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NCAA WOMEN'S REGIONAL SEMIFINALS AND FINALS: LEXINGTON


March 22, 2018


Scott Rueck

Marie G√ľlich

Katie McWilliams

Mikayla Pivec


Lexington, Kentucky

SCOTT RUECK: Well, we just completed a quick down-and-back, back home, and we're back in the eastern time zone. We've got our airline miles and we've got our finals taken care of for the most part, and this team has done a really impressive job handling it all with maturity and toughness, and seem to be taking everything in stride and having a lot of fun along the way.

We're thankful for the University of Kentucky for being great hosts of this regional, and we're in the process of preparing for an excellent Baylor team.

Q. Regarding the travel, what kind of challenge did that present for you to make that decision to decide to go back, and how much of a physical toll do you feel like -- do you worry that it might take on your team?
SCOTT RUECK: You know, I think that's just part of the deal when you're a West Coast team. You know, it's happened throughout my career. You get into the NCAA Tournament, you don't know where you're going to be sent, and typically it's two or three time zones away, so it's just part of what you deal with.

My old life I was a Division III coach, and the games were back to back days at that level, and here you have a day in between, and so with the charter flights that the NCAA provides, I think it's minimal, to be honest, and I think there's a lot of strength in being in your home bed, and for a team that's as conscientious academically as our team is, I think the amount of stress that they would have carried being away and missing finals would have outweighed any physical discomfort or whatever that they could have felt from the fatigue.

And so I don't see it being an issue, to be honest. I think travel has been really smooth, coming and going and then coming back. So I think we're in a good place.

Q. What kind of adjustments do you make to the schedule when you are two, three time zones ahead?
SCOTT RUECK: Well, very little. I think we try to stay -- I think everybody probably pares down their practices a little bit this time of year. You try to be as efficient as possible. You try to -- in so many ways, the reps are done, now it's just putting people in place and focusing on small details and small adjustments.

And so I think you can manage things from a physical standpoint, and then -- you know, so from a regular schedule standpoint, we do everything as much as we can identical to the way it happens during the season. We play Friday-Sunday throughout our conference schedule, so we just try to stay on that rhythm.

Q. Can you tell us your thoughts about the bigs in this game, especially Kalani Brown, who you saw as a freshman, your memories of her two years ago, and how much better is she now?
SCOTT RUECK: Yeah, well, I think she's on that natural progression. She's gotten so many reps. She's so talented. I think she looks a step quicker to me. You know, she's so efficient. She's shooting 66 percent. She rebounds at an amazing rate. Their entire team does, to be honest. But she leads the charge there.

She's certainly worked on her perimeter shot. That's something that was not, I don't believe, a consideration before. Everything she did in that first match-up was at the rim, on the block, under the basket, and now she'll pick-and-pop and stretch the floor a little bit and look for those perimeter shots, which that's impressive, because that was not in her comfort zone a couple years ago.

So you're right, the bigs in this game are intriguing on both sides, and it's going to be a great challenge.

Q. With this team, with this roster, did you go into the year thinking it was going to be like this, or was this -- at the start was it maybe a rebuilding year?
SCOTT RUECK: Yeah, I think everybody from the outside looking in would say rebuilding year, and in many ways, to be honest, it is. You're replacing nine seniors that graduated over the last two years that built this program and changed the beliefs and instilled the courage and the confidence that we could go anywhere and play against anyone, and they proved it, and then they all graduated.

Fortunately, we've had some incredible leaders that have taken their place and learned the lessons. And you kind of wonder if they're learning lessons when they're underclassmen. You're hoping they pay attention. I'm hoping that Marie is paying attention to what Ruth is doing and what Jamie is doing and Sydney is going and Gaby and so on because when it's her turn I'm hoping she'll step up. I've got to be honest with you, the leadership on this team has blown my mind, not only that it's there but that it's based upon initiative. It's based upon a want-to and a courage and a professionalism.

