Long Beach State sends Beavers' Rueck down memory lane
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Seven years ago, new Oregon State coach Scott Rueck opened the season with a team made up of walk-ons and a few recruits he'd convinced to stay despite the program's disarray the previous year.
His first opponent was Long Beach State. The Beavers won 71-39.
Oregon State will face the 49ers on Friday for the first time since that game, but this time it's in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Rueck marveled at how far Oregon State has come from that first game, when surprised fans cheered the team's seemingly improbable victory.
''It was after a football game so Beaver Nation was here that day and fortunately for us 1,500 of them stuck around to see what in the world does this women's basketball team have,'' Rueck said. ''We were walk-ons and a few scholarship players. We didn't even know. And that day, those 1,500 people put on a show, it was amazing. It was this kind of an out-of-body experience.''
The Beavers, making their fourth straight appearance in the tournament, are a No. 2 seed for the second straight season. Long Beach State is the No. 15 seed in the Stockton Regional after clinching a berth with a victory in the Big West Tournament.
The victor will face the winner of Friday's late game between seventh-seeded Creighton and No. 10 seed Toledo.
The Beavers are 29-4, coming off their third straight season with at least a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title.
Long Beach State (23-10) is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992. Jody Wynn, coach of the 49ers for the past eight seasons, remembers that last meeting with Oregon State well.
''My first memory is when we entered we were thrown into a practice facility and (we were) just trying to figure out where the balls were and all that kind of stuff. Scott and his assistant came down and welcomed us. I didn't know Scott, because he didn't come from a university I was familiar with, but he greeted us and welcomed us to Oregon State,'' Wynn said. ''The game was a tough one on our end, but he's just done a phenomenal job. I've followed him ever since that first game.''
BUT WAIT, THEY HAVE CROSSED PATHS MORE RECENTLY: The teams both played at the Play4Kay Shootout in Las Vegas in December though they didn't meet on the court. Long Beach upset South Florida, while Oregon State won the tournament with a victory over Oklahoma State.
Wynn said it was valuable for the 49ers to watch how the Beavers played.
''It was awesome watching a team that just came off a Final Four run - Sydney Wiese up close and personal,'' Wynn said about the Beavers' star guard. ''To watch Oregon State from courtside was beneficial for us as a program. I thought the girls got to see one of the best women's basketball programs in the country right there in person, and see how they play as a team and their tendencies.''
SCOUTING THE BLUEJAYS: Creighton (23-7) won a share of the Big East regular-season title. The team is making its sixth overall NCAA Tournament and first since 2013, and its seeding matches the best in school history. Creighton won the only previous meeting with Toledo 72-56 in 1993.
''We kind of knew we were going to get in, but seeing `Creighton' up there, it was kind of a surreal feeling,'' said senior guard Lauren Wood.
SCOUTING THE ROCKETS: Toledo (25-8) has won eight straight heading into the team's eighth overall NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2001. The Rockets got an automatic bid as the MAC Tournament champion after defeating Northern Illinois 92-71 in the final.
PALS: Creighton coach Jim Flanery and Toledo coach Tricia Cullop are friends dating back to the days when Cullop was coach at Evansville from 2000-2008. In games in which the two faced each other, Flanery held a 12-3 advantage.
Flanery said that he often spoke to Cullop about program building because he admired her stewardship of the Aces. But the camaraderie is kind of a mixed blessing at the moment, he joked on Thursday.
''You don't like to play somebody you're that friendly with - you want some animosity,'' he said.