After two tough road games in which the Beavers attempted a combined 108 field goals-- sinking 45-- the difference between an 0-2 record and a 2-0 record could be as small as two more made baskets, one in each game.
That's the frustrating part. And that's why this Pac-10 season is going to be so challenging.
Everyone, for the most part, is near or on the same level. Unlike previous years, this conference isn't stacked full of peaking NBA draft prospects. There's no James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph, Jon Brockman, Chase Budinger, Taj Gibson, Demar DeRozen, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, or Jordan Hill. They're gone.
It's not that the Pac-10 doesn't have talent this year, it seems that everyone is playing on the most level playing field we've seen in years. Sure, Cal and Washington seem to be a cut above the rest, but it's clear that they're going to face tough challenges this year. After the first weekend of play, two teams who found themselves in the bottom half of the Pac-10 Media Poll now lead the conference-- Oregon and USC.
"There are really no easy games, especially when you're in the position that we're in, trying to turn some things around," Coach Robinson said following the loss to Washington State. "There aren't going to be games that you can check off as automatic wins. You have to play hard, continue to execute, and hopefully win the games you're supposed to win."
If this road trip told us one thing, it's that the Beavers are near the point, if not there yet, where they can be competitive every night. It seems that no longer are we going to see 30-point blowouts in which the Beavers don't give themselves a chance. Sure, part of that is due to the overall strength of the conference, but part of that is also because the Beavers are doing exactly what Coach Robinson said-- turning things around.
Many people, including the natinoal media, have passed over Oregon State this season because of the "inconsistency" in non-conference play. They see losses to teams like Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Illinois-Chicago, and Sacramento State (a game I attended), and call this season a disappointment.
After a 6-7 start, I'm not ready to call it a disappointment yet. Even in the Sacramento State game, when the Beavers trailed 44-22 at halftime after the Hornets shot over 60-percent from the three-point line in the first haf, the Beavers rallied all the way back to gives themselves a chance to win. It didn't work out the way the Beavers wanted, but again-- that's a game that could have had a different outcome had one or two more shots fell through the rim for the Beavers.
More after the jump.
--Jake | (email@example.com)
No longer is this a team that is sunk once a four or five point margin becomes ten. With the defensive presence the team is developing, opportunities to get back into game come around with patience, and sticking to the game plan.
"I was really pleased with the way our guys stuck with what we do and slowly chipped away and waited for them to make mistakes, then capitalize on them," Coach Robinson said of the WSU loss. "We came up a little bit short."
Against Washington, is was the same kind of deal: "If we want to be the team that we want to be, which is competing for championships and competing in the top part of this league, you have to finish games like this, and you have to make the plays."
The Beavers are developing an identity in this conference. No longer are they the doormat that gets chalked up as an easy victory in coaching offices around the league. They're a team that is developing toughness, that has the ability to play great zone defense, and shut teams down to the point that they can be in a game in the waning minutes.
Last year, the Beavers shocked everyone by going 7-11 in conference play, after setting out to hopefully win just one of those games. Some of that was due to the confidence that Coach Robinson injected into the locker room. Some of it was due to good fortune.
Exceeding expectations like the Beavers did last season is one thing. But achieving goals year-in and year-out, that's another.
Finish. Execution. Patience.
Those are probably words you're going to hear a lot this year, as the Beavers look to become a team that makes every game a dogfight, and comes out on top.
The pieces are there.
--Jake | (firstname.lastname@example.org)