The first round of the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament in Las Vegas Wednesday will offer the Oregon State Beavers one more opportunity at the ASU Sun Devils and postseason recognition. ASU must have a short memory of its end-of-season woes and sweep OSU to push forward in the tournament and avoid a repeat of a one-and-done scenario.
ASU's 11-9 conference record earned it the six-seed. It also provided the Sun Devils perhaps the tournament's most difficult path to a conference tournament championship title. It will be an upward battle for ASU to win what would be its first Pac-12 Tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In the regular season, ASU swept OSU in its Jan. 14 and Feb. 2 matchups, but head coach Bobby Hurley said he knows the challenge the Beavers present.
"Oregon State has played us well both games," Hurley said. "They have young players. I'm sure they'll play freely with nothing to lose."
Fifth-year guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. stood critical against OSU as ASU's leading scorer in both games. When ASU encountered OSU on the road in the first match-up, Cambridge Jr. erupted, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 10 second-half points en route to leading ASU in scoring with 21 points.
READ MORE: ASU men's basketball defeats Oregon State 68-57 behind strong defensive second half
OSU will enter the Pac-12 Tournament against ASU with an 11-20 record, 15 of those losses against Pac-12 schools. Like ASU, OSU has had offensive concerns as the 343rd-ranked squad in offensive efficiency. In both of OSU's meetings with ASU, the Beavers failed to shoot better than 42%, which was conventional this season since OSU is ranked 330th nationally in effective field goal percentage.
That's no license to believe OSU will lie down and accept defeat. The Sun Devils will have to earn it for 40 minutes.
In the Jan. 14 meeting, ASU started slow, then controlled parts of the game defensively, stifling the Beavers' offensive rhythm and keeping a steady scoring pace on offense. However, around the two-minute mark, turnovers and inopportune misses from ASU sparked an OSU run that nearly saw it cover the nine-point deficit in a comeback victory. ASU beat OSU 74-69 in that game.
But the Beavers don't quit. Against Duke and Arizona, the squad lost, but played well enough not to get blown off the floor. Against USC, they took the Trojans to the wire in a one-point loss, then beat them at home on Feb. 11.
After Wednesday evening's matchup with OSU, were ASU to advance, they would play in the following day's final game against three-seed USC. USC beat ASU in both meetings during the regular season, once in Tempe during a four game losing streak for ASU, and again in Saturday's regular season closer in Los Angeles.
READ MORE: Inside ASU men's basketball's four-game skid
In each matchup, USC's size has given ASU matchup problems and the Trojans' aggressive defense has made it difficult for ASU to score. Junior guard DJ Horne said Saturday's loss only provides added motivation headed into what could be this squad's final stretch.
"I think it just lit an extra fire under us going into the Pac-12 Tournament," Horne said. "A lot of people are probably going to count us out now. I know we still have games left to put us into (the NCAA Tournament) conversation going into Vegas. It's not over yet."
If ASU advances past USC and reaches the tournament's semifinals, it will likely face a rematch with the conference's second place finisher, Arizona. ASU went 1-1 against Arizona this season, losing the first matchup in Tempe on New Year's Eve, and taking down the Wildcats in Tucson on a last-second heave from beyond half-court.
READ MORE: Half-court buzzer beater saves day, and perhaps ASU's season, in 89-88 win over Arizona
Winning three games in three days to advance past OSU, USC and likely Arizona, would bring ASU to its first ever Pac-12 Conference Tournament final — and likely be enough by itself to vault the Sun Devils into an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA, the conference's top-ranked team and the second-ranked team in the country according to this week's AP poll, would likely await them. The Bruins have the smoothest path to the tournament's final round. Their side of the bracket avoids Arizona, USC and ASU, and they will only face the team that emerges from that gauntlet if they advance to the final.
A Pac-12 Conference Tournament final victory would be ASU's first ever and would grant the Sun Devils an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Hurley is largely unconcerned about speculating on individual matchups.
"Our bracket is our bracket. The top four teams in our conference are really good," Hurley said. "There are others that are upset threats. We have a better league than anyone gives us credit for, but we just have to be ready to compete and win a championship. That's what our goal is."
Clarification: A previous version of this story mischaracterized a statistic from 2008. The story was updated on March 7, 2023 at 8:25 a.m. to better reflect and explain ASU's seeding.
Edited by Piper Hansen.
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