By a quirk of schedule, Oregon State University freshman Mikayla Pivec has yet to play her first college basketball game in Seattle.
But that will change this week when the Pacific-12 Conference women’s tournament moves into Seattle’s KeyArena, beginning Thursday and continuing through Sunday’s championship game.
Pivec, a 2016 graduate of Lynnwood High School, has started 21 of 30 games for the Beavers this season, and has helped the team to a shiny 27-3 overall record. Oregon State is 16-2 in conference games, good enough for sole possession of first place at the end of the regular season.
It gives Pivec and her OSU teammates great hopes heading into this week’s event.
“I definitely consider (Seattle) my hometown, so (winning the Pac-12 tournament) would be special,” said Pivec, speaking by telephone from Corvallis, Ore., last week. “It’s one of the reasons that I came to Oregon State. I believed the team could be successful in the years to come.
“Winning the Pac-12 tournament in front of my family and friends would be an amazing experience to celebrate.”
In her years at Lynnwood, Pivec blossomed into one of the best female high school basketball players in Snohomish County history with her scoring and her all-around court savvy. The Royals were pretty good in that stretch too, winning a state Class 3A championship in the 2014-15 season, and coming close to a repeat title a year ago.
Widely recruited, Pivec settled on Oregon State, which has emerged as a college power in recent seasons under seventh-year head coach Scott Rueck. He was unavailable for comment last week.
“I’m really enjoying it here,” Pivec said. “At first it was hard being away from my family and with the distance (from home), but as time goes on I’m getting more used to being on my own.”
What makes Oregon State special, she went on, “is just the people surrounding you and how much you’re supported by your teammates and the coaching staff. We’re all focused on one goal and that’s to help the team be successful.”
Pivec, a 5-foot-10 guard, played as a reserve in OSU’s first nine games this season, but then was moved to the starting lineup during a pre-Christmas tournament in Las Vegas. She has remained a starter ever since, playing over 21 minutes a game while averaging 6.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. Five times (including ties) she has led the Beavers in scoring, with a high of 19 points against California back in early January.
The biggest difference from high school basketball to the college game is “probably just the speed,” Pivec said. “It’s definitely a lot faster. The players are bigger, faster and stronger, and transition buckets are so important to the team. You try to get out and push (the ball) as much as possible.”
The other big difference “is how much more defense is played in college. There’s a real emphasis on that end of the floor.
“I knew the college level would be different. But I think it’s a good challenge to play against better players. Everybody that’s playing here is talented and has a special skill set.”
When the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011 by adding Colorado and Utah, it was no longer possible for basketball teams to play every other school in a home-and-away format each season. Under the new format, teams play some opponents twice, but others just once, and this season Oregon State faced Washington only one time. That game was in Corvallis, meaning no homecoming game as yet for Pivec.
Until this week, that is.
With the Pac-12 tournament just days away, “I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to playing basketball in front of the great, supportive community there, and I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends.”