Wiese embraces underdog role
Ninth-seeded Oregon State plays No. 1 seed South Carolina in Seattle
SEATTLE -- Call Sydney Wiese a gym rat, a baller, that girl with the headband who can shoot. Call her a coach's daughter or a natural.
What you might not be able to call her for much longer is an underdog.
"I've always been on an underdog team," Oregon State's Wiese said. "I always get excited when underdog teams beat a Stanford or Connecticut. And that's what I envisioned here. I've always loved to be on a team that is sort of overlooked and they have to fight every day to get better."
Oregon State is one of the best stories in this NCAA tournament field, in the bracket for the first time since 1996 and coming off the program's first tourney win since 1995. And Wiese, the rangy freshman guard from Arizona, is making a stellar postseason debut.
Wiese's career-high 26 points, which included six 3-pointers, against Middle Tennessee in Sunday's first round might just be a starting point.
On Tuesday night (ESPN2, 9:40 p.m. ET) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wiese is going to find out a little bit more about herself and her up-and-coming team. Oregon State faces a top-seeded South Carolina team that is fast, physical and intent on not letting Wiese hurt them on their quest to reach the Final Four.
"She is the key to me, she is the head of the snake," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "Somehow we have to get her out of the flow of doing what she wants to do."
Staley knows more than a little about being a point guard and didn't hesitate to approach Oregon State coach Scott Rueck when the teams arrived in town.
"I told their coach that it's a beautiful thing to have a great point guard," Staley said. "I assume he knew I was talking about his team. I certainly was talking about Sydney Wiese."
There's something so natural and instinctive about Wiese's game, qualities that suggest her basketball roots are deep.
Indeed, she spent many afternoons as a young child running around a high school basketball court with her brother while her father, Troy, coached high school basketball in the Phoenix area.
"During the summer, I would have them with me," said Troy Wiese, a sixth-grade teacher. "I would be running camps, and from the time they were, like, 2 years old, they would come and we would put on a video or something."
Sydney and her older brother spent those first years watching "James and the Giant Peach" on a loop. Until one day, Sydney wanted to play.
"She was in about second or third grade and she just wanted to see what was going on," Troy said.
It turned out to be much more than a passing curiosity. Sydney began sitting with her father as he watched games on television and video.
"I never tried to force-feed her," Troy said. "That's how you lose them."
There was not much chance of that. Sydney Wiese played with older kids in local leagues, and then AAU summer teams. The left-hander worked on her 3-point shot, ball handling and using her right hand.
"My dad always told me that I was going to have to work harder than everyone else," Wiese said, "and that he was going to have to be harder on me, and I took that to heart."
By her senior season, she was playing for her father at Pinnacle High and was named Arizona State Player of the Year, leading Pinnacle to the state title game.
Rueck said he knew Wiese was a perfect fit for his program and what they were trying to build in Corvallis -- talented, hard-working and the kind of kid who wanted to be part of a rebuild. He went to Arizona and said the meeting with the Wiese family was a "magical 45 minutes."
"My main pitch was, 'You can trust us. We are who we say we are,'" Rueck said. "I knew she was right for us, and I think they knew we were right for her."
Wiese said she responded to Rueck's "vision" for the Beavers program.
"I believed in it," Wiese said. "I believed that he would recruit the right people that could get the job done, and here we are. Hopefully, we are setting the foundation for the next three years of my career."
Rueck put the ball in Wiese's hands from the get-go, put her in charge of running his team's offense. She's gotten better and better as the season has progressed.
She now saves most of her freshman moments for off the court.
"I ask a lot of questions," Wiese said. "People get annoyed by me, but I'm just trying to figure things out."
In her first collegiate season, Wiese is Oregon State's leading scorer at 14.5 points a game. She has tallied 135 assists this season, third in the Pac-12 behind only Cal's Brittany Boyd and Stanford's Amber Orrange. She leads the Pac-12 (and ranks second in the nation) with 110 3-pointers on the season, 30 more than the second-closest shooter in the conference.
She needs just 11 points to set the school's freshman scoring record.
Wiese will play a huge role in whether the Beavers -- who have a variety of scoring options -- can knock off South Carolina.
As for that underdog label Wiese enjoys so much, it seems there might be an expiration date on that.
"I know, we are losing it already," Wiese said, laughing.
"Yeah, but then you can say that you did that," Rueck said.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UConn beat Notre Dame 79-58 to cap a 40-0 season to win it second consecutive NCAA title and record ninth championship overall.