DALLAS -- She stood on the line with seven seconds left in the game, and a chance to give Oregon State a three-point lead against Baylor. Beavers junior guard Sydney Wiese wasn't thinking about the fact that she'd missed one of two free throws 26 seconds earlier. Nor was she saying to herself, "This is for the Final Four. You absolutely MUST make these."
Instead, the word that went through Wiese's mind was this: driveway.
"I've been saying that to myself throughout the season," Wiese said after the Beavers' 60-57 victory Monday sent the program to its first Women's Final Four. "That reminds me of my roots back home; I'd shoot on the driveway with my brother and my dad, and practice free throws until I made however many in a row.
"I'd get an extension cord, bring the radio out and blast 'Now That's What I Call Music' CDs all day. It's still one of my favorite things to do when I go back home: Just to be out there and shoot, and envision moments like that."
Home for her is Phoenix, and it never got too hot for Wiese to sweat it out on the driveway, shooting hoops. When the heat was on Monday night at American Airlines Center -- where Baylor was the No. 1 seed and had the majority of fans with the school's proximity to Dallas -- Wiese, who had 18 points and six assists, and the Beavers kept their cool.
Now the program that was a flat-out, nobody-wants-this-job disaster when coach Scott Rueck took over in 2010 is heading to Indianapolis, where it will face mighty UConn in the national semifinals on Sunday (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET).
Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Well, hold on. This isn't actually a miracle. It's the story of a coach who really perfected his trade at the Division III level for 14 years, and then got the chance to bring his system to Division I. Rueck had gone to school himself at Oregon State and had a love for and belief in what could be done there.
Now his program has gone from nine victories in his first season to the Final Four in his sixth. You can't exaggerate what a great job he and his staff have done, and how hard his players have worked to get here.
"It has to do with sports and the human spirit," Rueck said. "That might be kinda deep, but that's what this is. A group that believed when there was no reason to. To see themselves through to a Final Four, it's mind-blowing."
"Sometimes when you get beat, you need to just compliment the opponent. There are reasons you don't do things you normally do, and it usually starts with well-coached teams that play defense."Baylor coach Kim Mulkey
The Beavers were the No. 2 seed here, but they led after every quarter against Baylor. And even when the Lady Bears took the lead with just less than 7 minutes to go and had the green-and-gold crowd roaring, Oregon State didn't flinch.
For Baylor, this was a very tough loss -- the program's third consecutive defeat in the Elite Eight. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was her usual animated self on the sidelines during the game, at one point in the second quarter tossing her jacket in frustration at the officiating and then picking up a technical foul. Which she said she absolutely meant to do.
Yet in the postgame news conference, Mulkey was calm and quite classy in complimenting Oregon State.
"Give those guys credit," Mulkey said of the Beavers. "Defensively, they're No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage defense, and we're No. 3. I just thought both teams battled. I thought the difference in the game was [our] missed free throws and their clutch shots.
"Sometimes when you get beat, you need to just compliment the opponent. There are reasons you don't do things you normally do, and it usually starts with well-coached teams that play defense."
Indeed, Baylor came into the game shooting 48.7 percent from the field and averaging 78.2 points. But against the Beavers, the Lady Bears shot 38.5 percent and scored 57. Baylor had only one other game all season when it failed to reach 60 points, and that was its only other loss: Dec. 30 to Oklahoma State.
Hmmm ... coincidence that it was two orange teams? Yes, but it's not a coincidence that Oklahoma State is also a very sound defensive squad, third in the Big 12 in scoring defense behind Baylor and Texas.
So it was defense, ultimately, that made the biggest difference in Monday's game, but it was also the Beavers' composure.
Baylor forced 19 turnovers and scored 24 points off of them, but the Beavers didn't let that rattle them. Oregon State hit seven 3-pointers in the first half, but when things dried up from beyond the arc in the second, the Beavers found other ways to score.
Center Ruth Hamblin picked up her fourth foul at the end of the third quarter, and fellow starter Deven Hunter got her fourth a couple of minutes into the final quarter. So they had to play smart but still aggressive and tough -- which is the mindset the Beavers have fully embraced under Rueck.
It's been an amazing climb for Oregon State. The program had made just five NCAA tournament appearances -- and none since 1996 -- when Rueck took over. The Beavers, as a No. 9 seed, lost in the second round of the 2014 NCAA tournament to No. 1 South Carolina. Last year, the Beavers elevated all the way to a No. 3 seed, but lost on their home court in the second round to 11th-seeded Gonzaga.
But this year, Rueck sensed something special was happening. Even the adversity of losing Wiese to a hand injury for seven games provided a silver lining: Rueck said his team's already excellent defense became even better because it needed to without Wiese's offense.
Now, the Beavers will face the giant of women's basketball: UConn, the team whose 10-NCAA championship profile is the furthest thing from the first-time status of the other three teams that will be in Indianapolis.
The Beavers are very glad for this opportunity. There's nothing overly confident about them; instead, they have the same mix of self-belief and humility that the Huskies have.
"It's fun to have UConn," said Beavers senior guard Jamie Weisner, who was the Dallas Region's most outstanding player, combining for 54 points and 18 rebounds in the two games here.
"That's always been my dream. You know, to be the best, you've got to beat the best. We've been in this position; we've been doubted before. So we'll just prepare and be ready for them."