After four years spent patiently rebuilding Oregon State's program from its foundations, Coach Craig Robinson is two wins away from forcing President Barack Obama to predict his brother-in-law's fortunes in his NCAA Tournament bracket.
Robinson's Beavers finally made their breakthrough Thursday, surviving missed free throws, blown leads and a spine-chilling finish to outlast top-seeded Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals in Los Angeles.
Jared Cunningham hit a go-ahead layup with 31.8 seconds left, and ninth-seeded Oregon State blew a 15-point lead in the second half before rallying for an 86-84 victory over the two-time defending tournament champion Huskies. The Beavers will play fourth seed Arizona in the semifinals on Friday.
"We have a very emotional team for a lot of reasons," Robinson said after fighting to contain the Beavers' locker-room glee with another tournament game looming in 24 hours. "But I know that I could not be more proud of a team, and have not been prouder of a team, than I am of this team. We have fought hard and lost our share of games by five points and under, and it's not due to these guys' lack of hard work."
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Indeed, the Beavers needed hard work to win two conference tournament games for the first time in school history, but they also needed a little luck.
Cunningham scored 18 points and hit two free throws with 6.2 seconds to play despite missing five additional free throws in the final 31.8 seconds. Devon Collier had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Beavers (19-13), who outlasted the league regular-season champion Huskies only because Tony Wroten, Washington's freshman star, couldn't hit four late free throws of his own.
"That stretch at the end was nail-biting," said Cunningham, the Pac-12 scoring leader entering the tournament. "We've been together from the start. We're a close-knit group, and we just love each other and want each other to do well."
Oregon State's 48-33 lead in the second half turned into an eight-point deficit in less than 11 minutes. Washington then blew a six-point lead in the final 2½ minutes despite Cunningham's misses at the free-throw line.
Wroten had a career-high 29 points in the highest-scoring performance by a Washington freshman, but the Pac-12's top rookie clanked two free throws with 18.3 seconds left and two more with 8.7 seconds to play.
Wroten didn't want to talk about it afterward in the Huskies' somber locker room, politely ignoring questions while scrolling through messages on his phone.
"Tony is feeling really down right now, but he's a great player and he has a short memory," said C.J. Wilcox, who scored 16 points. "He played excellent for his first tournament."
Terrence Ross scored 15 points for the Huskies (21-10), who might be consigned to the NIT after this upset loss as the top team in a league widely perceived as weak. Washington had won 16 of 20 to claim the Pac-12 title, but the Huskies realize they could be in trouble on Selection Sunday.
No. 3 Kansas 83, Texas A&M 66: Elijah Johnson hit five three-pointers and scored a career-high 26 points, complementing another strong effort by Thomas Robinson and helping Kansas (27-5) to a rout of Texas A&M (14-18) as it pursues a third straight Big 12 Tournament title. Robinson had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Tyshawn Taylor added 16 points for Kansas, which will play No. 12 Baylor in the semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday.
No. 5 Missouri 88, Oklahoma State 70: Kim English scored 27 points and led a 26-5 first-half run, and Missouri (28-4) swamped Oklahoma State (15-18) in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Marcus Denmon added 24 points, and Phil Pressey had 12 assists, one short of Missouri's school record. The Tigers also outrebounded the Cowboys 40-20. In the semifinals Friday, Missouri will play the Texas-Iowa State winner.
No. 12 Baylor 82, Kansas State 74: Perry Jones III scored a career-high 31 points, and Baylor (26-6) cruised to a victory over Kansas State (21-10) in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. The 6-foot-11 sophomore made all eight of his shots in the first half and finished with 11 rebounds. "I guess I was just in the zone today," Jones said.
No. 15 Indiana 75, Penn State 58: Jordan Hulls scored 20 points and Cody Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana (25-7), which ended a six-game losing streak in the Big Ten Tournament. Tim Frazier had 26 points for Penn State (12-20), which was held to 28.6-percent shooting in the second half.
If the Hoosiers can beat No. 14 Wisconsin, the tourney's No. 4 seed, in Friday's quarterfinals in Indianapolis, Indiana will have its most wins since the 1992-93 team won 31 games, the Big Ten regular-season crown and came within one victory of reaching the Final Four.
No 18 San Diego St. 65, Boise St. 62: Conference player of the year Jamaal Franklin's off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer gave top-seeded San Diego State (25-6) a victory over Boise State (13-17) in the Mountain West Conference Tournament opener in Las Vegas. San Diego State led by 11 with 6:43 to play and then squandered an eight-point lead in the final three minutes.
WKU fires Cowley
Western Kentucky has fired Mary Taylor Cowles as women's basketball coach after a disappointing 9-21 season.
The university announced the decision on Thursday.
Cowles had coached the Lady Toppers for 10 years and started with six straight seasons of at least 20 wins before managing just one over the last four years — declining from 21 wins in 2009-10 to 15 in 2010-11 before this year's flop.
Western Kentucky athletic director Ross Bjork says he's looking to restore confidence, public support and energy back into the basketball program and that he'll begin the process of finding a new coach immediately.
Cowles, a Western Kentucky graduate who played at the school from 1987-91, was a three-time Sun Belt conference coach of the year. She finishes with a 199-119 mark.