Oregon State wrapped up their regular season by escaping from Pauley Pavilion with a very rare thing - a Beaver conference road win, something they've only done twice this year, and 3 times since coach Wayne Tinkle arrived, and a win at Pauley, something they couldn't accomplish the last 11 trips there, and a 9th conference win, for the first time since 1993. And just maybe, a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Fittingly, GP II sealed the deal with a steal, and then a signature slam dunk for the 86-82 win.
But it wasn't easy, as Oregon State blew an 11 point first half lead, only to build another 7 point lead, which they also blew by halftime. And then in the second half, the Beavers had to come from behind to open a 16 point lead with 5 1/2 minutes left, only to blow all but 1 point of that advantage. This against a UCLA team that had nothing but pride to play for, as the Bruins were locked into the 10th seed in next week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas regardless of anything that happened today, and have to win the tournament to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
The Beavers came out red hot, and specifically Olaf Schaftenaar, who hit 3 straight 3s, which, with another 3 by Langston Morris-Walker, set the stage for Gary Patron II's basket that opened that early 11 point lead, pushing Oregon State out to a 19-8 lead barely more than 6 minutes into the game, forcing UCLA coach Steve Alford into an early timeout.
That changed everything, as UCLA responded with an 11-0 run that reset the game, as Oregon State went 7 minutes without scoring, until there were under 7 minutes left in the half.
The Beavers promptly ran off 7 straight points (7 was a very big number in the first half), but the Bruins also had an 8-0 run in them, which, included Isaac Hamilton becoming the first player since Kevin Love to hit double digits in all 18 conference games in a season.
Bryce Alford actually pushed UCLA ahead, only to have GP II, who had to set a significant amount of first half time (and would again in the second half), tie it at the break at 31 apiece.
Tony Parker got the second half going by putting the Bruins ahead, but Stephen Thompson Jr. and Schaftenaar, above, sank 3s to cap the 12-0 run that the Beavers answered with.
Thompson, who went scoreless in the first half, absolutely exploded in the second half, and hit back to back baskets that saw Oregon State hit 7 of 8 shots to open the largest lead of the game to that point, going up 53-40 with 11:24 to go.
Had it not been for 3 consecutive baskets by Thomas Welch, UCLA might have been run out of the building, or at least given up.
But then GP II was handed his 4th foul, for standing in front of Noah Allen while he missed a 3 point shot.
Allen made 3 free throws for his only points of the game, while Payton sat down.
To compensate, Parker was whistled for his 3rd foul seconds later for standing in the vicinity of someone who slipped, and that would become important later, when he got his 4th foul with still over 4 1/2 minutes to go.
The Beavers battled back despite being without Payton, this with them already playing without Tres Tinkle, who broke something in his foot in practice Tuesday, and reopened a 13 point lead midway in the second half on a basket by Jarmal Reid.
Indeed, they opened that largest lead, 16 points, on a pair of Schaftenaar free throws, with Payton looking on.
The lead was still larger than it was when he had exited when Payton returned with 4 1/2 minutes to go, having sat for 6:23, but it was only a 10 point lead, due to back to back unguarded 3s by B. Alford.
It looked like Oregon State was on their way when Drew Eubanks recorded a block and then Thompson drilled a 3 for a 73-58 lead.
But the Beavers proceeded to miss 4 free throws in a row, and the Buins cut the lead to 7 on 3 different occasions.
In the middle of all that was one of the weirder sequences of the day. B. Alford banged Malcolm Duvivier on the shoulder with his jaw, and went to the floor. It initially looked like an acting job, but B. Alford left for the locker room, and would never have left the end of a game were it not for a real injury.
Duvivier missed both free throws, but was assessed a flagrant 1, and Aaron Holliday, shooting in place of the injured Alford, sank both, and that produced one of those 7 point differentials.
Derrick Bruce was a factor for Oregon State in the absence of T. Tinkle as well as Thompson, and participated in a turnaround at the free throw line that was instrumental in saving the day, as the Beavers proceeded to sink 8 free throws in a row, and 9 of their next 10, as the Bruins employed "hack a Beav" to prolong the game.
It almost worked, as without B. Alford, Holliday hit 3 straight shots, 2 of them 3s, to cut the deficit to 4, then 3, and ultimately 1 point, pulling the Bruins within 83-82 with still 19 seconds left.
Bruce hit only the first of 2 free throws with 17.3 seconds left, but then GP II knocked the ball loose defensively, and though he didn't get credit for the steal, as he didn't secure the ball, he did break away for the lead pass that put the game away.
"It was unbelievable, I'm super-proud," Coach Tinkle said. "It was a must-win, and it was a great team win, that clinched the No. 6 seed in the Conference tournament. Everything that could go wrong did at the end, and every loose ball seemed to bounce UCLA's way. But we never doubted, we never panicked, and we made plays in the last 30 seconds to win."
Thompson, above, wound up as the game's leading scorer, with a career high 23 points, all in the second half.
"I have a bad habit of slow starts," said Thompson. "I tried to stay confident and make some shots, to stay positive and keep a positive mindset. My team encouraged me, found me when I was open and I knocked down some shots. We told ourselves to stay together; it was a must-win game for us to accomplish what we want to. We dug down deep."
Payton and Schaftenaar both finished with 17, with Schaftenaar having nailed 5 of 8 3 pointers. Bruce was also in double digits, with 11 points.
Hamilton led UCLA with 21, and B. Alford had 18 when he had to leave early. Parker and Welch both had 14, and Holliday's late shooting got him into double digits as well, finishing with 10.
Shooting was the difference, as the Beavers shot 48% compared to 41% by the Bruins, but it was from long distance that the game was swung.
Oregon State shot 50% from beyond the arc, hitting 12 of 24 shots, while UCLA didn't connect from long distance until there was only 9 1/2 minutes left, and finished shooting just 26%, making just 7 of 26.
Oregon State improved to 18-11, and 9-9 in the Pac-12, and will face Arizona State in the first round of the conference tournament, avoiding a potential opening matchup with Stanford, who has been a troubling matchup for the Beavers, and a potential second round matchup with conference regular season champion Oregon.
The winner between the Beavers and Sun Devils will face California in the second round.
More importantly, their resume that many analysts feel would get them into the tournament in any more-easterly conference anyway, won't have a sub-.500 conference record, a key line of demarcation, as no Pac-8/10/12 team has ever made the NCAA tournament with a sub-.500 record except Arizona in 2008.
UCLA wound up with a sub.500 record, at 15-16, and went 6-12 in conference.