Final Four primer: Can OR State topple UConn?

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Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 4:47 AM

The Beavers finished eleventh in the Pac-12 that season. Three years later, with Jr point guard Sydney Wiese and classmate Gabby Hanson added to the mix, OR State is 32-4 and won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, and upset the top seed to advance from the Dallas Regional.

Final Four primer: Can OR State topple UConn?

In two thousand-thirteenth, when the CT trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck was winning the first of three consecutive national championships, most of the core that presently makes up OR State'south first Final Four trip -- seniors Jamie Weisner, Deven Hunter and Ruth Hamblin -- was suffering through a ten-twenty-one season. The Beavers finished eleventh in the Pac-twelve that season.

Three years later, with Jr point guard Sydney Wiese and classmate Gabby Hanson added to the mix, OR State is thirty-two-four and won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, and upset the top seed to advance from the Dallas Regional.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma might slice down the nets for an eleventh time when all is said and done in Indianapolis, but OR State coach Scott Rueck already owns the award for biggest turnaround in this Final Four.

Can OR State stop UConn'south 73-game win streak and quest for an unprecedented four-peat when the teams meet in the national semifinals Sun (ESPN, six:30 p. m. ET)?

The Huskies are in their ninth straight Final Four (seventeenth overall) and have won an NCAA tournament-record twenty-two consecutive games, but the heavy favorite is surrounded by newbies at women'south basketball'south biggest event.

OR State, Syracuse and WA have never been to a Final Four before, marking the first time since one thousand nine hundred ninety-four that three teams are making their debut in the same season. For UConn, the Final Four is as portion of the calendar as Thanksgiving and tax day. Even with the storyline of UConn chasing an unprecedented four-peat, this is the oddest and freshest Final Four the Huskies have been a portion of since this string of nine in a row began in 2008.

Why they'll win the national title

The question really is how can the Huskies not win a fourth straight national championship. It'south at minimum a shorter -- if not a much harder -- reply to arrive by. UConn is better than everyone else, and by a wide margin. That much has been understood for some time now, but it'south the ingredients to the dominance that create the recipe so tasty. It'south not only that the Huskies are more talented (they are) or better coached (they are). It'south all of that and everything in between.

UConn scores more and gives up fewer points than anyone. But that'south the ordinary part. The complicated portion is also rating first in assist-to-turnover ratio while nearly always playing at a crisp pace. The Huskies manage to also lead the country in blocked shots per game and are fifth in steals, while committing fewer fouls than anyone else. That'south the disciplined approach, the coaching acumen, the willingness of the players to be coached, and the attention to detail that used to be, but isn't so much anymore, overlooked about UConn'south unbelievable success.

Stewart has long been known as the nation'south best player. Jefferson this season probably became the second best. Tuck is certainly among the following five or six on the list, if not the third. Those three alone are a excellent sufficient explanation for why UConn will win it all again. That was their stated goal when they arrived in Storrs. Because the Huskies have been just that good, it's challenging to envision a scenario where Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck don't fulfill it.

 To reply the question, we should first figure out how the Beavers can crack the code of the grand firewall known as UConn.

The Beavers can defend, but any team that'south a chance to topple the Huskies needs to be able to score along with UConn. At 67.5 points per game, number one would generally confuse OR State with that kind of explosive outfit, but the Beavers do have three diverse options to running at the top-ranked Huskies' defense.

Weisner was fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.6 PPG), is fearless taking the ball to the basket, doesn't back down from huge moments, and makes 45.one % of her 3-point attempts. Hamblin, a 6-foot-6 center, scored 11.8 points per game and gives the Beavers the kind of size in a low post threat that most teams don't have. Wiese, at 6-one and left-handed, is a different kind of matchup at the point. She's the playmaker as evidenced by her 5.1 assists per game, but at times serves as the Beavers' biggest threat because of her fast release and skill to shoot off the dribble. She's the program'south all-time boss in made 3-pointers (sixty-five this season). All three have been the nucleus of the program's resurrection.

This Final Four is the culmination of a rebuilding project of epic proportions in Corvallis. Rueck took over in two thousand-tenth with essentially one Div I-caliber player. He'd to keep tryouts just to keep a roster together. The Beavers won nine games that season. Two years later, with his first substantial recruiting class competing as freshmen, they keep up only ten victories. But the map was in place. When Wiese was added one year later, the Pac-12 afterthought became a conference contender, with a second-place finish.

Presently Rueck has piloted OR State to consecutive Pac-12 regular-season titles and this ride to Indianapolis.

The Beavers' strength is that they know what they are -- essentially grinders with talent -- and perform at a high level. In that respect they're similar to UConn. In a sport -- and particularly in this tournament -- in which games are mostly about matchups, OR State thrives. Because of their consistency of on-court personality, the type of opponent doesn't matter. The Beavers beat perimeter-dominated teams St. Bonaventure and DePaul in the second circular and regional semifinals, respectively. Weisner made seven 3-pointers on her way to a career-high thirty-eight points, essentially out DePaul-ing the Blue Demons in the Sweet sixteen. They edged tall and physical Baylor in the Dallas Regional final in a game largely decided in the paint and by which team was tougher.

Different styles. Different playing environments. The same result for the true-to-self Beavers.

Of course, playing UConn is a new algorithm altogether. In this game the Beavers probably will have to play beyond themselves to topple a team destined to create history.

