The second-seeded Baylor Lady Bears take on the sixth-seeded Oregon State Beavers in the Sweet Sixteen coming up Friday night at 7:00 PM ET (6:00 PM CT) at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY and on ESPN2. Get to know the Beavers a little more in this Q&A with Leo Castaneda from our sister SB Nation blog Building the Dam (follow this link to read the flip side of the Q&A). Thank you to Leo Castaneda for your passion and insights!
Hard to believe it’s been just two years since these two teams last met in the 2016 Elite Eight. How does this year’s Beaver team look different from that 2016 squad?
Gone is every starter from that team, including three All-Americans. Former All-American Sydney Wiese now plays for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA. Former All-American, Pac-12 POY two-time Pac-12 Defensive POY, shot-blocker extraordinaire, and rocket scientist Ruth Hamblin now plays professionally in Canada. Former All-American and Pac-12 POY Jamie Weisner is gone. Also missing from that starting line-up is shut down guard and former Pac-12 Defensive POY Gabriella Hanson, and four year starter Deven Hunter.
That leaves two contributors from that 2016 Final Four team who are now starters on this year’s young team. Center Marie Gulich is the lone senior and Swiss Army Knife Katie McWilliams is one of two juniors. If you haven’t heard of Gulich, she’s our All-American center and reigning Pac-12 DPOY. She has a variety of post moves to finish near the basket and she can also hit the jumper from 15 feet. Defensively she has a knack for disrupting so many shots, making three blocks a game and collecting a total more than 170 teams in the NCAA at one point this season. McWilliams has the ability to play anywhere from the one to the four. She can shoot the three, block shots from behind if she is beat, and hit some clutch inbounds shots.
Both Baylor and OSU got beat by UCLA early in the season, but uncharacteristically, OSU was creamed by 31 points. What happened?
Turnovers. Turnovers happened. Twenty-one of them to be exact. UCLA was the first team to effectively utilize a full court press against OSU because of their athleticism at the guard position. The Beavers also gave up 21 offensive rebounds. This ultimately ended up with the Bruins taking 29 more shots than the Beavers and running away with the game.
Marie Gulich was OSU’s leading scorer against Tennessee. How do you think Marie Gulich will fare against Baylor’s duo of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox in the paint?
That depends on if the three-point shot is working. I can’t imagine Gulich having any success if both of those players surround her in the paint, but I’d love to see what she can do against either one if they’re isolated. She can run the floor really well in transition, so if Brown or Cox are lazy in transition, then there could be some easy baskets for her. Gulich will get her offensive numbers if the Beavers can make their three-pointers; if not, then she and the rest of Beaver Nation will be in for a long day. I also worry about her staying out of foul trouble against those two as they were dynamite against Buffalo. She’s an excellent defender, but Oregon State hasn’t gone up against a front court duo quite like this.
Who else should Baylor fans keep an eye out for?
Mikayla Pivec is our starting point guard. Last year as a freshman she played at the two, but due to necessity this year, she has had to play at the point, where she hadn’t really played since middle school. She is one of the best rebounding guards you will see and is bound to get a triple double at some point in her career.
Kat Tudor is a three point specialist, but she can drive and finish with the scoop if her defender comes out too committed to defend at the line. She has one of the most beautiful arcs you will see on any shot from three-land.
Taya Corosdale is a freshman and a former five star recruit that is still developing, but showing flashes as a versatile power forward. Her range reaches the three-point line as well which catches people off guard.
Aleah Goodman is another contributing freshman and often one of the first players off the bench. She shoots the three near 50% and has given Pivec good spells so that she can play at the two or rest.
Lastly, look out for 6’7’’ Joanna Grymek. She primarily is Gulich’s backup, but don’t be surprised to see both of them on the court at the same time. While she may not record a lot of statistics, her size and length is just plain disruptive.
What are Oregon State’s strengths? Weaknesses?
Their biggest strengths is the three point shot and team defense. Being one of the best three point shooting teams in the country at over 40% sure helps take the defensive pressure off Gulich. Teams will often come out ready to double and even triple team Gulich to keep her from getting the ball, only to have the sharp-shooter on the outside make them pay. On the defensive side, Coach Rueck preaches being in the right position at all times and that’s why you won’t see the Beavers rack up steals. They aren’t out there trying trying to cut and jump in front of a pass, they’d rather be disruptive at the shot. Just look at opposing teams’ shooting percentages at under 35%.
The turnovers, again, are the biggest thorn in the Beavers’ sides. We went over the UCLA game, but two days later, they gave up 28 at USC. That resulted in their first back to back losses since 2014. The other thing I would mention is depth. All the players I’ve mentioned were the only ones to see time against Tennessee last weekend. It doesn’t help that Beavers only dress 10 players because of the fact they have just one senior with three really good players coming in next year and transfer player having to sit out.
What’s your prediction for how this game will play out?
I picked against the Beavers in Knoxville last weekend (c’mon, Tennessee was 57-0 at home in the Tournament), but somehow they made the magic happen despite hitting just 26% of their three-pointers. Against a team that’s 33-1, they can’t afford to shoot like that again. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll find that sweet rhythm against one of the few teams in the country who holds opponents to a lower shooting percentage than Oregon State does. Baylor gets their payback for that 2016 Elite Eight loss.