Los Angeles • The Pac-12’s national profile took a major hit Thursday, but Oregon State’s may be on the rise.
The No. 9-seeded Beavers lost a double digit lead in the second half but fought back in the final minute to stun regular season champion Washington 86-84 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It sends Oregon State into the semifinal round of the conference tournament for the first time since 1988 and leaves the Huskies (21-10) on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“I think the Pac-12 [regular season] champion would find a place in the NCAA Tournament,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We certainly didn’t help ourselves.”
No regular season champion of one of the six power conferences has been denied an NCAA Tournament bid. But someone else will get the Pac-12’s automatic invitation, making Washington’s credentials iffy.
The Huskies nearly avoided the angst. Oregon State went up 16 points before halftime after the Huskies shot just 39 percent from the field in the first half.
Washington went on a 21-7 run, though and claimed a 55-54 lead with 12:04 remaining after Tony Wroten made a free throw.
Remember that, it will be important.
The Huskies lead grew to 66-58 before the Beavers battled back. Ahmad Starks made a 3-pointer with one minute remaing that pulled Oregon State within 83-82 and on Oregon State’s next possession, Jared Cunningham, who nearly notched a triple-double, circumnavigated Washington’s defense before dribbling into the paint and lobbing a shot. He made it and drew the foul.
“At the beginning of the play I was trying to find Ahmad for an open shot,” Cunningham said, “but the defense gave me the pick and roll and I attacked the rim as hard as I could.”
The day after Cunningham scored three points in Oregon State’s first-round win over Washington State, the junior finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Tony Wroten, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, had a number of opportunities to give Washington back the lead and Cunningham failed to put the game out of reach - both from the free throw line.
After making nine of his first 11 free throws, Wroten went 0-for-4 in the final minute, including a pair with nine seconds remaining that could have given the Huskies a one-point lead.
Wroten did not answer questions from the media following the game.
The win represented a massive turnaround for the Beavers, who went 0-18 in the then-Pac-10 in 2008. Now, they’re two wins away from an NCAA Tournament berth.
Washington can only wait.
Robinson would like to see both the Beavers and Huskies reach play in March Madness.
“I hope that they’re an NCAA team,” he said, “because we just beat an NCAA team, and we think we can be a good NCAA team.”