I mean, Marie has stepped up, and she did it from day one on our team retreat this year, when she offered to the team, I can't wait to lead you this year, and I'm going to make sure you have a great year, and she looked them in the eye. You hope that you have somebody say that, and maybe they'll say that because it's inspired from a coach. I didn't say it at all. I mean, we provided the opportunity for them to share, what do you want from this season, and she stepped right up to it, and she's owned it, and you look at the confidence that Marie has played with, and for someone who was a bit off the radar going into the year, I think if people were paying attention or really looking at her, you're not surprised by her skill set and what she can do.

She is definitely playing at a different level, though. I mean, she was in consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year and obviously has become an All-American. So when you have a leadership in place like that that welcomes the challenges and then overcomes them and instills confidence in a group, anything is possible.

So I knew going into the year we had an incredible group of young women with a lot of character, and I liked our skill set, but I knew we had a long ways to go. The level of competition in the Pac-12 and the way it's coached, the different types of systems and styles that teams play, they prepare you, and so it's not surprising to me that we have four teams in the Sweet 16. I'll be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if we would have had five. So I'm very pleased. But yeah, there was no way to predict that this team would be back at this point, which was the same place last year's team made it to. So very pleased and happy for them because they chose to believe.

Q. You just talked about roster turnover, but there is still that Elite 8 game from two years ago, which was obviously a landmark game for your program, and Marie was obviously part of the squad then. What are your memories from that game, and do you think there's anything that'll factor into it tomorrow?
SCOTT RUECK: Well, for sure, and I think there's a lot of things that have factored in since then. In preparation for that game, during that game and after that game, that was one of those defining moments. You can look back on some pinnacle moments in the development of a program and some key wins, and that was as key as any because, A, it proved that we could do it, and it proved that the vision was -- it became reality that day. Everybody dreams of the Final Four. I think everybody says it. That's our goal, we're going to get there. That day this team got there.

And so that belief has never left. We've done it. So people can look at us and say, well, you can get there at Oregon State, and our team can say, well, our staff has been there, some of our players have been there, we can get there.

And so what I remember from that game, it was the moment where this team and this program made a choice in that third quarter that we were going to be a Final Four team, and we were going to be elite. We came out of the locker room up nine, I believe, seven or nine, I think nine. Jamie hit that three right before halftime. And we knew that we were going to take a huge hit. I could imagine what their locker room was like at halftime, and they were going to come at us with everything.

They got all the momentum the first four minutes of that third quarter. There was a time-out where we were starting to panic. You could just see it, and it was one of those moments. It's like, okay, this is either going to get away from us, or we're going to fight, and we got here by fighting, so let's remember what we're about.

It was just one of those beautiful moments in sport where the team just chose to be tough and courageous and say, no, this is our day today, we're going to find a way to win this game. And you're doing it against one of the elite programs in the country.

That was a pivotal moment for us and a day we'll never forget. We all draw strength from that. I don't know if Tennessee happens Sunday if that didn't happen two years ago. I don't know, because why did we get the belief that we could go into Tennessee and beat them on their home floor when nobody had done it in the tournament? Well, we beat Baylor in Dallas two years ago. Well, the Baylor win in Dallas also gave us the confidence that we could go into Stanford and win last year where we'd never won.

So it's just all these firsts add up. That day was -- that was a day none of us will ever forget, of course, and you're right, it was a pinnacle moment.

Q. Given what you've accomplished these last three years now, there's got to be a little lingering resentment about the draw you've gotten, having to go to Tennessee and now you're up against a powerhouse in Baylor, potentially Louisville if it goes well tomorrow night for you. Is that a motivating factor for the team? Is that something that you're kind of carrying with you through this?
SCOTT RUECK: Don't forget Stanford, first off. And don't ever bet against Tara. I've learned that.

No. I think that would be misguided. We don't -- I don't walk around with a chip on the shoulder. I don't think that's the way to do it. I think you look for opportunities. We have an opportunity to play against a great Baylor team. We've got an opportunity to overcome everything that they are tomorrow. If we can survive that, then we're going to have another opportunity, and we created that.

