When the buzzer sounded on Oregon State's 51-46 road win against the Washington Huskies on Saturday afternoon, the small section of loyal fans donning orange and black behind their bench gave them a standing ovation.
Shortly after going through the line to exchange pleasantries with their opponents, freshman guard Jenna Dixon literally just jumped up and down in place while sort of frantically shaking her arms.
"Everybody kind of celebrates in their own way," said redshirt sophomore Sage Indendi, who finished tied for a game-high 17 points. "For me, it was more just like, 'It's over?' That just seemed like the longest game because it was such a battle. So everybody is really excited. And Jenna is just so spastic she just doesn't know how to contain it."
And you can't blame them for not really knowing how to celebrate - Oregon State entered the game 0-10 in Pac-10 play after a rather light non-conference schedule. As significant as finally getting a conference win might have been for any team, it was also their first Pac-10 win of the Scott Rueck era after a messy off-season that left them with only one significant returning player from last season's last place team.
"We needed a W," said Indendi. "Why not tonight?"
Given that you could have justifiably expected this team to go winless in conference play, you have to understand why they lingered on the court a bit longer than normal to celebrate the victory.
And their fans joined in with them.
Someone from the crowd took a team photo before they could even huddle up for a post game cheer of "team" and although it's customary for away teams to mingle with their fans after a game, they were taking individual photos and exchanging hugs before even heading to the locker room.
Nevertheless, nobody who's been following this team closely would call this an "upset" either - not only did OSU take UW to overtime earlier this season in Corvallis, but they've played a lot better than their record implies throughout conference play.
Women's Hoops Blog | Game thread: Oregon State at Washington | Seattle Times Newspaper
The Beavers have only lost three Pac-10 games in double figures, undergoing a mucky coaching change that left two players on the roster. First-year coach Scott Rueck filled the massive voids with standouts from other OSU sports, D-III stars, walk-ons, and freshmen.
Losing to No. 4 Stanford by 30 points, Cal by 13, and No. 10 UCLA by 12 were nearly predictable. But the other losses, including a three-point defeat to UW where OSU led by 16 last in the second half, were by an average 5.1 points.
The Beavers were not nearly as bad as their record implied coming in and despite not having any wins to show for it, they've had a cohesive, disciplined defense that's been carrying them throughout.
"The crazy thing is that that zone it just put us to sleep out there," said Jackson. "We started to kind of run away from our attack mindset type of game and I know going forward it's not something we're going to let happen again."
Key statistic: OSU zone holds UW under 30% shooting in first half
Entering the game, Washington and Oregon State were #2 and #3 in opponents' field goal percentage in the conference. And with neither team known for their offensive power nor their ability to limit turnovers, you could have expected an ugly defensive battle coming in.
With 3:53 remaining in the first half, the Huskies found themselves on the losing end of that battle shooting 3-for-18 from the field (16.7%). The Huskies just couldn't seem to make shots against the zone and when they did get to the free throw line, they only shot 6-for-10 in the first half.
"I thought we did a good job just knowing tendencies," said Rueck of the defensive effort. "They've got some players with some pretty distinct tendencies offensively and I thought our team did a great job being disciplined and playing them into their weaknesses."
In addition to confusing the Huskies into cold shooting, OSU denied second chance point opportunities, holding UW to only 28% of the many available offensive rebounds and outscoring them 10-4 in second chance points.
"We're a much better rebounding team now than we were whenever we played that game," said Rueck, referring to their previous 55-52 loss to UW in Corvallis. "They killed us on the o-boards down the stretch of that game and gave themselves chances when we were struggling to score."
Given all the turnovers (and poor decisions that didn't get recorded as turnovers) from both teams, it made the expected defensive battle into a slow, sloppy, grinding spectator experience.
And it didn't help that UW simply looked listless.
"We looked tired," said UW guard Kristi Kingma. "We looked defeated from an early point in the game. We didn't look like we had the same fight that we always have. And that's just something that can't happen. You've gotta demand that of your teammates."
