The PK Diaries: 13 minutes and a shot at an upset
Courtside for the men's semifinal or a frantic trip north to catch something special? On Friday in Portland, Shane Hoffmann put it to fate.
PORTLAND — I was late. Not fashionably so, either.
One moment I was happily perched behind the scorer’s table at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, excited for a front-row seat for No. 18 Alabama and No. 20 UConn in the semifinal of the men’s PK Invitational.
Then I saw the Oregon State women’s basketball score.
The Beavers trailed No. 9 Iowa 44-37 at the half a few miles north at Chiles Center and I had yet to watch a game there, it being Tyson’s home court and all. I spent a minute debating whether or not it would be worth it — a 13-minute drive is enough time to break a game open for someone as talented as Iowa’s Caitlyn Clark, the “Steph Curry of college basketball.”
I put it in the hands of the basketball gods.
I rushed out, first heading to the wrong parking garage — I’m still somewhat new here, remember. By the time I pulled into the University of Portland’s campus, parked in an unbelievably convenient spot and entered Chiles, the fourth quarter was underway.
In a lot of ways, the timing was an utter bummer. I’d missed a tight first half, which had turned into a shoot-off between Clark and Oregon State star guard Talia von Oelhoffen, and a third quarter where the Beavers did about as good of a job as you can defending the explosive Hawkeyes, holding them to 12 consecutive scoreless possessions and a 10-point quarter.
I watched almost all of the fourth quarter, and for as enjoyable as it was to observe from behind the Beavers’ bench, the upset never materialized. Sure, it was great to watch the talented Clark and her top-10 Hawkeyes and an Oregon State team filled with new faces grow up and experience Chiles’ curious atmosphere.
But listening to OSU coach Scott Rueck talk about his team and basketball as a whole?
That’s what made me at peace with my decision to spend my Friday night in North Portland.
Rueck is calm and inward looking, rarely flashing the brooding nature which defines so many of his peers.
Put simply, he was encouraged by his team’s effort in the 73-59 loss.
“You're playing a great offensive team, who tonight was also a very disruptive and very good defensive team,” he said. “And, you know, you're playing a team that's used to winning, a top-10 team, and they operate like that.”
And if you squint your eyes and open your ears a bit, you can piece together the similarities between these two teams.
“When we play at our best, that’s kind of what we look like,” he said of the Hawkeyes.
He went on for 15 minutes inside the Hall of Fame room of Chiles, focusing much of those on a defense that’s taken its lumps without stalwart guard Bendu Yeaney to spearhead it. She returned from a several-week injury absence on Friday, and Rueck’s program spent serious time working on that side of the ball during practice.
“We put in some things this week that are March things,” he said of the defensive schemes the Beavers rolled out.
Early season basketball is a crapshoot. Teams change and grow, often drastically, and that’s before you factor in health, but I get the feeling Rueck really likes what these Beavers have and I know he loves what they can grow into. There’s a reason they’re implementing “March” things.
“The main takeaway is hope,” he said. “We saw flashes of great things tonight.”
And they won’t have to face many more like Clark, either.
She was a lot of fun to watch.
— Shane Hoffmann
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