CORVALLIS, Oregon — For more than 37 minutes of Monday night’s NCAA Tournament Round of 32 game, fifth-seeded Gonzaga (29-5, 16-2 West Coast Conference) and the fourth-seeded Oregon State Beavers (26-7, 14-4 Pac 12) went at each other like prizefighters.
Nine lead changes, 10 ties and a rebuttal for every big bucket.
However, with 2:30 remaining, the Beavers grabbed the upper hand, courtesy of an and-one layup by junior guard Mikayla Pivec that supplied OSU with the boost it needed to bounce the Bulldogs 76-70.
“Against teams like Oregon State, the really good teams, you have a limited number of mistakes that you can make and tonight, we unfortunately made a few too many,” head coach Lisa Fortier said.
OSU converted its final four field goals, shot a game-high 63.6 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and was 9 of 10 from the free-throw line as the game reached its culmination.
The Zags didn’t go away quietly.
Senior Zykera Rice, a career 12.5 percent 3-point shooter, drilled a pair of shots from beyond the arc to keep her team in the fight. But ultimately, there was nothing that could be done to stop the Beavers.
“They were really knocking down shots,” Rice said. “I think we made a couple of mistakes we couldn’t recover from. They’re a really good team, so it’s hard when you let a team go on a run the way they did even though it was not a huge run, but it was enough.”
During the three-and-a-half quarters prior to GU’s demise, the Zags battled the referees and rowdy OSU crowd, along with facing the Beavers on the court.
GU was called for 27 fouls on the evening while OSU was whistled for just 15. Rice saw just four minutes of action in the first half before being cuffed to the bench by a pair of fouls.
By game's end, five different GU women had four or more fouls called against them.
Upon being asked if fouling was part of her team’s game plan, Fortier bluntly answered, “No.”
“It was not part of our strategy,” Fortier said. “We were trying to draw our own [fouls] and they found a way to [get foul calls to] go their way and we didn’t.”
GU didn’t let the early foul trouble hinder its play, as sophomores Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth, as well as freshman Melody Kempton, each stepped up in Rice’s absence. The Zags entered halftime with a 34-32 lead.
The Wirth sisters combined for 14 of their 18 total points in the first half and Kempton chipped in five, including a pair of nice buckets in the post against OSU's 6-foot-8 center, Joanna Grymek.
Jessie Loera and Chandler Smith were relentless on defense, getting a hand on the ball during what felt like every possession.
GU experienced no 3-point success against the Beavers, shooting a dismal 0 of 10 until Rice’s two 3-point makes and a long-range bucket from Loera in the game's closing minutes were added. But by that point, the baskets didn't really matter.
“It’s easy to make excuses and roll over, but we didn’t do that,” Rice said. “I think we fought hard up until the last minute. I am proud to have gone out this way. No one likes losing, but I am proud to have been a part of this team and this being the way my senior season goes.”
For the Beavers, this win serves as a bit of revenge after GU knocked OSU from the 2015 NCAA Tournament during a second-round game in Corvallis.
OSU will now advance to the Sweet 16 in Albany, New York, for a game against the region’s top seed, the Louisville Cardinals.
As for GU, Monday’s loss was not just the last game of the season, but also the final game for seniors Rice, Smith and Laura Stockton, the last of whom did not play due to injury.
“They mean a lot to Gonzaga,” Fortier said. “They aren’t going to go down on a team that went the furthest in the tournament, but we had the highest ranking, the best RPI. People are saying [it's] the best team we have had in the history of the program and it is because of them.”
Rice closed out her collegiate career with a game-high 20 points in just 19 minutes, while Smith scored 13 points and blocked three Beaver shot attempts.
“We lost and it sucks that our season had to end the way it did, but it’s really important that we take advantage of all our opportunities,” Rice said. “I know us seniors and the rest of the team, we really left everything we had on the court today.”