(AP) – A year of experience after a disappointing NCAA Tournament exit has Oregon State better prepared this time around.
The Beavers hosted the opening rounds last season as a third seed, but got upset on their home court by 11th-seeded Gonzaga in their second game.
Now the No. 2 seed, Oregon State is again hosting and will face Sun Belt tournament champion Troy, a No. 15 seed, on Friday at Gill Coliseum.
”It’s not fun to get beat on your home floor, when people expected you to win. That was a motivator going into this year,” coach Scott Rueck said. ”I think what it did was help us grow up real quick. That’s the evolution of our program. I think every program has to go through that.”
Now the players know the kind of pressure both hosting and being the favorite brings. Oregon State is also more seasoned: The team beat Stanford for the first time in 29 tries during the regular season, then claimed its first Pac-12 tournament title.
”We’re different in that we have another year of experience,” Rueck said. ”Last year’s team didn’t want it any less than this year’s team – this year’s team just knows what they’re doing.”
The sixth-ranked Beavers have won 18 of 19 going into the tournament, going 28-4 to set a team record for wins in a season. They won a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title before beating UCLA in the tournament final.
”I think throughout this season it (the loss to the Zags) has kind of been like that game was a driving factor. We don’t want that to happen again,” said senior Jamie Weisner, who is averaging 17.3 points. ”As for this week, me personally, I haven’t really thought about it. But I think it shows you have to prepare every day like it’s your last.”
Troy (20-12) is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 1997. Guard Ashley Beverly-Kelley is averaging 20.3 points and made the game-winner with 20 seconds left in the conference tournament final against Little Rock.
Casie Johnson, a 6-foot junior forward for the Trojans, is from little Eagle Point, a town of some 8,000 people located in Southern Oregon. Johnson transferred to Troy from the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California, prior to the season.
”It’s just a great matchup,” Troy coach Chanda Rigby said. ”Being a 15 seed you know that you’re going to play a great team. But we feel if there’s a niche there and we can find it, we can be successful.”
It will be Oregon State’s third consecutive NCAA appearance and eighth overall.