Beavers head to L.A. for showdown with USC and UCLA

Men’s Basketball vs. Washington St.

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

OSU takes a two-game winning streak to the front door of USC and UCLA this week

Another week of Oregon State men’s basketball, another week spent on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

By beating Washington and Washington State at home this week, the Beavers provided some stability for their hope of making the tournament for the first time in 26 seasons — dependent, of course, on the last two games of the regular season and the subsequent Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

OSU plays USC tonight at 8 p.m. in the Galen Center and UCLA on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

If OSU wins both, it will have the most conference wins in one season since the 1989-1990 Beaver team that last made the tournament went 15-3.

If the season ended today, OSU would make the NCAA Tournament bracket according to predictions by ESPN, USA Today and CBS Sports. ESPN put OSU in the “play-in” round as a No. 11 seed, while CBS and USA Today have the Beavers as a No. 9 seed. Also, ESPN has USC as a No. 8 seed in the bracket.

Not only will the USC and UCLA games factor largely into the likelihood of OSU making the tournament, they also have huge implications for where the Beavers are seeded in the Pac-12 Tournament that starts March 9. A run in the conference tournament could be the last push OSU needs to made the NCAA Tournament — and winning the Pac-12 Tournament would give OSU an automatic berth.

OSU has lost in the first round of the conference tournament three years in a row, but ending around the middle of the conference would mean the Beavers would play one of the last teams in the standings in the first round since the top four teams earn a first-round bye.

OSU, USC and Stanford are all tied for sixth place in the Pac-12 at 8-8, while Washington is 8-9 and will only play the 1-16 Washington State Cougars this week.

In the first games against the Los Angeles schools, OSU beat USC 85-70 after being dealt an 82-73 loss by UCLA.

OSU senior guard Gary Payton II had 39 points (16-for-29 shooting), 18 rebounds and 15 rebounds in the two games, while freshman forward Tres Tinkle added 33 points and 15 rebounds.

Payton II is the only player in the country averaging at least 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 steals a game. Tinkle has provided an offensive spark of his own, averaging 18.6 points per game and 6.6 rebounds in OSU’s last five contests. Since he earned a starting spot 11 games ago, he has led the team with 15.1 points per game, including a team-high 15.6 points per road game.

Tinkle is fourth in OSU history in points scored by a freshman with 353 points. In third place is Gary Payton, Sr., who had 374 in 1986-1987. The record is 403 by Carson Cunningham in 1996-1997.