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Oregon State endures another painful women’s basketball loss, but there’s belief of a potent stretch run 2/4/2023 Nick Daschel,

The reality after Oregon State fell to 11-11 Friday night after losing in overtime to No. 7 Utah 75-73 at Gill Coliseum is that there’s probably only one path to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Win the Pac-12 tournament.

The good news is that it’s not far-fetched. The Beavers have proven they’re good enough to play with every team in the Pac-12.

Within the past week, OSU lost by three points at No. 3 Stanford, and by two points in overtime to No. 7 Utah. The Beavers also have a three-point loss at then-No. 15 Arizona — a game OSU led by 13 with less than four minutes remaining — and wins over No. 8 UCLA and then-No. 23 Oregon.

Oregon State appears capable of beating any team in the conference. And also losing to every team in the conference.

And there’s the rub, and why the Beavers are 11-11. When they get it together, Oregon State can be dynamite. Witness Friday’s fourth quarter, when the Beavers outscored Utah 20-5 during the final seven minutes to force overtime. Or the big second half at Arizona that led to a nearly insurmountable lead late.

But the Beavers aren’t always all there. Like Friday night, when Utah blasted to an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter. Or losing by double digits at home to Washington, or last Sunday to 1-8 California.

“Facts are facts. We’ve been very inconsistent. And because of that, you’re going to allow teams that maybe shouldn’t play with you, play with you. And you’re going to be able to rise against the very best,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “When this team has been focused and maintained that level of focus for a level of time, we can, in my opinion, we can play with anyone.”

It’s no secret the Beavers had growing pains to encounter this season. Most of its roster from last season had been turned over, and some of OSU’s strength comes from two freshmen, Timea Gardiner and Raegan Beers.

But, Oregon State is now 22 games into the season and time is running out. There are seven regular-season games remaining before the Pac-12 tournament. To set up a potential run in Las Vegas, the Beavers must start consistently playing well.

Rueck said it’s time to grow up, and put forth performances such as Friday’s second half, or at Stanford, among others.

“It’s time to be that all the time. That’s a very talented, inspirational, must-see TV squad,” Rueck said. “We have to believe that these experiences are going to turn into wins. And clearly, they need to. It feels that way. We’re right on this edge of realizing our potential.”

Rueck talked about a coach finding the right button to push. Friday, that was a second-half lineup that deviated from the usual with freshmen Gardiner, Beers and Adlee Blacklock taking the floor. Blacklock played 19 minutes, more than her combined total during Pac-12 play this season. Gardiner played a career-high 33 minutes, giving the Beavers a presence as a passer and, during the final seconds of regulation, a clutch shooter to tie the game.

Bendu Yeaney, who struggled during the first half, came off the bench and provided an enormous spark during the final 15 minutes. The senior guard scored 11 of her 13 points during the fourth quarter and overtime. There were several times when Yeaney found a seam and gave OSU a bucket it desperately needed during its fourth-quarter rally.

“When Bendu has been in that mode, an overwhelming presence mode, where she brought that level of energy, we are very good. She will take this team to another level,” Rueck said.

Rueck told of a situation in 2015, when Oregon State sustained a painful loss to Gonzaga at home during the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Players who were returning the following year vowed it would be different, and it was: The Beavers rolled through the season and found a path to their first-ever Final Four.

“It was because of all that pain,” Rueck said. “So all of these painful experiences that (the 2022-23) team has experienced. It’s been more than the last two weeks. … They’re going to feel greatness. They’re having fun in the middle of it. Hate losing, but I’m proud of the fight.”

— Nick Daschel reported from Corvallis. | @nickdaschel

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