The Fast Break: Guard play leads the way in Corvallis
On the passing of the baton with the OSU women, KJ Evans' next step and that smile Wayne Tinkle couldn't get out of his head.
Under head coach Scott Rueck, Oregon State has always gone as its guards have gone.
So it should come as no surprise that these Beavers — suddenly radiant under the national spotlight — seem to be gaining both confidence and momentum with every passing game, not dissimilar from their burgeoning freshman point guard Donovyn Hunter.
The Beavers — and Hunter — are arriving sooner, and more meaningfully, than some perhaps expected.
There’s a sort of passing of the baton that has become routine in Corvallis. Jaime Weisner and Sydney Wiese set the precedent. Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum put their own spin on it. Then Aleah Goodman guided the Beavers to a string of several successful pre-pandemic runs. After a brief WNBA appearance and a stint as director of player personnel with Duke women’s basketball, Goodman returned to the program this offseason, equipped with the title of assistant coach, ready to watch it happen once more.
Its leading scorer the two seasons prior to this, junior Talia von Oelhoffen may well be the most skilled guard on No. 18 Oregon State’s (16-4, 6-3 Pac-12) roster. But her move to the wing this year has come in lockstep with Hunter’s insertion into a role that has been manned by some of this program’s best over the years.
“The thing about Scott,” Goodman said of the former point guard-turned-coach, “and I think the reason why there's always a guard, or a couple of guards that have a big role on his teams is just because of how he kind of just works through us. He allows us to be a little bit of a coach on the floor. That's what he wants. He wants to have a great line of communication with his guards.”
And if Hunter, a 6-footer from Medford, really is next in line, last weekend may be remembered as the moment all things truly began to slide into place, the Beavers asserting themselves firmly into the national discussion with back-to-back wins over No. 3 Colorado 68-62 and No. 16 Utah 91-66.
Hunter scored a career-high 16 points in the Friday win over the Buffs, backing it up with 17 more two days later, not to be outdone by her tenacious nature defensively.
“She’s a great player,” Rueck told reporters, “and she’s figuring it out now. I think she’s believing and understanding who she is and can be against the very best.”
Sounds like these Beavers as a whole, doesn’t it?
Goodman, more so than the rest of Rueck’s staff given her recent success in this offense, focuses much of her time on the guards. Hunter and her fellow freshman roommate Kennedie Shuler, who has split time with her at point guard this year, have latched on.
“With Aleah,” said Hunter in a phone interview with the I-5 Corridor, “we joke around with her whenever she has the scout for the week. We understand her scout a lot better, especially for our positions. She's been here. She's worked with Scott. She's played for Scott. So having her insight, knowing that she knows where our minds are at sometimes, makes it a little stressful. It all just pieces together for us.”
All said, she’s still adapting, learning, by the day. Hunter found herself chuckling last week upon realizing Colorado and Utah awaited after a narrow loss to No. 4 Stanford on Jan. 21.
“You think like, ‘Okay, you get a little break,’ but you don't,” she said.
Count it as one of the many small lessons the freshman is picking up on over time. The Beavers have nine more regular-season matchups ahead. Among those remaining: No. 20 Utah, No. 6 Colorado, No. 7 UCLA, No. 15 USC and No. 4 Stanford.
No break in sight.
Then again, maybe the Beavers don’t need one?
“We’re playing,” said Rueck, “against Final Four teams — according to everyone else — every week. We’re competing with everybody. Why not us? It would be hard to argue against us.”
With the long overdue return of centers N’Faly Dante and Nate Bittle, and the continued reliance on newcomer Mahamadou Diawara, freshman forward Kwame Evans Jr.’s days as a small-ball five are, most likely, over.