What they said: Oregon State faces the media the day before the 2016 Final Four
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck, student-athletes Jamie Weisner, Sydney Wiese and Ruth Hamblin. Coach, an opening statement.
COACH RUECK: Everything has just been great so far. Really appreciative of the NCAA, Indy, for putting on just a first-class event. Everything’s been smooth. A lot of travel the last couple of weeks, and it’s been easy. And we appreciate that. Last night’s event was first-class. And so enjoying everything so far.
This group next to me is unreal. And you look at what they came in to accomplish at the beginning of their careers, and I know Syd is just a little junior, but this senior class, when they came in, dreaming big. And here they are getting to play in the last weekend that you possibly can, which everybody in this sport wants to do. And I’m just so proud of them and happy for them.
Obviously you get to this level, the challenges grow, and they get bigger and bigger, and this is a group that has taken them on one at a time, and that’s what this team needs to continue to do. So we’re excited about the challenges ahead. And this is a team that has prepared themselves the right way in every way. And I’m excited to watch them go to work this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Jamie, there’s a lot of stuff around this event in Final Four that doesn’t have a lot to do with basketball, dinners and obviously media and things like that. How do you, especially the first time through, keep focus on basketball and obviously remember why you guys are here?
JAMIE WEISNER: Yeah, it’s just enjoying every moment of it, but still remembering why we’re here. We’re here to play basketball. And so obviously have all this stuff this morning, then practice later this afternoon. And so just trying to salvage your energy where you can but still enjoy every moment.
Q. Wonder if each of the players could take turns and go through and explain what prompted them to go to Oregon State at a time when, I guess, from what I read, Oregon State barely had a woman’s basketball team.
JAMIE WEISNER: I’ll start. I saw Coach Rueck’s vision and knew he was going to do something special here and knew I wanted to be a part of it. He brings in people that you can enjoy going to work with every single day and take out the wins and losses. With all that said and done, you’re going to have a great experience and with people you love. And it’s been nothing short of that, plus we’ve got some wins with that. So it’s been a great experience.
SYDNEY WIESE: I knew this was going to be a place where I could grow as an individual, growth in my faith, grow as a basketball player. And like Jamie said, it helps a little bit when you win some games along the way. But I knew regardless of that the experience is going to be top-notch.
We’re surrounded by people who love us and care about us and the vision that Coach Rueck set for us, I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to help build something at Oregon State. I wanted to help put Oregon State on the map for women’s basketball.
RUTH HAMBLIN: I know the vision they spoke of, but I knew he was going to create me into the basketball player I wanted to become, just with his vision. It’s not only on the team level, but it’s on the individual level. And then just the family environment that he created, I wanted to be a part of that.
Q. Jamie and Ruth, after the Baylor win, Deven posted on Twitter: Four years ago we said we were going to get to the Final Four, and now we did it. Is that a talk that your class had coming in and did you share that with Scott that those were your plans? Because we can all agree that four years ago it seemed really far away, I think.
JAMIE WEISNER: Yeah, we were all in the dorms together and we’d have a lot of talks about it and coming in we just dreamed big. We didn’t care where we were at or what the past was. We were going to work and each year progress and get better. And we had the visions of Final Four and making confetti angels on the floor.
And Coach Rueck, he knew this group, we dreamt big. And I don’t know if we necessarily had that Final Four talk with him, but he knew we dreamt big.
RUTH HAMBLIN: What she said, we’re small-town kids, we’re dreamers and we worked hard, and it’s cool to see how far that’s come. But we definitely had the vision.
Q. Any of the three, obviously so much has been talked about UConn this year their quest for four straight finals. You haven’t played them. What about it made its way out west? Probably watched them on film a little bit, but I don’t know if you knew about them beforehand, seen them play or whatever it may be, your knowledge of UConn.
JAMIE WEISNER: It’s hard to miss them. They’re on ESPN all the time. It’s legendary. I would say it’s even an honor to play against them. In 20 years I can tell my kids that I played against that UConn team.
But, yeah, it’s an incredible honor, and we’re going to go into it very prepared and fearless.
