PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico - The Oregon State women's basketball team used a gritty defensive effort on Tuesday afternoon, erasing a 10-point first-half deficit to UC Santa Barbara and hitting clutch shots down the stretch, en route to a 49-46 win over the Gauchos in the inaugural game of the Hardwood Tournament of Hope in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
With the win, the Beavers (2-1) will play again tomorrow afternoon at 1:30 p.m. PT against Winthrop (2-1), which defeated Mississippi State (2-2), 61-59. OSU's second-round matchup will air on KEJO 1240AM with Ron Callan at the mic and will also be available on osubeavers.com.
"We got off to a shaky start offensively and were just out of sorts [because] Santa Barbara did a great job of forcing us to make errors," Head Coach Scott Rueck said of his team's early deficit. "Then we got our bearings on both ends of the floor towards the last eight minutes of the first half. We told the team to continue to do what they were doing and relax. I thought we were in a good spot. UCSB is used to a lot of success being a tournament team a year ago and that proved to be the case down the stretch. It was a really hard-fought game and we feel fortunate to win it."
Oregon State found itself in an early hole thanks to some long-range proficiency by the Gauchos. UCSB (1-2) began by converting three of its first four shots from behind the arc to jump out to a double-digit lead on two occasions in the first half.
Owning a seemingly comfortable 10-point edge, 21-11, with 4:13 remaining in the first, Oregon State's signature defense began to make things very uncomfortable for Santa Barbara. The Beavers went on a 12-0 run to grab their first lead early in the second half, 23-21, and held UCSB without a point for over six minutes. After a promising start from deep, the Gauchos finished the game by hitting only one of their final 11 three-point attempts.
"We do our best to slow our opponents down," Rueck said. "I didn't want to get off to such a shaky start offensively [and] I don't want to score in the 40's or 50's, but I would love to see our opponents do that. I thought for two teams that emphasize defense the way the both of us do it's probably what we all could have expected and was a real battle today."
Freshman Jamie Weisner made a three from the far corner to spark the run beginning at the 4:04 mark of the opening period. Fellow first-year player Ruth Hamblin followed up her teammate with a layup and two free throws to pull OSU to within three at intermission, 21-18. Coming out of the break Alyssa Martin was fouled while making a layup and converted the free throw to tie things up. Patricia Bright gave the Beavers their first lead of the game with a lay in of her own at 18:28 and after UCSB tied things at 23, Bright made two free throws to give her team the edge for good.
Oregon State's formidable front line factored prominently in the outcome. Bright had 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Hamblin came off the bench to put up nine first-half points and steady the Beavers before the deficit grew too large. Deven Hunter added four points and four rebounds in her first career start and the trio helped OSU outscore the Gauchos by 20 points in the paint, 24-4.
"Ruth is a true 6-6 and is really bright," Rueck said of Hamblin's effort. "She's only been playing the game for five years and so she's a work in progress, but this team knows exactly where she's going to be. She executes our stuff so well. To be honest, she was the reason we were close at halftime. We needed that contribution from her and I was really proud of her performance today."
Late in the game, with UCSB making a charge, OSU ran a textbook inbounds play with only two seconds on the shot clock and the ball at halfcourt, as Bright pushed her defender away from the basket and received a high-arching pass from Alyssa Martin for an easy layup. That gave the Beavers a little bit of breathing room, 47-43, as they eventually held on for the 49-46 victory.
Just prior to that, Bright went on a personal mini 5-0 run to extend her team's lead to 41-35 with 8:10 remaining, capping it off with a three-point play after receiving a nice dish from Mollee Schwegler in the key and fighting through contact.
"That's what we need from her," Rueck said of Bright's 16-point, eight-rebound effort. "A year ago that wasn't really her role offensively on our team and this year it needs to be. She's a senior. She's been there, done that. She provides us an advantage over most of our opponents [as] she's 6-foot-4 and is very skilled inside and outside. We need her to be a big player for us and I was happy to see her embrace that role and come through for us today."
Bright's 31 points in the Beavers' last couple of games is the second-best two-game stretch of her career. The senior had 16 in back-to-back road games against Pepperdine and Cal State Bakersfield last December.
Jamie Weisner added nine points and a career-high seven boards as the Beavers earned their second-ever victory against UC Santa Barbara, and first since 1993-94.
The 49 points are the fewest for the Beavers in a win since they scored the same in a 49-32 victory over Cal State Northridge on Nov. 20, 2010. Going further back, OSU defeated Arizona, 46-31, at the Pac-10 Tournament in 2008.