LOS ANGELES -- The Oregon State Beavers finished the regular season No. 9 in the Pac-12 Conference. Before two victories against the two conference newcomers to end the season, they'd lost five in a row.
Oh, how things have changed.
The Arizona Wildcats now have a Beavers team on a four-game winning streak standing in their way of the conference championship game, and it's no doubt that OSU is the hottest team in the league after beating the No. 1 seeded Washington Huskies on Thursday.
Never was head coach Craig Robinson in doubt of his team's potential.
It shined in the Beavs' 86-84 win against Washington.
"These two days have shown it, but I've always believed it," Robinson said after the victory over UW. " I can keep some perspective in this game, because I'm a bit older than these guys. Hard work always pays off. It could not have paid for us right now, but I saw the hard work. It was going to pay off at some time."
Arizona knows the basketball gods have done no favors in sending Oregon State to the semi-finals rather than the Huskies. The Beavers are on equal ground with UW as far as their athleticism is concerned.Even with star guard Jared Cunningham struggling through the first two wins of the Pac-12 tourney, other players are stepping up. Whether it be diminutive sparkplug in Ahmad Starks, rebounding machine and stretch-armed Eric Moreland, or beefy Joe Burton playing like a point guard, the talent is vast and deep on the Beavers.
" I think when we played them, I was guarding Angus Brandt or something," UA guard Nick Johnson said. "I was guarding a 6-10 guy. They have that. We've got to control the boards. They also have some pretty good scorers, we have to lock them down."
The Beavers have pieces, but only recently have them come together. In two games, they're started hot against the Washington schools. And each time, they've been faced with a run that they've countered with brilliant execution down the stretch.
That means Arizona's resolve will be tested for all 40 minutes.
The Wildcats had just that against UCLA, when the Bruins put their own run on Sean Miller's crew.
The head coach said after the win that the postseason is all about players stepping up, and it's become clear through the past two years he takes the reins off his regular season restrictions and allows his best players to win or lose the game.
After that UCLA push on Thursday, he challenged his team with motivational tactics rather than Xs and Os. They responded to pull out the 66-58 victory.
"We knew they were going on a run," said guard Kyle Fogg, who will likely be charged with keeping Cunningham in check. "He jsut had to get back to our roots defensively and play our style of basketball. I think we strayed from that a little bit."
After the OSU win and before UCLA and Arizona played, Robinson had this to say on what he thought of the potential opponents: ** Points to TV screen in media room**
"Do we play the winner of this game? See, that shows you I really wasn't paying attention. That's UCLA and Arizona. Both teams are very good.
"We're so excited to be playing in the semis, that it doesn't matter who we play. But seeing how we only played Arizona once and -- oh, we only played UCLA once. That's odd. I was going to say the team we played once we'd have a better advantage over, so there you have it.""
Nick Johnson on his four blocks (two incredible ones on a single play to stop a fastbreak) in the win over UCLA: "I think it's just natural. I mean, I had the right opportunities tonight and I just took them and made a play."
Johnson on missing the opportunity to get revenge on Washington: "I really wanted Washington just because they did get us twice, they struck us in the regular season. We're working on some stuff that we could have used against them. The way we handled the offensive glass, I know I was looking forward to that challenge."