CORVALLIS — A fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance was a given for the Oregon State women’s basketball team.
The only real drama for the Beavers during Monday's NCAA Women's Selection Show was where they would be sent.
The Beavers (23-7) will open March Madness on the road as the No. 6 seed in the Lexington (Kentucky) Region against No. 11 seed Western Kentucky (24-8) in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tipoff is scheduled for noon Friday (ESPN2).
OSU, which tied for third in the Pac-12, is 7-4 on the road this season and 2-1 in neutral-site games.
“We haven’t had the best reputation playing away this year, but we’re capable of it,” OSU junior guard Katie McWilliams said Monday after the 64-team field was announced. “We’ve had a few good road wins this year and so we’ve just gotta prepare as well as we can."
Last year OSU reached the Sweet 16 after winning first and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Gill Coliseum, and the Beavers followed a similar path in 2016 by winning two home games en route to the school’s first Final Four appearance.
If the Beavers get past Western Kentucky, they would play a second-round game Sunday against the winner of No. 3 seed Tennessee vs. No.14 seed Liberty.
An OSU-Tennessee game would be a reunion of sorts for McWilliams and Tennessee freshman guard Evina Westbrook, who were teammates on South Salem’s 2015 state championship team.
“Evina’s a great player and she’s had a great season there,” McWilliams said. “It would be really exciting matching up against her as well as the two other Oregon girls, Jaime (Nared) and Mercedes (Russell). We’ll see what happens, but that could be a pretty awesome matchup.”
Nared is a senior guard/forward from Westview High School, and Russell is a senior center from Springfield.
A potential marquee second-round game against an extremely athletic Tennessee team playing on its home court would be a daunting challenge for the Beavers, who rely on 3-point shooting, strong rebounding and defense. OSU does not have a true point guard and has been susceptible to teams that play a pressing, up-tempo style.
If the Beavers make it to the Sweet 16 in Lexington, they likely would face No. 2 seed Baylor. Louisville is the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Region.
McWilliams, senior center Marie Gulich, a first-team all-Pac-12 selection, and junior guard Taylor Kalmer are the only players on OSU’s roster from the Final Four team.
Among OSU’s starting five, McWilliams, Gulich, and sophomore guards Mikayla Pivec and Kat Tudor have NCAA Tournament experience.
“We’ve all had some experience playing in the NCAA Tournament, that’s big for us,” McWilliams said. “Our young players don’t know exactly what it takes, but we’re gonna be leading them along the way.”