Scott Rueck has placed such an emphasis on character. When players believe in themselves, each other, the coaches and the team, it gives them that extra motivation to push harder and exert that extra effort.
"For that talent to achieve the way they are, the key to that is character; that's what I've learned in my career: character wins," Rueck said. "They're high character people. They're achievers on and off the court. That's just who they are, and that's what this team is made of."
In my two years of covering this team, having listened to what players and coaches say in press conferences, how they treat each other on and off the court, it's apparent that this team respects each other. They all realize basketball is just a sport, and that if they are mentally and socially fulfilled, then results and success will follow. When everyone has each other's back in that way, they can put their heart on the floor because they care about each other.
"They're so inclusive of everyone -- there are no groups on this team," Rueck said. "It's one group, and everybody feels good and everybody knows they're important and needed. Everybody knows that everybody else has their back."
That sort of team chemistry is what brought Wiese to OSU in the first place. Months ago, when the season was still in its infancy, I asked her why she chose to play at Oregon State over some of the other schools that had had more success in recent years.
"My friends that went off to college were saying how mean their coaches were, and I didn't want that to be the case for my college career," Wiese said. "So far, it hasn't been. It's been the complete opposite. I love it."
It turns out she made a pretty good decision. After 24 wins, an appearance in the Pac-12 title game and a win in the NCAA Tournament, Oregon State has had more tangible success than it has in the past 19 years.
"We just trust each other. We've built the trust over time," Wiese said. "We're just putting our best foot forward and trying to do the correct thing or just make hustle plays."
The players believe in the coaches to draw up the best game plans. The coaches believe in the players to execute the game plan, and the players believe in each other to perform when they need to.
That's why this team closed the season on a nine-game winning streak. That's why they didn't crumble in the early rounds of the Pac-12 Tournament. That's why they executed against Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and that's why this team isn't intimidated as it prepares to play No. 1-seed South Carolina Tuesday at 6:40 p.m.
"Our confidence is high," Wiese said. "Our coaching staff does a great job preparing us on how to attack defenses and how to stop people when we play defense. Going into tomorrow, we're going to be excited. We're looking to shock the nation."
Mitch Mahoney, sports reporter
On Twitter @MitchIsHere