Indianapolis, IN -- It is with no doubt that Oregon State has quite the challenge ahead of them. As the No. 2 seed team upset Baylor on Monday, it is blatantly clear that this team is a force to be reckoned with. But nothing challenges any team in the league more than a face-off against the best team in the country.
We all know how good UConn is. Undefeated this season, on a 73-game win streak, in their ninth straight final four, and working towards a National Championship title for the fourth year in a row.
They are the best team in the country, hands down. However, the Beaver's discipline, aggression, and overall ability to play at a high level on the court is not something to be overlooked. This team continues to advance and excel at a fast pace, with an impressive regular season followed by winning their first ever Pac-12 Championship title.
After winning their first conference title they broke through their second round barrier in the NCAA Tournament reaching their first Sweet 16 in 33 years, as well as their first Elite Eight, and now most notably their first ever Final Four in program history.
The program is at the best it's ever been. But even with their great success this season, a lot of people may be wondering- could Oregon State really beat UConn in the Final Four?
It's easy to say the odds are against them. You look at the numbers, and anybody could take a gander and say, "Well yeah, obviously UConn is going to win." After all, there are all these talks around UConn "ruining" women's basketball because they're too good.
But the Final Four this year is a little unconventional, with three of the teams being break-through teams per se, unsuspected of making it all the way to the Final Four.
UConn was the sure bet, while for most Oregon State, Washington, and Syracuse were in hindsight. However, it's important to note that all three of these teams made it to the Final Four for a reason. And it's now a test for Oregon State to bring their A-game to Indianapolis.
"It's going to require a very, very good game from us so I think that just focuses us. We can't get too nervous from that; we just have to play a very good game," said senior center Ruth Hamblin. "I feel like we match up with them very well, and we're both very disciplined teams, and I think it'll be a chess battle out there."
"We have confidence knowing the experiences that we've had have culminated to lead to this moment," said junior guard Sydney Wiese. "UConn will be the ultimate test for us, but we're excited for it. We're not going to back down, and really there's no pressure. We're just going to play some basketball and have fun together."
And having fun together is one sure thing you can see from this Oregon State team if you haven't already. Covering this team all season long, I've been fortunate enough to witness their chemistry -- and watch them grow and continue to grind throughout the season, playing the game ever so passionately with so much enjoyment and gratitude.
"What you're witnessing is what I believe this whole thing should be like," said head coach Scott Rueck. "That's what I love. I love the singing on the bus, where maybe some people are getting some headaches from it," he said with a smile on his face. "To me, that's the beauty of what we do. The fact that you can be you.
"I think that's what allows it to be sustainable, and that's what allows the family to be sewn so tightly together is all those shared experiences."
"And so if it's heavy all the time, you're going to burn out. If it's too light, you won't be disciplined enough and confident enough when it matters, and so you have to strengthen that balance. When you get in between the lines it's on, and we're here to compete and be elite and then once we're outside the lines, we get to be us. And have fun together, and when you find that, that's the only way to do it. Otherwise, it's work, and none of us want to work. We want to play this game at the highest level and enjoy our self while we do it."
And while this game is undoubtedly grabbing a lot of national attention, this team will not allow any outside pressures get to their heads. The Beavers work to treat every game just like, well...any other game. Even if it's a Final Four game against UConn.
"I think we're just going to prepare like we have the whole season," said Weise. "UConn is just another team that we're going to face that we have to get through in order to get to the National Championship."
"We know what we've got, we've got some pretty great weapons," said Hamblin. "So we're not really focusing on all the attention that's been given to them, which they have definitely earned, but we're just going to be out there playing a basketball game for 40 minutes."
"For us as coaches, it's to keep them right where we've been, and just understand that it's the same," coach mentioned. "You know, all these crazy things going on around us are just all a distraction. None of this matters compared to what's going to happen out here. And so let's just play basketball and forget about all of it."
With clear, focused minds, Oregon State will be prepared to take on one of their biggest feats yet- taking down Breanna Stewart and the entire UConn team. Though the odds are in UConn's favor, Oregon State puts their opponents to a test, forcing them to work hard.
And with both teams displaying a strong commitment to playing at such a high level, one thing for sure is that Sunday will provide one heck of a ball game.