Rueck: Beavers 'absolutely have what it takes' to be Final Four team

Oregon State wins first Pac-12 title (0:47)

Ruth Hamblin scores 23 points, grabs 20 rebounds and blocks five shots as Oregon State wins its first Pac-12 title with a 69-57 victory over UCLA. (0:47)

SEATTLE -- Final Four teams tend to have a certain profile.

They arrive at the final weekend of the season, on the sport's biggest stage bearing certain qualities.

They are often experienced. They have played in and thrived on challenging schedules. They have frequently experienced setbacks that have become the motivational impetus to achieve. Final Four teams play defense. And they can score inside and out.

Final Four teams look a lot like ... Oregon State.

The only thing the Beavers might be missing at this point is the pedigree.

The Beavers cut down the nets for the first time in program history Sunday in KeyArena, defeating UCLA 69-57 in a one-sided title game that was hardly that close before the Bruins' late, furious rally injected some drama into a game that was not representative of the rest of a competitive Pac-12 tournament.

Oregon State has now paired its second straight regular-season title with a tournament title, and has to be regarded as the premier program in the Pac-12. It's a far cry from where the Beavers were six years ago when coach Scott Rueck arrived to assume the reins at his alma mater, down to two players on the roster -- a player revolt led to the firing of the previous coach -- and preparing to hold open tryouts to fill out his new team.

"I entered this job with a lot of hope," Rueck said, the conference tournament trophy sitting in front of him on the table and a freshly cut net draped around his neck. "I didn't know if it was possible in this conference. I didn't know enough. Once we got into it, we had certain individuals commit to our program ... that started changing from hope into, 'Yes, we can do this.' "

"I think you have to lose to know how to win. Last year, that is what happened to us. We won the conference outright and it tricks you into feeling like it's easy." Beavers coach Scott Rueck

Sunday night in front of a large contingent of Oregon State fans who made the four-hour bus ride from Corvallis to see a coronation, the Beavers took the first step in exorcising some demons. Two years ago, Oregon State reached the Pac-12 title game for the first time and lost to an upstart USC team. Last season, as the No. 1 seed, the Beavers were ousted in their first game and went on to lose on their home floor in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Gonzaga.

Those experiences have shaped this team's mindset and sharpened its focus.

It's a difference apparent to even those outside the program.

"The last couple of tournament experiences turned the weaknesses that got exposed into strengths," said UCLA coach Cori Close, whose Bruins -- like the Beavers -- are a projected No. 2 seed by espnW bracketologist Charlie Creme. "The way they applied that to their championship run this weekend was really admirable. You could tell those young women were different. You could tell they were absolutely focused on whatever it took to get what they wanted. They earned it."

Oregon State certainly played for three quarters like a team with something to prove. The Beavers jumped out quickly on UCLA, leading 44-17 at the half. They were up by as many as 31 points in the third quarter before the Bruins' defense clamped down and pulled to within nine points in the closing moments.

But the damage was done, largely by the Oregon State trio of Jamie Weisner, Ruth Hamblin and Sydney Wiese. The team's offensive core combined for 63 points and 28 rebounds.

Rueck called them "superstars."

"They carry a big load for us and they should. It's who they are," he said.

But the Beavers are more than their three stars. Gabriella Hanson has turned into one of the country's top defensive players. Forward Deven Hunter pulled down 12 rebounds against UCLA, including eight big offensive boards.

All have played in some very big games. Oregon State has played a tough schedule, falling at home in December to Tennessee, and then going to South Bend without Wiese (who sat out eight games because of a hand injury) and lost to Notre Dame by one. The Beavers have beaten Stanford and Arizona State and UCLA (twice), and grinded through the toughest Pac-12 Conference in memory to win both titles.

"I wouldn't want to go to work with anybody other than these girls every day," said Weisner, the conference co-player of the year and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "Just to see the success we have had, I don't know, this is huge."

Now the question is how much more huge could it get?

When the bracket is unveiled March 14, Oregon State is in line for a No. 2 seed and another shot at hosting the first and second round. The Beavers are steeling themselves against a repeat of what happened last season.

"We are not satisfied," Wiese said. "Even with this victory, we are obviously going to enjoy it today, but then come tomorrow and the next day, we're going to start preparing for whoever we are going to face in the [NCAA] tournament. I think that's been the different mindset that we've had all year. It's never relaxing and always staying hungry."

"You could tell those young women were different. You could tell they were absolutely focused on whatever it took to get what they wanted. They earned it." UCLA coach Cori Close on how Oregon State has improved since last season

Rueck said his team did not know how to handle success last year.

"It was just a lack of experience in that area," he said. "You look at our talent, and it's very similar to what we were a year ago. I think you have to lose to know how to win. Last year, that is what happened to us. We won the conference outright and it tricks you into feeling like it's easy."

Now, Rueck said, his players are holding one another accountable.

"We're going to be gritty and tough and know that we are going to take everybody's best shot," Rueck said. "It's been a grind, but this group is so battle-tested and that's the difference."

Rueck has won a national championship in his coaching career, winning the Division III crown at George Fox in 2008. He knows what a Final Four team looks like, and he thinks it has three senior starters, a diversified offensive attack, one of the best defenses in the country and a hard-earned toughness.

"I believe this team absolutely has what it takes," Rueck said. "I believe this team should be very confident in their abilities. You just have to have the right people. And I think we do."