Three keys

The defining moment of this year'south tournament so distant was Stewart blocking three shots on one possession against Duquesne in the second round. That sequence certainly exemplified the distinct and versatile talents of Stewart, but it also showcased how necessary defense is to the Huskies. Their star player went from baseline (where the first two blocks took place) to the 3-point line (where Stewart completed the rejection trifecta) in a matter of seconds to create plays. It's a fundamental portion of what makes UConn so great. That same attitude is what Rueck has instilled in Corvallis.

If this was just about sizing up the numbers, a low-scoring game in Sunday'south opener would seem inevitable. These are the No. 1 (UConn) and No. 6 (OR State) teams in fewest points allowed per game and the No. 1 (OR State) and No. 4 (UConn) in field goal percentage defense. Nothing comes simple against either team and it'south as much about philosophy as it's personnel. It takes effort to slice off angles and makes opponents get the shots they don't necessarily wish to take. That's a trademark of both teams.

For OR State, Wiese with her 6-1 frame and long arms is tough to shoot over or obtain around. Her point guard counterpart Jefferson is equal parts fast and intelligent, a fatal combination for an opponent trying to begin an offensive possession.

Hamblin is a menace inside, but her 3.4 blocks per game are trumped by Stewart's 3.5.

Number team in the game can truly score with UConn, but there might be one that can defend with the Huskies. That team is OR State.

OR State'south skill to defend in the half Ct is precisely why the Beavers necessity to hold it that kind of game. The Huskies averaged 21.1 points per game more than OR State this season. The Beavers can't play at the pace UConn wants to and still win. The excellent news is OR State already knows it can play slowly and deliberately. That'south precisely how the Beavers beat Baylor, a team that came into the regional finals averaging 78.2 points and left with only fifty-seven on the scoreboard. The Lady Bears were bigger and deeper. OR State Ltd possessions and then maximized its quality. In this case the Beavers managed to do it one possession better than Baylor.

Where they can limit the Huskies is taking advantage of another strength. OR State held the top rebounding edge in the Pac-12 and led the nation in defensive rebounding. If the Beavers can control the boards, they control the ball, which also means they engineer the pace.

The Huskies are the better team. That's number mystery. The prevailing thought for the past two seasons has been that the only way to beat the Huskies is for that opponent to play its A-game -- with UConn playing its C-game. The problem there, because of their approach and commitment to always reaching a higher level, is the Huskies never play a C-game. That's become particularly true on this stage. They can perform within any fashion of play and always have a grand defense on which to fall back even if their generally high-quality shot attempts aren't dropping.

Even in the unlikely scenario that Stewart, Jefferson and Tuck obtain caught up in the pressure of trying to make history with the fourth title on the line, that emotion won't last forty minutes. Auriemma won't let it.

OR State'south opportunity to win comes if the Beavers are able to muck up the game and support the ball in Weise'south and Weisner'south hands for most of the shot clock, making sure to score sufficient at the finish of it. Then they should hold UConn off the glass.

Even then Huskies would still have their nearly thirty-eight % 3-point shooting, skill to obtain to the free toss line -- and eighty % accuracy from there -- and their defense.

UConn is so excellent in so many areas that it doesn't necessity everything to win love the Huskies did in the 60-point devastation of MS State in the regional semifinals. TX outrebounded UConn and held a 14-1 advantage in points off turnovers and still lost by 21. The Huskies always have another answer, another gear. Number one else does.

The names you know

When asked whether Stewart was the best player in UConn history, Auriemma was totally non-committal, nearly going out of his way not to answer. But what he did declare was that number player in history has had the kind of impact on the NCAA tournament that Stewart has. She's three Final Four most outstanding player awards and has averaged 19.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.7 assists in twenty-second tournament games. She's currently fifth all time in points scored in the tournament, with a realistic chance to finish third behind Chamique Holdsclaw and Maya Moore after Tuesday night.

SC had Tiffany Mitchell. This latest incarnation of Notre Dame had Skylar Diggins. More than ten years ago, Kim Mulkey and Baylor had Sophia Young. Every program that grows to elite status needs that one player to jump-start everything. Weisner is that player for OR State. The kind of heights Oregon State has presently reached would be impossible to imagine had Weisner not believed in Rueck'south vision. Her career began as the Beavers' leading scorer and only ten wins as a freshman. It'll finish with Weisner as the club'south top scorer again, but this time with minimum 32 wins, a school record.

Game-changers

Number one player embodies what UConn truly is more than Jefferson. She came in highly rated and with expectations as a freshman, but just as the program seems to in each incarnation, Jefferson has evolved, grown and matured into so much more than just the speedy ball handler she was four years ago. Jefferson number longer "goes too fast" as Auriemma used to characterize her game, yet she's still faster than everyone else. She's become a fatal shooter who makes forty-four % of her 3-pointers and 55.2 % of her shots overall, primarily because Jefferson seldom takes a horrible one. By the time Sunday'south game is over, the 5-7 senior will also probably be UConn'south all-time boss in assists.

Ruth Hamblin is the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, but Hanson is the Beavers' most versatile defender and generally draws the opponent'south best offensive player. Rueck can utilize the 5-11 Jr anywhere he needs her on that finish of the floor. She averaged 7.9 points and 3.0 assists on the season, but the scoring no jumped to 12 points per game when she took over for the injured Wiese as the team'south point guard for eight games midseason. Hanson generally defers to Wiese and Weisner, but her tenth points on 10 shots Monday night against Baylor were instrumental.

Prediction

Connecticut.

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