CORVALLIS – When Oregon State's Katie McWilliams scored 29 points in the 2016-17 season opener, it looked like she might become a major offensive threat for a team coming off its first Final Four appearance.
McWilliams was on fire against Lamar, hitting 7-of-8 3-pointers in a lopsided victory. But that game was an aberration.
According to head coach Scott Rueck, McWilliams is “by nature a facilitator” and that has been her primary role for the Pac-12 champion Beavers (29-4), who open NCAA tournament play Friday against Long Beach State (23-10) at Gill Coliseum as the No. 2 seed in the Stockton (California) Region.
"She's a coach's kid that personality-wise, doesn't necessarily want the attention. Doesn't look for that," Rueck said. "And scoring tends to get the attention. She just wants to win.
"If you look at Katie’s history, all she’s done is win her entire life no matter what her role is."
A 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from South Salem High School, McWilliams is averaging 4.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21.4 minutes per game.
Other than the Lamar game, McWilliams has scored in double figures in just one other game this season. But she provides intangibles that don't always show up in the box score.
“I did expect to score more (this season), I think,” McWilliams said before Thursday’s practice. “It just never really came with the way the offense played. I’ve got two more years to score more in games.”
Not that it's a priority for McWilliams, who has always put team goals ahead of individual accomplishments.
“I mean, we’re winning games and that’s what’s most important,” she said. “We’ve having fun as well.”
Rueck noted that McWilliams' most significant improvement from her freshman season has been on the defensive end. With her quickness and long arms, she can guard several different positions.
She's also versatile enough offensively to play three positions, and does the majority of her scoring on jumpers from the wings and corners. Although McWilliams didn’t play point guard in high school, she moved into that role last season for the Beavers when Sydney Wiese missed eight games with a broken hand.
“She’s very gifted,” said Wiese, a four-time all-Pac-12 selection and ESPNW All-American this season. “(Senior guard) Gabby (Hanson) and I were actually talking about it yesterday, how we think she’s the best passer on the team. … She throws lasers.”
It seems fitting that McWilliams would end up playing at OSU.
McWilliams attended OSU women’s basketball games “as a little girl” with her dad, Nick, who is the girls basketball coach at South Salem. Katie played four years for her dad in high school.
“I always kept my options open, but in the back of my head I was always Oregon State,” said McWilliams, a two-time first-team all-state selection.
She is on a magical four-year run when it comes to hoops success.
Three years ago as a junior at South Salem the Saxons placed fourth in the Class 6A state tournament. Her senior year McWilliams was named 6A Player of the Year and South Salem won the state championship.
College has brought more team success with last season’s historic run to the Final Four, followed by another conference crown.
“It’s such a blessing to be on such amazing teams, amazing people,” said McWilliams, a kinesiology major. “To go so far, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of, winning a state championship, getting to the Final Four. The next step would be winning a national championship.”
UConn, riding a NCAA-record 107-game winning streak, is favored to win a fifth consecutive national title. McWilliams scored nine points in last year’s Final Four loss to UConn, hitting 3-of-3 on 3-pointers.
After starting the first nine games this season, McWilliams has been coming off the bench since mid-December as a key rotation player. She did not play in the Pac-12 tournament due to an undisclosed ailment – OSU lost to Stanford on March 5 in the championship game - but is ready to go for March Madness.
With the departure of Wiese and Hanson, McWilliams figures to be a full-time starter next season.
“Either way, just when I get on the court I’m gonna be ready to go,” she said. “I’ve had the same mentality pretty much all year. Just going in there, impacting any way I can.”
If the Beavers defeat No. 15 seed Long Beach State, they would play the winner of Friday’s second opening-round game in Corvallis between No. 7 seed Creighton (23-7) and No. 10 seed Toledo (25-8) on Sunday at a time to be determined. OSU is making its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
A rematch against UConn would only happen if both teams reach the national championship game.
“That would be something,” McWilliams said with a smile, adding “let’s go game by game here.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, or Twitter.com/ghorowitz