Q. Ruth and Jamie, could you both address the Team Canada thing here? You’ve got four players in the Final Four from Canada. How well do you know Kia Nurse? Have you been texting back and forth? And how proud back home are they of what the Canadians are doing down here?
RUTH HAMBLIN: Definitely it’s pretty cool for Canada basketball to have — actually five. Can’t forget Kolbie Orum in there too. It’s cool, just the representation from the north that we have at this elite event.
And haven’t really messaged Kia too much. I think we’re all focused kind of on our own teams, but we’ll definitely talk about it when it’s all said. I know Canada basketball is very proud of the players and it’s great to have the representation here.
JAMIE WEISNER: It’s a pretty cool thing. We know Kia very well having spent the last few summers with her. It’s neat to see the progression there and I think they’re very proud.
Q. Sydney, obviously you’ve seen UConn on film. What type of pace did you guys think you need to run to be successful against UConn?
SYDNEY WIESE: They’re a very great transition team. They like to run the ball. And they have quick hitting offenses. And they run their offense with a lot of pace. And so for us obviously we’re going to try and slow them down a little bit, try and control the tempo.
And then for us, offensively, we have to make sure that we execute and that we run our offense with a lot of pace, too, try and keep them off their toes and off balance. A lot of up-and-down action. So we’re looking forward to it.
Q. Jamie, you talked about playing UConn, going in fearless. Is that the way you have to play this team, not worry about the history and what they’re all about and just going there and play?
JAMIE WEISNER: Yeah, I think so. Obviously they demand respect for sure. But you can’t lose the game before you step foot on the court. And we know what we’ve done to get this far, and we just have to stick to that.
Q. Ruth and Jamie, it’s been a long time since Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson have lost a game at UConn, but they did lose that game last summer to Team Canada. I’m just wondering whether you guys take any sort of lessons out of that, either psychological lessons or even just specifics from what you saw. Obviously a little different with you guys not playing in that game and Kia being able to score 33 points in it. But just in general what that experience meant and what you sort of take out of that as far as how to beat a team with those two?
RUTH HAMBLIN: I think it’s a mental thing, just like you can’t lose the game before you step foot on the court. You just got to know that they’re humans and they’re going to make mistakes. And every team is beatable if you play the right way. You know they’re not invincible.
JAMIE WEISNER: To be honest, it’s two different environments, two different teams. And so I’m not looking at that game very much, and we’ve just got to go in here and know what we do.
Q. Jamie and Sydney, Washington is here also obviously. Can you talk about Kelsey Plum for a second because you’ll be working on that later and just to keep her in check?
JAMIE WEISNER: She can score in multiple ways. Get to the hoop. Shoot the 3. Pull up. She’s always looking to score. But I think for us we always wanted to force her to her right hand and just make it very difficult for her to even catch the ball and then just force her into something she doesn’t want to do.
SYDNEY WIESE: Another big thing we do is we make sure it’s all five of us against her. It’s pretty tough to defend her one-on-one. They do set a lot of picks for her and we try and get the ball out of her hand as much as we can, and then we have a good enough team that they can all make plays.
Washington is a great team, and Kelsey Plum is the head of it. Like Jamie said, we try to force her to do things she doesn’t necessarily want to do.
JAMIE WEISNER: She’s also good at drawing fouls. So just keep our hands back and keep her away from our bodies.
Q. Ruth, obviously you’re a tremendous defensive player. Morgan Tuck has been a tough matchup for most teams and most post players, her ability to be able to step out and make 3s. How much do you have to respect that and be drawn out to her opening the lane a little bit?
RUTH HAMBLIN: Yeah, she definitely demands that type of respect. She’s a great shooter, can stroke it from anywhere almost. I think it definitely puts a challenge on the defense in that regard.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. A lot of questions about UConn, but hope it taps into your basketball philosophy. There’s been a big discussion heading into the Final Four whether UConn’s dominance is bad for the game. When other programs are striving to find the same success, yours is a fantastic example of that success, do you look at UConn as the blueprint of that success, or do you look at them as the need for parity?
COACH RUECK: The combination of that. I think they have been the blueprint. I mean, who doesn’t want to do what they’re doing? We’re all striving for that. And so I think parity could happen as we grow. And I think that’s what this tournament this year is showing. I think there’s a lot of programs and a lot of coaches that are striving to achieve what they’ve accomplished over this stretch. And I know I’m one of them.