And their lack of energy was only more stark in juxtaposition to the constantly running motor of OSU center El Sara Greer.
OSU statistical MVP: Greer anchored the middle of the defense
Greer entered the game leading the Pac-10 in blocked shots with 3.4 per game and the next closest challenger only has 1.5 (Washington State's Carly Noyes). However, blocked shots don't always accurately reflect a player's defensive ability - it's performances like Greer's on Saturday that show why she's one of the conference's premier defenders even if you knew nothing of her shot blocking ability.
UW center Regina Rogers was 1-for-4 in that first 16 minutes when the Huskies were at their worst and it was Greer guarding her in the post as well as anyone has this season - Rogers is a big presence inside and although Greer gave up two inches and more pounds on her assignment, she stuck with it in the first half and limited Rogers' effectiveness by simply staying physical and denying her the ball.
"El Sara is a tough matchup on the inside because her athleticism, she's done a good job slowing their posts down," said Rueck. "Rogers is going to get hers, but I thought our defensive game plan was good."
Offensively, Greer was responsible for 6 of those 10 OSU second chance points in the first half: getting an offensive rebound that led to a Sage Indendi three, getting a rebound and putback, and getting a rebound and making 1 of 2 free throw attempts. Again it was nothing out of the ordinary for OSU's leader as she entered the game second in the conference in offensive rebounding (4.0) as well and it's that same athleticism and activity that makes her a force on defense that makes her tough to stop offensively.
She played considerably less time in the second half after picking up her fourth foul, but still finished with a double-double and a game-high 7 offensive rebounds for a very good offensive rebounding percentage of 21.02%. She also had an outstanding free throw rate, but only made 4 of her 11 attempts.
And with Greer taking on a less prominent role in the second half, it was Rogers' turn to control the paint and help the Huskies get themselves back into the game after being down 28-19 at the end of the first half.
UW statistical MVP: Regina Rogers dominated the paint in the second half
Regina Rogers deserves strong consideration for Player of the Week after her performances against the Oregon schools.
As she did previously in their win against Oregon on Thursday, Rogers just absolutely took over in the second half and really it started at the end of the first half when she hit two of three baskets at the end of the half that helped UW go into the locker room down only 9.
There's nothing terribly complicated about how she takes over either - it's simply that when she gets comfortable and her teammates are looking for her, there's really not much opponents can do about it. The combination is a development that has been a long time in the making for those of us that have watched Washington closely.
"I just think that last year was my first year playing with this team," said Rogers. "It was their first time having a post player like me. Most of their post players were more finesse. And it was just them learning how to play with me and me learning to play with them. And I feel like we're in a good enough place where we know each other and we know each other's tendencies and my team just knows how to get me the ball."
Even though Greer did an admirable job on her in the first half, Rogers is a load in the post, and once she gets position for an offensive rebound, there aren't many people who can dislodge her. Once she sees any space to make a move she's going right back up to make a bucket or draw a foul.
It's simple, deliberate, and puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
Rogers finished with a team-high 6 offensive rebounds, a game-high 12 total rebounds, and tied for game-high 17 points with Sage Indendi. She got an outstanding 28.84% of the offensive rebounds available to her and was responsible for 62.72% of the team's overall statistical production, in part because most of her teammates played so poorly.
Key player: Mackenzie Argens anchors the UW defense
With Mackenzie Argens chipping in 39.15% of the team's overall production, you can start to tell that the rest of UW's players played poorly - they were either non-factors or had a negative impact on the game statistically. Argens has been credited as the player who anchors UW's defense and she did do that to some extent as UW held OSU to 6-for-20 shooting in the second half. She finished with 3 blocks to go with 7 rebounds and 7 points. However, she can also be foul prone and picked up her fourth foul with 11 minutes left in the second half, which limited her minutes.
And yet she was still by far the second most productive player for the Huskies.
That was the focal point of discussion for the Huskies after the game: why they simply didn't show up.
