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Beavers in good position at midpoint of Pac-12

CORVALLIS — After Scott Rueck learned back in December that starting point guard Sydney Wiese would miss an extended period of time with a broken bone in her hand, he looked at the opening stretch of the Pac-12 season and wasn’t sure what to expect.

He turned to freshman Katie McWilliams to take over at the point, and the South Salem High grad got an early baptism by fire against the likes of Notre Dame, USC and UCLA.

The No. 9 Beavers may have lost two of those games, but McWilliams got valuable experience and has helped the Beavers roll off six straight Pac-12 wins to enter the midway point of the conference season at 7-1 with a crucial homestand against Arizona (6 tonight) and No. 8 and conference leading Arizona State (8 p.m. Monday) this weekend.

“When (Wiese) went down, looking at the stretch we had coming up, I didn’t know where we’d be,” Rueck said. “I mean, you look at that lineup of teams and where the games were and who they were against … So to be sitting at 7-1, I am really happy with where we are at.”

Rueck is pleased not only with the record, but more importantly the way his team has overcome adversity and has begun to form a new identity.

“I like what we’ve learned defensively,” Rueck said. “We’re playing defense with an edge that you have to, to win at the elite level. I didn’t feel that we were there necessarily in the preseason until (Wiese’s) injury.

“I think her injury really forced us to play with an urgency that we had not previously had to, other than the second half of Tennessee."

It’s a good thing as the Beavers lost Wiese following that game and struggled early to replace her nearly 13 points per game.

“It was definitely a negative but there are a lot of positives and a lot of silver linings that came out of that adversity she has faced and we have faced as a program,” Rueck said.

Senior Ruth Hamblin said the team is deeper and more well-rounded in part to playing without Wiese for eight games.

“I feel like we’re just kind of continuing to grow at a good rate where we’re playing well so that’s just tweaking minor little things,” Hamblin said. “I think heading into the next half of games it’s just continuing to roll and getting everyone going.”

Wiese returned last weekend and is being eased back into the rotation. She said it was fun to watch others, especially McWilliams, elevate their games during her absence.

“For Katie to get those minutes at the 1 and now hopefully she can go back and forth between the 1, 2 and 3, it helps us as a team,” Wiese said. “It’s been so much fun watching her develop because she had to learn fast and she did.”

The players know how important each game is the rest of the way as they continue their quest for a second straight Pac-12 title.

“I think this really is where we start to define who we are and every game absolutely matters,” junior Gabby Hanson said. “Every game we’re playing for a Pac-12 championship because literally every game matters. It’s all about positioning, especially now.”

The Beavers enter the weekend a game back of ASU (17-3, 8-0), which is off to its best conference start ever.

UCLA and Washington are a game back of the Beavers at 6-2, and Stanford is fifth at 5-3.

“I think we’re further ahead maybe than we might have been if (Wiese had) been healthy the whole time,” Rueck said. “We have the one loss, UCLA handled us but a lot of it was because we were figuring out ball control and how to handle pressure without Sydney.

“Now it’s just staying focused on the next possession and staying hungry through all of this.”