OSU devastated after Sunday's loss, gains motivation for NCAA Tournament
On Sunday, the Beavers played in the Pac-12 championship game for the first time in school history. Entering the title game, OSU had won 11 consecutive games, all of which were by double-digits.
The Beavers (23-10, 13-5 Pac-12) were as hot as any team in the nation, and they entered the title game against USC fully capable of winning. They had even beaten USC less than a month prior to the championship.
When the Beavers eventually lost the championship game, they were understandably devastated.
"It was tears. It was just a really sad, heartbroken group," said head coach Scott Rueck. "That's a great thing. I took that as an awesome sign. They were fully invested in what we were doing. They expected to win -- expected success, and came up short. When you face it with that kind of emotion and outlook, you're only going to grow and get better from it."
Fortunately, the Pac-12 championship isn't the end of OSU's season. Monday, they'll likely receive an invitation to play in the NCAA Tournament. No Pac-12 team who has won 20 total games and 12 within the conference has ever been left out of the tournament.
If the Beavers get invited, it will be the first time since 1996 that they've qualified.
With more games left to play, Oregon State knows it has to move on from its loss in the championship game. Already, the Beavers have taken several lessons from it, and Rueck believes his team is better for the experience.
"You can't help but get better from a loss," Rueck said. "It's been a while. We hadn't been behind since mid-January, so it was kind of eye-opening."
With all the success they've had this year, the Beavers remain a remarkably young team that has little experience in meaningful games. Nine of their 11 players are underclassmen, and prior to last weekend, no one had won a single game in the Pac-12 Tournament.
"It was nice to be there longer than a day," Rueck said. "This was the first time we'd won a game since I've been here. It was a great experience for us. I was really impressed with the way the team was ready to play, took care of business and gave ourselves a chance to win it."
Against USC, the Beavers held a seven-point lead at halftime, but things turned south immediately afterward. When the second half opened, the Trojans played like a team on a mission, reeling off a 9-0 run in the first three minutes of the second half.
"It was humbling in the second half, for sure, but that's where you grow," Rueck said. "It gave us a taste of playing for keeps. We've got to remember what that feels like."
The Trojans needed to win that championship game, because if they'd lost, they wouldn't have automatically qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they'd be on the outside looking in. For them, it was essentially a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. It wasn't for OSU.
"USC was at a different level this weekend," Rueck said. "They had a ton of energy and their backs were to the wall. They had to win to get into the NCAA Tournament, and that's how they played."
When the Beavers begin tournament play later this month, every team will be "playing for keeps," and that includes OSU. Having that experience against USC should only help.
"It was good for us to play against USC when they cranked up their intensity, to remind ourselves of what it takes to play against that," Rueck said. "We hadn't seen that in a while, so we'll be better for it."
Mitch Mahoney, sports reporter
On Twitter @MitchIsHere