CORVALLIS, Ore. – To hear the coaches four years later, there were no losers in that epic second-round NCAA Tournament game between Gonzaga and Oregon State.
The Zags, under first-year coach Lisa Fortier, went on to the Sweet 16 – in Spokane, no less – after a gritty 76-64 win over the favored Beavers.
But long term, it meant so much more as Fortier began to make the program her own after taking over from Kelly Graves.
“It meant that we were not just the old era,” Fortier said Sunday as the Zags and Beavers prepared for another high-stakes game tonight at Gill Coliseum.
“It also meant that our program was bigger than any one person, or any one coach, or any one team,” Fortier said.
GU made the tournament three years out of the next four. On Saturday, they put an exclamation mark on the best regular season (27-3) in program history with their first NCAA win since 2015.
“It also gave a little confidence to the staff, and to the next generation of Zags, that this is what Gonzaga is – a nationally relevant team, that we still are and we’re going to continue to be,” Fortier said.
However, the Beavers got something just as valuable despite a disappointing loss: motivation, and it carried them all the way to the Final Four in 2016.
“That game fueled the Final Four,” coach Scott Rueck said. “We learned a lot of lessons that day, and our program evolved.”
The day after the game Rueck was sitting in his office, contemplating the offseason, when one of his players walked in.
It was Jamie Weisner, the former all-state guard from Clarkston. Then a junior, she told Rueck, “I’m not going out like this next year.”
What followed was the best season in OSU history, 32-5 overall, a Pac-12 title and a spot in the Final Four. Weisner led the way, finishing as a first-team All-American.
The Beavers haven’t looked back. They reached the Sweet 16 a year later and the Elite Eight last year, where they lost to Louisville.
Rueck even posited that the loss to Gonzaga helped make the difference in Saturday’s overtime escape against Boise State.
The Beavers had never hosted an NCAA game before 2015, and it showed.
“There’s really no substitute for experience,” Rueck said. “Now we find a way to win those games.”
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