"Please don't tell me this is true......Not Kobe."
That is how I found out Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles. I was standing outside the Oregon State Women's basketball locker room in Gill Coliseum waiting for my pregame radio interview with Beaver head coach Scott Rueck about 45 minutes before tipoff. I was waiting checking out Twitter when I saw the above tweet from CJ McCollum.
Quickly, I scanned other sites and there it was: TMZ Sports saying Kobe Bryant is dead at the age of 41. Scott Rueck then appeared at the door and it was time for the interview. Scott didn't know and I was the one to tell him. We were both in shock and as we reacted, some of the players who were heading upstairs for pregame warmups had heard, and they were visibly upset.
After the interview, I scrambled to my position on the court to edit the pregame interview, but stopped in my tracks. Both the Beavers and Duck players were at center court in a circle praying together. I then reflected: This will be a day none of us will ever forget.
The pregame included a moment of silence. When it was announced that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash, there were an audible gasps from the packed house at Gill from those who had not yet heard. Despite the fact, there were a lot of folks were wondering if they should they play the game, at all. I am glad they did. Celebrating such an incredible player's life by playing the game he loved so much was a fitting tribute, even though shock still permeated the air in Corvallis and everywhere a basketball game was going on.
The game was tremendous. The crowd was frenzied.
The Beavers had an impressive first half and showed the Ducks they can hang with them. The Beavers were in no mood to end their nine-game home winning streak over their rival and they led 37-34 at halftime. But the second half, and the game would go the Ducks way. The difference was their size and length inside. Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally were fierce and showed their experience against the Beavers talented Freshman bigs. Also, Oregon State got uncomfortable on the offensive end and Oregon won this one 66-57. Their lowest offensive output of the season for Oregon State, they were swept by Oregon for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
One thing I really admire about Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck is the fact that win or lose, he walks right over to me and conducts his postgame interview on the court just minutes after the horn sounds ending the game. This Civil War Sunday was no different. I asked Scott why he thought Oregon was able to edge his Beavers and he said it came down to the third quarter:
"When we got stops at the other end, and we did, they got the rebound. I thought that was a bigger story than our offensive woes. It was their offensive rebounds. We had such a hard time getting the ball at that end and that is something we've got to get better at. We also need to get better at our offensive efficiency, but offensive boards were the story in this one."
Coach Rueck also reacted to the Kobe Bryant tragedy and how his team reacted to the shocking news:
"For these kids, Kobe was to them what Michael Jordan was for me. To imagine that happening to someone you have looked up to, you've watched, you've probably emulated your game after, at least the way you compete; to lose somebody like that, it hurts, its devastating."
So the Beavers drop to 16-4 on the season and 4-4 in conference play. I heard some folks afterwards wondering about the rest of the season. One thing is indisputable: The Beavers have played three games against Top Five teams in the past eight days. I call it a gauntlet. I believe it will make them better and will get them battled-tested for the Pac-12 and NCAA tournament in March. Coach Rueck said:
"I would like to have somebody dispute this when I say it. We are playing the toughest Pac-12 schedule anyone has ever been handed, this team this year.
We just went through a stretch playing Stanford, Oregon and Oregon back to back and playing three of the four games against ranked teams on their home floor."
Even though the schedule is daunting, Rueck believes the pain now will help come March:
"We gotta keep getting better, keep your heads up.We did a lot of good things this weekend, we competed. The fierceness. I heard a different huddle today that I have been waiting to hear. This team is starting to own this season and there is a lot of basketball to be played. But, we gotta get better."
No doubt, there is a ton of disappointment over the sweep by Oregon. And due to that tough schedule, they have one fewer day than normal to prepare for Colorado Thursday at 5:pm pacific time in Boulder. The Buffaloes lost to Oregon State 72-60 a couple of weeks ago. They will be ready for payback Thursday.
Now, we see how the Beavers react to the tough stretch. We will also spend the next few days mourning the death of those people who lost their lives in that helipcopter. I never really knew Kobe Bryant, but I was a part of many scrums with other reporters after Laker games, in Seattle and Portland. It is awful what happened and I was so proud the way everyone at Sunday's Civil War handled a horrific situation, and responded with a tremendous effort on and off the court.
Driving home from Corvallis yesterday afternoon after the game I received a text from a longtime colleague who has covered the Beavers for over a decade. She said," Dude, what a sh#$%ty day." Yah, I guess that sums it up.