CORVALLIS, Ore. -- She anticipated the pass with 35 seconds left, making what teammates would call a classic Mikayla move. She stole the ball, was fouled and hit both free throws to give Oregon State a 10-point lead. The Beavers went on to beat Missouri State 80-69 and win the Preseason WNIT title.
It was the kind of door-slammer play that Mikayla Pivec makes because her instincts are so good and her basketball IQ so high. She's the leader of the pack of experienced guards -- fellow senior Kat Tudor and juniors Destiny Slocum and Aleah Goodman -- who are the heart and grit of the Beavers this season as their promising but mostly young post game develops.
Freshmen forwards Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown combine to average 24 points and 14.3 rebounds. But the veteran guards run the show.
This is exactly what Pivec, who aspires to be a pediatrician when her basketball career is over, has been preparing for since she came to Oregon State. The Beavers' archrival, Oregon, is ranked No. 1. The team that has been the Pac-12 standard-bearer, Stanford, is No. 3. But nobody is counting out No. 7 Oregon State as a contender for the league championship or a trip to New Orleans for the Final Four.
"Each year, you have a bigger responsibility. You know more about the program," Pivec said. "I prefer to lead with my actions, but I'm getting better at using my voice to help share what I know. Being really positive and encouraging to my teammates."
She learned this from Sydney Wiese, a senior at Oregon State when Pivec was a freshman. Wiese, who has spent the past three seasons with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, was a key part of coach Scott Rueck's 2016 Beavers team that went to the program's first Final Four.
In the national semifinals that year, Oregon State ran into a UConn squad led by then-senior Breanna Stewart that was on its way to a fourth consecutive NCAA title. This season, there isn't a program that seems as unstoppable a force as UConn did then. Oregon is the closest thing, although the Ducks don't have the championship experience that the Huskies did.
So the Beavers' attitude is: Why not us? Even if Oregon State doesn't win the league regular season or tournament titles, just going through the Pac-12 gauntlet should be great preparation for a March Madness run.
The Preseason WNIT gave Oregon State a little taste of it. The Beavers, thanks to fan support that has turned Gill Coliseum into one of women's hoops' best atmospheres, were at home for all four foes: UC Irvine, Pacific, DePaul and Missouri State.
Each opponent presented Oregon State with different challenges, none more than Missouri State, which was ahead by four at halftime. But led by Slocum, the Beavers took control in the third quarter. Then Pivec squashed any hope of a late rally with her steal and free throws in the final minute.
Pivec was the WNIT's MVP; she, Slocum, Goodman and Tudor all scored in double figures against Missouri State. It was just the second game back for Tudor, who suffered an ACL injury in the Beavers' first Pac-12 game last season. She was disappointed to not get a medical redshirt, but having played 13 games put her over the limit. So this is Tudor's final year at Oregon State, and she wants to make the most of it.
"This school is my second home; I just love this place so much," said Tudor, who has hit 128 3-pointers, third-most in Oregon State history. "This season, we have every piece of the puzzle. It's very reassuring for everybody, because if your shooting is off, you have someone else who can fill in."
Tudor is from Woodbridge, California, near Stockton. Pivec is from suburban Seattle and grew up a Sue Bird fan from watching the Seattle Storm. Goodman, who had a record-setting 15 treys in the WNIT, is the native Oregonian of the quartet, from Milwaukie. Slocum, who played her freshman season at Maryland, is from Meridian, Idaho.
Slocum remembers facing Pivec in club basketball going way back. They even went on a recruiting visit to Washington at the same time. Slocum told her parents that one day, she wished she could play on the same team as Pivec. Then, when Slocum left the Terps, one of the first people she heard from was Pivec.
"It's like we'd always had this distant bond," Slocum said. "We both want to get better and be the best I can be. We have similar mindsets off the court; school and community service are super important to us. We want to impact as many people as we can along the way."
Slocum is eligible for the WNBA draft in April. In fact, because she turned 22 this calendar year, she was eligible for the 2019 draft, too. But she says she's not even thinking about it, and that all the WNBA players she has talked to tell her to enjoy college as long as she can.
The Beavers got the chance to interact with the pros when the U.S. national team played at Oregon State earlier this month. They asked a lot of questions and soaked in all the knowledge they could.
They want to put that -- and all the rest of their experience -- to use throughout this season. The 2019 postseason wasn't what the Beavers hoped for. They were stunned in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals by Washington, had to scramble to beat Boise State and Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament early rounds at home, and then looked totally out of steam in a 61-44 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in Albany, New York.
The 2019-20 Beavers have depth that will continue to grow as they get other players healthier. And they have this guard corps that already has been through so much in their careers. They're ready for this.
"It's gonna be hard to guard us," Tudor said. "Because everybody can shoot on our team. If you're scouting somebody, and you see they can really shoot, shoot, shoot, you know it's going to be a tough game. I hope that's what people think about us: 'There are just threats everywhere.' "