I look at them as an example. I always have. When I was Division III coach, I was looking at UConn as an example. And we do get TV out west. So I’ve watched a lot of UConn. And there’s not many teams — I’ll be honest, if I were to watch a basketball game, I’ve told people, I would rather watch UConn than anybody. Men or women. The way that they transition, the way they share the basketball. The way they defend. I think they set a high bar in every way. They’re excellent.
And the so how can excellence be bad? I’ve never understood that. And so I use the word “inspire” a lot. I think that’s what we all try to do for our fan bases, for each other. And I think UConn is — they’re inspirational, the way they conduct themselves. And so I think they’re nothing but good for the game. I think it’s up to the rest of us to rise to that level. And I think anytime you have a bar that’s that high, that’s a positive.
Q. Coach, could you recap briefly what it is you confronted when you arrived in Corvallis. I understand you only had — I understand you could only have two scholarship players and had to have tryouts to fill out the team. What was that like? And like a year or two later, did you think you were in over your head or did you still think you could climb?
COACH RUECK: You always feel like you’re in over your head a bit, I think, in anything. If you’re trying to achieve the top. And what I inherited was basically a clean slate. Nine of the 11 players had transferred out. There were two remaining. And then after I was hired one of them left because the situation seemed so bleak. And that left me with one. Then we got one back who decided to come back. So there were two. Only one of whom had ever played in Pac-10 game at the time.
We had three incoming freshmen that the previous staff had signed. One of them ended up staying for all four years. Two of them left after one or two years. And then we had a junior college transfer that had been signed to a financial agreement and she became eligible the day before school started that fall.
And so utter chaos, that was the feeling. We had open tryouts where we acquired four players that had to play. And then we added a soccer player and a volleyball player as we went. So there were 11.
And it was one of the most rewarding years of my life, taking a group that had zero chance and finding a way to make them competitive nearly every night. So we were in all but three, three or four, three games, I believe, that year. And it was a — that team alone is a remarkable story.
And so that set the foundation for this group. And Jamie and Ruth got to watch that team compete. Samantha Siegner and Deven Hunter got to be — local kids — they got to be at a lot of those games, and they were inspired by that group. That’s what really opened the door to us, because it was, yes, come share this vision, but look how this team is competing. And they saw hope in that team.
Q. How do you prepare a team for an experience, not a game, but an experience here that you haven’t gone through yourself, at least, obviously Division I?
COACH RUECK: It’s a good question. I think you just go to your philosophies and your core principles of, you know, you’re not going to be ready for a lot of things that happen to you. But if you stick to who you are, and you stick to the foundation is this has — this stuff has nothing to do with the game. Last night’s event had nothing to do with the game. Practice has everything to do with the game.
And so be ready for practice, be ready for the film session and let the rest go. And enjoy it. Absolutely. They’ve earned this. They’ve earned everything that they’re receiving and experiencing. And so I’m not going to take away from any of that. Let’s all enjoy this. Me too. Our coaching staff as well.
But when it’s time to go to work, we’re going to go to work like we have the entire season and the last four years together and treat it like it’s another game, because the reality is it is. It’s another game. There’s no difference. This is another obvious great team we’re preparing for, and so we’ve got to treat it like another game.
And so that’s what they’re hearing from me. And that’s what their maturity has allowed them to handle every situation. And certainly going into Dallas playing Baylor last weekend was a pretty good lead-in into this. That was obviously an uncomfortable environment to be a part of and an experience we hadn’t had before and I thought the team handled it very well.
Q. First, you’ve been in Division III before in the Final Four. How sweet is it to have all three divisions playing for the title on the same court in next 48 hours, whatever it is? Second, you watched UConn you said on TV and watched on film a lot. What’s the biggest thing you’ve taken away watching them that shows how good they really are?
COACH RUECK: First off, the Division II and III championship games being here, how perfect. I was so excited. I was killing ourselves to get here to be a part of that, and I was really secretly hoping George Fox would be here as well. And they had another phenomenal season and had a shot at that. And so I thought how perfect would that be if we could find a way to be here with them.
