HOOPS: Beavs with a statement win over UCLA

IT CAN NO longer be denied. Oregon State is making a legitimate bid for the NCAA tournament. Saying that would have been absurd at the start of the season -- even a few weeks ago. But after the Beavs knocked off UCLA 66-55 to move to 15-3, their best start since the last OSU team to go dancing in 1990, there can no longer be any debate the Beavers are now at least in the Big Dance conversation.

Oregon State 13-5 (4-2 Pac-12) did it again with defense against the Bruins, holding UCLA to 30.6 percent shooting. But it's all the little things that are making the improbable Oregon State run a reality.

One of them is Olaf Schaftenaar's 3-point shooting. While most will focus on his trey late in the game, his 3-pointer towards the end of the first half was more important in the big picture.

There are certainly a few big men out there like Schaftenaar (6-10) who have the range for a spot-up three. But what you almost never see is a 6-10 guy take the pass in motion beyond the arc, rise up and can it all in one motion. That's more in the wheelhouse of sharpshooting guards and small forwards.

Yet there was Schaftenaar in motion beyond the arc with a catch and shoot, giving the Beavs a 29-17 lead with less than two minutes to play in the opening half (pictured above). He finished with 11 points, connecting on 3-5 treys.

Another thing to keep in mind: OSU has been without Victor Robbins for three straight games. He's their best player off a precariously thin bench -- OSU has only eight scholarship players after the exodus after last season before Wayne Tinkle was hired to replace Craig Robinson. Oregon State has leaned on a combination of walk ons to rest their starters with Robbins out, and it's worked.

Robbins is also the Beavs' third-leading scorer but losing him has barely slowed OSU down. Sure, it may yet still prove to be a dagger. He isn't eligible to return until Feb. 19 against Utah after another seven games -- but right now the Beavs are shouldering the adversity that's come with it, and then some.

And then there's Gary Payton II.

A junior guard and transfer from Salt Lake Community College, Payton was most talked about when he joined the program because of his famous last name. But Payton has been a revelation. His 2.9 steals per game are second in the nation. He also leads Oregon State with 11.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. And he was at it again vs. UCLA.

Payton scored 11-straight Oregon State points, including two consecutive steals and breakaway baskets -- the latter capped by a highlight dunk -- to give Oregon State a 24-15 lead with 3:06 left in the half. That lead would essentially hold most of the second half and Payton's 18 points and five steals were paramount because OSU needed every bot of that cushion.

You knew UCLA was going to make a run, they wouldn't be held to 19 points in the second half as they were in the first. It came after a 3-pointer by Langston Morris-Walker made it 47-30 with 9:28 remaining.

UCLA went on an 18-4 run, fueled in part by Beaver turnovers. And suddenly the Beavs were on the verge of rendering moot all the good work that had come before it, both in the game and on the season. It was 52-50 with 2:35 left. That's when Schaftenaar swished his 3-pointer. OSU played solid defense and hit their free throws from that point on and ended it.

It's telling that it's taken this long to mention sophomore guard Malcolm Duvivier in this article, such are the numerous storylines surrounding OSU's season. All Duvivier did in the win over UCLA was go 8-of-8 from the line in the closing 54 seconds, score a team-high 19 points while adding six rebounds and five assists before an appreciative crowd of 6,024.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Oregon State is tied for third in the conference standings behind Arizona and Utah (both 5-1). The Beavs have the exact same record as No. 25 Stanford (13-5, 4-2).

  • The Beavs were picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12 in the media poll at the start of the season.

  • Oregon State ranked 10th in the nation in field goal percentage defense at 36.6 percent before Thursday's game.

  • The Beavs' 13-5 record is their best since the 1989-90 team opened 15-3.

  • Oregon State plays host to USC on Saturday at 3 p.m. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

  • Oregon State is undefeated at home this season (and so are the No. 8/9 ranked OSU women's team at 12-0 [16-1, 6-0 Pac-12]).


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