HOOPS: Do or die from here on out for Beavs

THE TERM MUST-WIN is overused but there comes a point where it fits precisely, such as Wednesday for the Beavs in the Pac-10 Tournament. The next game that OSU loses will be its last of the basketball season.

The Beavs meet Stanford (15-15, 7-11 Pac-10) in the opening game of the tournament, matching the No. 8 and 9 seeds. (TV: FSN, 6 p.m.)

The two teams split in the regular season, Stanford winning 70-56 at home and OSU winning 87-80 at Gill Coliseum. If Oregon State comes out on on top Wednesday, the reward is a quick turnaround against No. 1 seed Arizona on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

The Beavs, losers of 10 of their last 12, are coming off a regular season finale where Craig Robinson suspended five or seven players, depending on which media source you read, for a curfew violation, including three starters -- sophomore guard Jared Cunningham, who leads OSU with 13.6 points per game, freshman forward Devon Collier and freshman guard Ahmad Starks.

OSU will be back at full strength and, given the way the benched players enthusiastically supported their teammates during the regular season ending loss to Arizona State, the Beavs figure to come out with purpose. Robinson said the incident and its aftermath has had a galvanizing effect on the Beavs.

The key in deciding the game last time OSU and Stanford hooked up was Oregon State switching to a man-to-man defense.

And the guess here is that OSU will beat Stanford on Wednesday, that they're going to come in hungriest, though it's certainly possible they'll be so keyed up they could also wind up digging an early hole that's hard to climb out of, (please refer to the bulk of the 2010-11 season.)

If OSU beats Stanford, the road only gets harder. Not only would they face the conference champion on short turnaround, history shows that no team seeded below No. 6 has ever won the Pac-10 tourney. To do so means winning four games in four days, a tall order for anyone.

Guard Roberto Nelson, who had a career-high 34 points against the Sun Devils, might have earned a starting spot against Stanford. But the Beavs need defense most of all if they're to advance.

A staple in Robinson's first two seasons, OSU's defense has taken a tumble, allowing 72.8 ppg this season, the worst in the Pac-10.

And OSU was last or next-to-last in multiple Pac-10 stat categories this season, including field goal percentage defense, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and assists.

ADD IT ALL up and Oregon State (10-19, 5-13) has had a disappointing season, some would say bitterly so -- the Beavs, barring a miracle run, will finish less wins overall and in-conference than in Robinson's first two years (2010: 14-18, 8-10; 2009: 18-18, 8-11) at the OSU helm.

Beyond the records or any of the stats, OSU showed wild inconsistency this season, and that's what probably feels the worst for Beaver fans this year -- that Oregon State could have been, should have been, far better. The Beavs beat Arizona and Washington, and should have beat UCLA, surrendering the last seven points to the Bruins in a 62-57 loss in January.

But OSU also lost to the likes of Seattle, Texas Southern and Utah Valley.

The Beavs ran a lot more this year, and maybe this was a year of transition. Maybe the Beavs will, next season, click on all cylinders earlier on in games. Maybe they won't fall behind by huge margins, then scuffle all the way back, only to ultimately fall short in the end.


And maybe fans get a sneak preview of the 2011-12 season via Wednesday's game against Stanford. The Beavs have plenty of motivation headed in. What they do with it all could speak volumes in looking forward.

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