And so I think that’s really special, first off. Every level should be celebrated, because it’s all relative. I don’t care more now that I’m here than I was Division III at the Final Four, it’s all the same.
As far as Connecticut, what I believe sets them apart is their efficiency. Great teams have no weakness. And so everybody is striving to be a great team. So you just look at numbers, and they’re at the top or near the top of almost every statistical category there is. There’s just no weakness. They’re so efficient.
I think a lot of people talk about their offense. But I think their defense might be better than their offense. And that’s something. That’s saying something. And that’s something that I as a basketball coach for all these years, looking at them, that’s what I’ve admired. Our numbers defensively are similar. There’s a reason for that. I’ve been trying to get my team there for a long time. And so I just see a team that you’ve got to do your best to throw them off their game, because if you let them be comfortable, they execute so efficiently that that’s why they’ve won like they have.
Q. University of Washington here as well. This is a banner year for the Pac-12, two teams in the Final Four. How big of a moment is this for the conference, and can you just talk about that a little bit, how big this is for the Pac-12?
COACH RUECK: So proud of our conference. And what we know, it’s been an absolute grind all year long. I mean, going through the Pac-12 and trying to survive that thing, it’s a war every night. It’s coached so well.
And what we’ve learned kind of as the tournament’s gone and you hear the national narratives is that not many people get to see us. Not as many as maybe you’d hope. The Pac-12 Networks is unbelievable, but we are obviously on West Coast time. And so maybe we haven’t done enough at this level yet to garner the attention that I think our conference deserves, and hopefully this year is getting people’s attention at a different level.
Not that anybody would say I don’t care. I think everybody cares. They haven’t maybe gone out of their way to focus on it. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that Washington’s here, at all, at all. That they went to Maryland and won. Went to Kentucky and won. Didn’t surprise me a bit. That team is a nightmare to prepare for. It takes everything you have to defend them. I mean, you listen to these guys, it’s not like we just showed up and beat Washington twice this year. We showed up and had to go to war. And if you let that team get comfortable, they will kill you.
And so that was our fifth place team. And so that’s what it says. So I’m just really proud of our conference. And I’m really happy from top to bottom that that conference, all the coaches and all the effort, the fact that we’re keeping a lot of West Coast recruits west now, where that was not the case several years ago or a few years ago, even, it’s pretty special.
And so I think the conference as a whole, every single coach and program deserves that credit that I think our conference is getting now. And so I’m really proud of Washington and happy for them for being here, and certainly proud for our team and also all five teams that played in the tournament.
Q. What is it about your team that’s allowed you guys to be so good defensively this year, and also what are the biggest challenges when you look at trying to slow UConn?
COACH RUECK: I think one of the things that’s allowed us to be very successful this year is one of the things that Connecticut does very well and, ironically, every team we’ve played so far, they’ve been transition teams. St. Bonaventure, not quite as much, but still they will go and they’ll shoot so quickly in transition if you allow them.
But our defensive transition has been our foundation. And that’s something that this team’s committed to. We make teams play five-on-five typically. And that needs to continue certainly. Connecticut is quick-hitting, like Syd said earlier, and they execute so efficiently in transition, which is one of the things that I’ve always liked about them. And so we can’t allow that. We can’t allow that. We have to be true to ourselves.
So I think what allows us to be as good as we’ve been, certainly Ruth has a role in that, being so formidable at the basket, but the commitment this team has to preparation is ridiculous. It’s incredible. They’re so fun to coach for that reason. They want to watch film. If we didn’t watch film, they wouldn’t know what to do. That’s who they are. They’ve embraced the challenges of preparing defensively. They know everything the opponent wants to do before — they ask great questions. And they’re just students of the game.
And that’s the culture that’s been built over these six years, and we hit a different level this year. And you can go back to Sydney Wiese’s injury. That’s when our defense took a big step forward, because when you lose your floor leader, you lose those points and that 3-point shot, you know, it’s going to be hard to outscore people. And so everybody understood that. And everybody rose defensively. And we found a way to win through that stretch, which was really the key pivotal moment of this season for us. But that injury put us in an adverse situation where everybody had to rise, and that’s where our defense really grew during that stretch.
