For all the signs of progress since Craig Robinson took over the OSU helm in April 2008, two had eluded them. A win over Washington. A win over a Top 25 team.
Oregon State got both on Thursday night.
It was OSU's first win over UW in the last nine tries -- since Feb. 22, 2007 -- and the Beavers' first victory over a Top 25 team since 2006.
Before looking at the opportunity that awaits the Beavs on Saturday, a little more time needs to be spent on a win that maybe, finally, might be a true harbinger of what's to come.
BECAUSE OSU HAS been here before. Robinson has guided them to more than a few shocker-type upset wins -- even a postseason tournament run where they took the CBI title.
But for every step up, Oregon State has always gone on a backslide. Good wins were followed up by painful losses, some to teams not even in D-IA. And sometimes the Beavs didn't even wait for the next game, they just went AWOL in the second half. Oregon State trailed 40-39 at the half in the first meeting against the Huskies on Jan. 8. They ended up losing by 31 points.
There would be no such freefall this time. Not when Oregon State outrebounded Washington 47-32. The 47 boards were a season high for the Beavers.
When Washington tried to run, the Beavers cut them off. When UW tried to play physical, OSU gave it right back, and then a little bit more.
Washington was held to 32.3 percent from the floor. OSU forced 13 Washington turnovers.
AND IT WASN'T as if UW didn't have a lot to play for -- they were clinging to the Pac-10 lead, they were spitting mad having dropped the prior game to WSU and with it, two spots in the polls. And they were making their latest attempt to shake the persistent label that's dogged them the last few years.
A team that can't win on the road.
But the Beavers were the ones who played with more fire. The Beavers were the ones who were quicker on defense, getting there in time to bother a UW shot, or force the shooter to pull his attempt down.
Meanwhile, Oregon State went to the free throw line -- a lot -- as a result of their aggressive play on offense, 38 times to be exact. Had they shot a little better from the charity stripe, they missed 14, the game would have been over earlier.
But over it was eventually, and OSU moves onto the next challenge -- WSU. And the Cougs might look familiar to the Beavs, they might see a little of themselves in Wazzu. Because they've been more than a little Jekyll and Hyde themselves as of late.
WSU KNOCKED OFF then-No. 18 UW this past Sunday and all must have seemed right in Cougarville.
They went to Oregon on Thursday expecting a solid win, and proceeded to put forth all the effort of a broken down feather-duster.
WSU shot a horrid 25.9 percent for the floor and managed only 43 points against the Ducks, losing by 26 in a game that was never close.
Even with the loss, the Cougs are 15-7, 5-5. And Oregon State improved its mark to 9-12, 4-6 with the win over UW. Forty-eight hours ago, not many would have liked the Beavs' chances.
But WSU suddenly looks to be a team in turmoil and when that happens to a basketball squad, they're less resilient to adversity.
If OSU can put the pressure on early, if a few calls go in their favor, if Oregon State plays tough defense and/or hits their shots early, the guess here is the Cougars will fold early.
If not, the longer it stays competitive, the better WSU's chances to right the ship. But this is an opportunity for Oregon State to find some consistency. To take a solid win and build on it, not backslide.
It's a big opportunity, one to not let get away.
For those not going to Gill, Washington State at Oregon State. 5 p.m. Saturday. TV: FSN.
HOOPS: Huge opportunity awaits Beavs
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