I understand the seeding. I don't love it, but I understand it. What I don't love is that I don't think it counts the right things. I think the more we tie ourselves to RPI, I think it's misguided. I think it puts a little bit too much -- I've learned that this year because we're on the receiving end. There's a little pain involved in it, because man, what if our strength of schedule could have been a little bit better, could we have been at home. Well, if we're at home, then Tennessee doesn't happen, and what a cool experience. You can't worry about things you can't control, and because of that, knowing that the committee values RPI at some level, and the Pac-12's RPI was not in the top three this year, which it has been the last three years, then I think for the committee, it would have been tough to justify having four Pac-12 teams as host sites. That's what I think.

And so I don't think anybody on the committee would have said -- five? Five host sites?

Well, no matter, I don't think anybody on the committee is looking at us and saying, well, Oregon State is clearly a 6 seed because they're not any good. They're just looking at the way everything falls, and we're a 5 or a 6. That's just the way the numbers worked out.

And so every other poll had us 13 or higher. Everything. Every statistical thing you could find had us a top 13 or 14 team in the country, and so I think people at Tennessee -- they knew that going into that game. It was a stunner because nobody had done it before. I don't think anybody that knows the game was stunned that Oregon State played Tennessee tough. With all those things, then I just -- I understand it. So if you understand it, you can't be mad. That's just the way it works.

And so I wish our strength of schedule could have been a little stronger. Some of the teams that we schedule -- we certainly scheduled for momentum this year. We knew we were going to be young at the beginning. But that's why I disagree with RPI. We did what we were supposed to do. We played our best basketball in March, and for this team, we needed momentum at the beginning. We beat two top-10 teams as we went on. We finished 9-1. Didn't do great at the Pac-12 tournament, of course, which hurt us. However, we played pretty well last weekend, and that's the design, and that's what coaches have to try to manage through the year and through the schedule.

I'm not upset about it. It worked out.

Q. When you looked at the bracket and saw the possibility you could face Stanford, and of course having two Pac-12 teams in this bracket, what do you think that says about the strength of the conference?
SCOTT RUECK: Well, I mean, everybody is talking about our conference. You know, we were an afterthought, I know. I know. This is my eighth year at Oregon State. And when we came in, there were one or two, and it was -- everybody talked about Tara and the 11 dwarfs or whatever. It was never quite that. I know that. There's a lot of talent that's gone through this conference, a lot before I got here, of course.

You look at it now, and you look at the way that this conference has paid attention to our sport, and every administration within our conference is working hard at women's basketball. They're all diligently working to build their programs. They have great coaches and staffs in place. And so every night is an absolute test.

There are no nights off. We had a couple teams that had down years this year towards the bottom, but even they were tough tests every night.

And so that's why I'm telling you, every team is prepared for the postseason. It gets you there. You have to bring your A game every night, and so you get in the conference -- or into the postseason, like yeah, we've seen everything. The Pac-12 prepared us for Tennessee. Baylor is an extreme case. We've seen athleticism. We haven't quite seen the size that they have. That's the one difference. Mercedes Russell last week was similar to Kristine Anigwe. The speed and athleticism they have, we have in our conference. So the strength of the Pac-12 is -- it's legit, and it's been that way for the last four years in my opinion, and it's not going anywhere.

Q. Marie and Katie, go back to Dallas two years ago. What are your memories of your first meeting with Baylor?
MARIE G√úLICH: It was tough. Like just a tough battle. I remember, I was a sophomore, so just watching like Ruth play and she got into foul trouble, and then I got on the court, and I was nervous. I just remember it was tough. Like everything you got you had to work for, and it was just really close, but it was so much fun to be out there and play, and at the end, obviously the win, I think, that was just amazing, just us storming the floor. I'll remember that forever.

KATIE McWILLIAMS: I remember how tough Baylor's defense was. I remember Jamie had to make some crazy shots to keep us in the game, as well, and Sidney, as well. But I remember that amazing feeling. Right when that buzzer went off, they missed that three and we stormed the court, and we were going to the Final Four. Nothing is better than that feeling.

