The Oregon State women's basketball team will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years
After finishing the season in second-place tie in the conference, the Beavers (23-10, 13-5 Pac-12) were rewarded Monday with an invitation to the Big Dance. They drew a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and will play No. 8-seed Middle Tennessee (29-4, 15-1 C-USA) in their first-round game Sunday at 5 p.m. PST in Seattle.
The Blue Raiders finished the season with a No. 22 national ranking. They enter the tournament having won 11 consecutive games, including a sweep of the Conference USA Tournament. Junior post Ebony Rowe leads the team in scoring and rebounding. She averages 21.7 points and 11.7 rebounds.
The game will be played in Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, with television coverage on ESPN2.
"I'm so excited," said senior guard Alyssa Martin. "This is just everything we've been working for, and we can't wait to go out and show the world who Oregon State is." Oregon State has already proven itself among Pac-12 teams. After finishing the regular season on a nine-game winning streak, the Beavers entered the Pac-12 Tournament playing as well as any team in the conference.
Back-to-back tournament wins against Utah and Washington State sent OSU into the title game against USC. The Trojans ultimately took home the title and the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that went with it.
It turns out OSU didn't need to win to get in. The selection committee rewarded the Beavers with their first tournament bid since 1996. Coincidentally, their first-round game against will be in the same arena that hosted the Pac-12 Tournament.
"The team has always played well up there," said head coach Scott Rueck. "Of course we wanted to be close, just so our fans could travel if for no other reason. Staying in our time zone is an advantage as well, so we're looking forward to it."
All-Pac-12 point guard Sydney Wiese and All-Defensive center Ruth Hamblin lead the Beavers. Wiese is the team's leading scorer with 14.1 points per game, while Hamblin is the anchor on defense. She had a Pac-12-record 133 blocks, averaging four per game. Together, they spearhead an incredibly young OSU team that features nine underclassmen on its 11-player roster.
On the season, the Beavers average 71.0 points per game, the first time since 1995-96 that they've averaged more than 70. Defensively, Oregon State might be even better. Opponents shoot 34.9 percent from the floor, which is the best mark in the Pac-12 and seventh best in the nation.
Despite all this, there was still some tension in the room as the team watched the NCAA Selection Show Monday, especially after two regions were announced without OSU's name being called.
"Nothing was promised, even though we had a good feeling that we deserved it," Rueck said. "Once you see your name, it's a sense of relief and excitement. Dreams are becoming a reality, so it's a very special day for us."
Mitch Mahoney, sports reporter
On Twitter @MitchIsHere