The problem was that nobody seemed to have an answer, although UW guard Kristi Kingma said she just never had her legs during her 3-for-11, 6 turnover outing.
"I could definitely feel toward the later part of the game that my legs didn't have the right lift in them," said Kingma, when asked if there was any additional fatigue from playing 3 games in 7 days. "I know we all ice bathed multiple times, but just playing that hard, it gets to you especially at this point in the season and after playing three games."
The Huskies insisted they would bounce back, but some credit has to go back to OSU. They did an outstanding job targeting Kingma, tired legs or not, and making sure that she didn't get started. It's nothing new for a team that had no experience with winning Pac-10 basketball, but OSU was just particularly effective at making sure she didn't find open space as she's usually adept at doing by shadowing her no matter where they went and bumping her off screens.
"Today we continued to slow down Kingma," said Rueck. "She had one (three) at halftime in both games. And at halftime we talked today. We said how many did she end the game with (last time)? She ended 5-for-6. Tonight she had one more. So we held her to one and it was a mistake."
Containing Kingma so effectively given the way she's been playing during conference would have been yet another small victory on its own that OSU could have added to their collection from the course of this season.
"As a coach, that's all you want - you want your team to feel success," said Rueck. "We work so hard to be successful because I want to see them smiling. I want to see them running into the gym each day for practice. And they've been doing a great job under the circumstances."
But at some point that small victory needs to be complemented with something concrete.
Celebrating winning effort
That the first conference win came on the road might make it all the more impressive, especially given the way the UW crowd has been lately - once Rogers starting surging, the crowd began to wake up and match her intensity and it looked like it was going to be another Huskies comeback.
Yet the inexperienced Beavers seemed unfazed.
"The ironic thing is we've actually played a little better at road than at home," said Rueck. "This is a team that has done a great job on the road and so yeah, it's surprising that we got one on the road or that we got any, to be honest."
The fact that an inexperienced, winless team was able to fight through the difficulty of pulling one out on the road is impressive - it sounds weird to say it given what their record says, but they are in a way unflappable. That's not to say they're great - even they know that's not true yet - but they're remarkably consistent, disciplined, and methodical in what they do for a team of players that had not only never played together before this year, but also never even played consistent minutes of D1 ball before this year outside of Greer.
"I'm so happy for our team," said Rueck. "I was just talking on the radio about the courage that it took just for the players to even want to be a part of the program. For the freshmen that were signed to even show up - they didn't have to and they did - and say, 'I want to be a part of this,' which in July was an absolute mess. For them to be rewarded like this with a Pac-10 win, I didn't know if it would come this year. Well, I didn't know if any wins would come this year. It's just a tribute to the heart and the guts that they play with everyday."
We talk about things like guts, heart, and passion a lot in sports, but the methodical play and consistent effort you see from this team doesn't come with any expectation of individual or even team glory. You can't have such delusions of grandeur when you've got players who were either in Division III, high school, or playing intramurals last year. That's why, in a way, although lingering on the court immediately after the game makes sense, you also had to wonder how they would celebrate in an arena most had never been to as the game neared a point where a win neared their reach.
It would have made just as much sense for a team that has humbly suffered through seemingly endless losses yet maintained the discipline to improve to walk off the court with their heads held high in a business-as-usual demeanor, merely focused on the task of constantly becoming a stronger unit.
But everyone deserves a reward when you work as hard as this team to become among the best defensive teams in the conference despite nobody expecting them to win a game. And you can probably expect that reward to lead to further success in the future, even if they end up dead last.
"It gives us hope," said Rueck. "This is a team that's been in almost every game, within reach anyway. It gives us hope knowing once you've done it once it's, 'Hey, maybe we can do this again.' And maybe it's a perfect timing for just a little motivation to come in and want to learn a little faster in practice and take our game to another level."
You just have to accept a more expansive notion of success that goes beyond the simple binary of wins and losses.
And at some level, if you can't appreciate the story developing in Corvallis, you're only missing out on a great testament to the collaborative strength of the human spirit.