Q. A couple of days ago on the teleconference Mike Neighbors said that he thinks that UConn’s success, he’s used some of it in his formula to get to the Final Four. And I wondered, you touched on this a little bit, but if you believe that for your team as well. And if so, maybe specifically how their success — used their success in getting here.
COACH RUECK: I think in a general sense, I don’t think there’s a specific thing necessarily. I think one of my favorite statistical Web pages is the NCAA site that has the rankings of every statistical category for each team. You can look at the site. It’s up for anyone. And it ranks you in every category. And so we don’t get a lot of steals, so we’re like 300th in steals out of 344 teams. And yet we’re first in defensive field goal percentage and I think fourth maybe in points against or something like that.
And I’ve used that forever. I would look at Division III back in the day and I’d look at Division I. I’m, okay, Connecticut is the first in all of these. They’re the best team in basketball. And I wanted to be the best team in Division III at the time. And where are our weaknesses? We’ve got to get better in these categories.
And so that’s been the bar that they’ve set. And so I don’t know if there’s one specific thing other than overall excellence that I think we all strive for. And so they’ve set the bar in that regard. And so you have to give them credit for that. And that’s what we’ve been striving and I as a coach have been striving to get my team to all these years.
Q. To go back to the Canadian win on the Pan Am Games last summer, obviously it’s a different group. Obviously it’s not a group you’re coaching, but I’m wondering when you see things like Breanna Stewart was held without an assist and Moriah shoots 5 for 13, are there things you can take from a basketball perspective: That team put up 81 against a team that had a defensive lens of Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson on the perimeter, is that something you can take from it? And also just psychologically is there something you take in from seeing a team beat a team with those two on the court?
COACH RUECK: Yeah, like maybe we should come out wearing our red uniforms. It was interesting to experience. That was such a grind of a tournament. I don’t see them similar, to be honest. The circumstances are so different. This is a team that’s been forever. That team was together for three weeks. We’re trying to throw something together and we suffer an injury to Tiffany Mitchell and that really put us on the defensive and made them play out of position and long minutes, five games in five days, eight in nine days if you include the exhibitions.
So that was just a grind of an event. And that was the end of it and we’re playing in Canada with a packed house, rooting all against us. And certainly the Canadian team played a phenomenal game that night and made big shots. And so it’s ironic that here I am with those guys now in this environment. But I don’t think you can take a whole lot from that.
Q. Your players seem to have the right balance of respect of UConn and also being ready to play them. You mentioned before how their efficiency is flawless and all their stuff. How do you as a coach prepare a team to play a team that hasn’t lost in two years and had so much success in the NCAA Tournament and balance that respect with not thinking that you can’t beat them?
COACH RUECK: I think that kind of Jamie said, when they chose Oregon State, it wasn’t about the past. We’re playing this game and it’s not about the past. We can’t control that. We can give them all the credit in the world for it. But it doesn’t matter. It’s these 40 minutes. And that’s all that matters.
And so you look at what they do well, and you try to game plan against it. And you look at what you feel like might be a crack and you try to game plan into it. And you look at yourself and you’re like, okay, what do we need to avoid to be successful in this game. And that is identical to game one that we played this year and game 20 we played this year.
So I think it would be a mistake to even think about those things, and I don’t think they are. Playing Baylor last week was very similar. We could look at the history there and look at this team that is just physically — I mean, imposing. You go into it say, okay, this is a team we’ve got to beat tonight and this is the environment. And we’ve got to drown out the crowd and we’ve got to just play basketball. And our team did that. And they played in my opinion they played fearlessly in that game once we got used to playing against that team. Just like every team. So I don’t think we can even think of that stuff. I certainly don’t. It’s just like who cares. That stuff doesn’t matter. So you’ve got to let that stuff go and you’ve got to be mature and disciplined enough mentally to not focus on anything that doesn’t matter to this possession right now.
And that’s key to life. It’s the key to everything. Too many people worry about things that don’t matter. And that stuff in this game and our world we haven’t played them. I mean, this is about this game. And so we’ve got to stay right there in the moment and this team’s done that all year and they’re very mature in that way. And I would be surprised if they focused on anything but the next possession.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.