Q. Mikayla, you began last year and you played with a senior-laden team with Sidney Wiese and Gaby Henson and others and you played with Marie. Talk about what you've learned from those upperclassmen to make you a better player and to learn about the culture of what Oregon State basketball has become.
MIKAYLA PIVEC: Yeah, the seniors last year were great examples as to what's important to this program. How close the relationships are with other people and other teammates contributes a lot to our success, and how much emphasis they put on each possession to make it as good a possession as you can each time you're given an opportunity. So they were great examples, and I was glad I had the opportunity to play with them.

Q. Marie, you get in a pretty big hole early on Sunday against Tennessee. I'm curious if there was any panic at that point. You guys -- you obviously have -- Marie particularly, in your career you have some games that you can draw off of, some similar tough environments where the team overcame. But was there any panic in the huddles? When you're down nine early and you've got the hostile crowd up against you, what are you guys thinking at this point?
MARIE G√úLICH: I think it was funny because we were all not freaking out. Obviously we said some things to each other, we were like, okay, we can't take those early shots anymore, we have to execute now, but it was all very productive, and it was not -- it was not that we got super nervous. Everyone was just calm and everyone was just like, okay, let's get back into the game, let's do this. And I think just that confidence in those huddles got us back into the game. I think if we would have like freaked out, we would have made mistakes. I mean, we did overall make a few mistakes, but the calmness and the poise got us back.

KATIE McWILLIAMS: I feel like there's been a couple situations this year where we've been down either before the second quarter or halftime. Not to say we're used to it, but we've been in that situation before so we know how to handle it, and we took it possession by possession and were able to execute and get stops. Obviously that's not what you want to do, but we handled it the right way, and we were able to gain that lead.

MIKAYLA PIVEC: Yeah, we were down 10, and that's not how we wanted to start. But once that happens you have to have a positive attitude towards what's going to happen next. I remember a couple days before that game, they showed us film versus Notre Dame, and Notre Dame was down 15-20 to Tennessee and ended up working their way back, so we had confidence that we'd be able to make a run, too.

Q. The Pac-12 has pretty much owned this regional the past two years. Do you take any pride in that and trying to have a third Pac-12 team come out of this regional and head to the Final Four?
KATIE McWILLIAMS: Yeah, the Pac-12 always has great teams. They've been one of the top conferences the last couple years, and so like with Stanford and UCLA in this Sweet 16 and Oregon, I mean, always tough competitors, always great teams, and so I mean, obviously we want to be that team to advance to the Elite 8, so do the other Pac-12 teams, but the Pac-12 has just prepared us for this position, and yeah, it's made us very tough.

Q. Coach kind of downplayed it, but I'm curious to get your take, whether you feel you were disrespected with your seed. Obviously you were knocking on the door of the top 10 and yet you get a 6 seed, have to go play Tennessee on the road, have to play Baylor, a powerhouse, have to play potentially either Stanford or Louisville on Sunday. Is that something that motivates you?
MARIE G√úLICH: I think you don't have control over seedings, and obviously we had that in our hands during the season to win against good teams. But we had some downs during the season. We had ups and downs. We weren't really consistent. So overall, I wasn't really surprised. It was just -- everything you get, you'll take, and I think we just made the best out of the situation, and even a 6 seed is pretty high and pretty good for us. Nobody expected that like for us at the beginning of the season.

I think we were all super happy and proud that we were able to play in the NCAA Tournament.

KATIE McWILLIAMS: Yeah, we know a lot of teams don't get an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament, so we just got that seed. We knew we probably wouldn't host, we knew we'd probably be a 5 or 6 seed, but once we saw we were in the tournament, we were just super happy.

Q. Marie, for the second game in a row you're going to be facing a big who's bigger than you. What do you think you garnered, learned from your battle against Mercedes Russell last week that will prepare you for tomorrow?
MARIE G√úLICH: I think I just have to move a little quicker, just be a little more quicker in my decisions and just a little more physical. But just different. I can't foul early. I have to be more careful with those kind of things. But I think I just can use my body better and my quickness against somebody like that. She's tall and she has length, and she takes a lot off the zone, like the key to her defensive opportunities. I just have to be a little more smarter about my moves, and overall, I think I just play my game. I played against Ruth, and I have Jo to play against every day, so I know length, and I'm just excited for the challenge.

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