SEATTLE (AP) — Sydney Wiese kept shooting because eventually one had to fall. Because all season she was the one coming up with the shots Oregon State needed in a stunning turnaround for the program.
By the time Wiese finally hit – with 90 seconds left in the game – South Carolina was on its way to the Sweet 16 and the Beavers were left to analyze what was a special season.
“Losing is the greatest teacher,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “I’m motivated right now to get back at it. There’s lessons. I think that’s the biggest one, confidence. They got a taste of it.”
Aleighsa Welch had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Tiffany Mitchell scored all 20 of her points in the second half, and top-seeded South Carolina used its size and athleticism to overwhelm No. 9 seed Oregon State 78-69 on Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Jamie Weisner led Oregon State (24-11) with 21 points, including five 3-pointers, before fouling out. Gabriella Hanson added 16 points.
But the tone was set when Wiese was unable to score because of South Carolina’s rotating defense and missing open looks.
Coming off a career-high 26 in the first round win over Middle Tennessee, Wiese struggled. She missed her first 12 shots before hitting a 3 with 1:30 left that cut the South Carolina lead to 66-57. She finished with eight points.
“I don’t know why that bothered her tonight, but that’s basketball. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t,” Rueck said. “That’s not taking away from them in any way, I’m just saying that she’s been everybody’s target all year and she’s managed to play through it. She still got some good looks, but they’re such good athletes on South Carolina’s team.”
Oregon State’s rally came far too late and the Beavers were unable to join a select list of No. 9 seeds to reach the round of 16. Notre Dame and Arkansas in 1998 and Michigan State in 2009 remain the only No. 9 seeds to reach the Sweet 16.
There is plenty of promise ahead in Corvallis. The Beavers have only one senior on their roster and now the experience of the NCAA tournament just four years after the program was in shambles.
“I know we want to be back here and that should be enough motivation in itself,” Weisner said. “I think we’re all going to be in the gym this offseason working and we’re just going to continue to get better.”
South Carolina slogged through its first-round victory over Cal State Northridge, letting the No. 16 seed hang around for longer than anyone anticipated.
There was no sluggishness from the Gamecocks on Tuesday. They imposed their advantages from the start.
Welch’s quickness around the rim had the Beavers flustered. Whether she was following up misses or getting open for her own shot, Oregon State struggled to slow the junior forward. Welch made 8 of 11 shots and had six offensive rebounds. She had 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half.
South Carolina also outscored Oregon State 34-9 at the free-throw line, many of those coming in the final two minutes. Mitchell was 10 of 11 at the line.
“We knew from the get go we wanted to be aggressive and not back down to their size,” Welch said. “What we wanted to emphasize was to go right through them. Not try and go around them or try to go over the top but go right through them, through their chest. I think it paid off.”
A year after getting upset by a 12 seed in the second-round of the tournament, the Gamecocks are headed to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years under coach Dawn Staley. South Carolina (29-4) will face No. 4 seed North Carolina in the Stanford Region semifinals on Sunday. The Gamecocks lost to the Tar Heels 74-66 in December.
Staley is not happy about potentially facing No. 2 seed Stanford in the regional final on the Cardinal’s home floor. But the Gamecocks have a fan in Rueck.
“The interesting thing about this team in just watching, there’s times when we think, `Oh, we can play with that team,’ and then as soon as you get close, they hit a different gear,” Rueck said of the Gamecocks. “I think that’s what’s special about this group.”