On Feb. 18, the Oregon State women’s basketball team defeated then-No. 2 Oregon 67-62 in front of a capacity crowd of 9,301 at Gill Coliseum as countless more enjoyed the nationally televised Pac-12 contest from the comfort of their own couches.
But there was once a time when Beavers head coach Scott Rueck had to fight to get fans in the door.
The season before Rueck took over in 2010, OSU averaged 1,166 fans and won just two conference games. The Beavers have since worked their way onto the national stage with six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a spot in the Elite Eight in 2018 and the Final Four in 2016.
On Saturday, 5,089 orange-clad fans filled Gill Coliseum as fourth-seeded Oregon State prevailed for an 80-75 overtime victory against Boise State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
And Rueck hopes even more will return for the Beavers’ second-round matchup against Gonzaga at 7 p.m. MT on Monday.
“I always joke, I know we’ve got the women’s basketball fans, and we’re going to do great things for them,” Rueck said. “But I want the football fan. I want the men’s basketball fan that maybe never has given us a chance on the women’s side.
“Just give us a shot, and be careful, because you’re going to get hooked.”
While there are some sports fans who still believe the women’s game isn’t as exciting as the men’s game, dynamic ballhandlers like Oregon State redshirt sophomore Destiny Slocum are winning over skeptics at an impressive rate.
“I think it’s our job to change their minds, and if we never do, that’s their fault,” Slocum said. “They’re missing out on a great game. … We had the platform on ESPN to play our Civil War game (against Oregon). Anybody who watched that, I don’t know how you can’t be a fan of women’s basketball.
“We’re doing our thing. We’re out here, and if you don’t want to give us credit, then there’s not much we can do but keep playing and keep trying to change their minds.”
Slocum, an Idaho native and Mountain View High graduate, was the WBCA National Freshman of the Year in 2017 at Maryland. She then sat out last season after transferring to Oregon State but has picked up right where she left off with averages of 16.0 points and 4.6 assists per game this season for the Beavers.
“She’s so energized and just excited and happy and always has a positive mindset,” Oregon State senior Katie McWilliams said of Slocum. “I think that’s something that we needed on this team, just someone that would boost the mood a little bit.”
For four years, Slocum dazzled Idaho high school basketball fans with her behind-the-back passes and ankle-breaking crossovers. She garnered 5A Southern Idaho Conference Player of the Year honors in her varsity debut as a freshman and eventually won two 5A state championships. Slocum wrapped up her prep career as a McDonald’s All-American and a two-time Idaho Gatorade Player of the Year.
Now she’s entertaining fans at the national level, and doing her best to blaze a path for the little girls dreaming of being in her place one day.
“It’s an exciting time for women’s basketball,” Rueck said. “I think anybody that gives it a moment, gives it a chance, is going to see that.”