Maurice Calloo gave Oregon State an unexpected lift with 15 points, and the Beavers won their first conference tournament title, holding off No. 23 Colorado 70-68 in the Pac-12 Conference tournament championship game Saturday night.
Needing three wins in three days to end a four-year NCAA tournament drought, the Beavers (17-12) built confidence with each step along the Strip.
Oregon State opened it first conference title game in 33 years with a flurry of three-pointers and withstood a late push by Colorado (22-8) to become the first Pac-10/12 team to win the conference title after being picked to finish last.
Calloo helped the Beavers overcome leading scorer Ethan Thompson’s foul trouble, making six of 11 shots after scoring 10 points the eight previous games combined.
Oregon State’s gritty display put a damper on Colorado’s bid for its first Pac-12 tournament title since 2012. The Buffaloes should hear their named get called on Selection Sunday, but Pac-12 champions would have had a nicer ring to it heading to Indianapolis.
Colorado pulled within 68-66 on McKinley Wright IV’s three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left and had a chance when Oregon State’s Roman Silva hit one of two free throws with 1.7 seconds left. Wright’s half-court heave sailed over the backboard, sending the Beavers charging onto the floor.
Wright led Colorado with 18 points.
The underdog Beavers were given little shot outside of Corvallis, overlooked, underappreciated and picked to look up at the rest of the league.
Kofi Cockburn had 26 points Saturday, and No. 3 Illinois defeated No. 5 Iowa 82-71 to advance to the Big Ten tournament title game against Ohio State.
Coach Wayne Tinkle promised his team wouldn’t finish last, and the Beavers proved him right, winning 10 conference games to finish sixth.
The Beavers clawed their way out of a 16-point hole to beat UCLA in the conference tournament opener and reached their first Pac-12 title game since 1988 by upending top-seeded Oregon.
Oregon State opened the title game with a three-point spree, hitting six of its first nine, and had an early nine-point lead. A cooling trend followed, yet the Beavers still made half their shots for a 33-28 halftime lead.
Oregon State kept making shots — mostly inside — and survived a six-minute stretch with Thompson on the bench to stay in front. The Beavers had some tense moments late but can call themselves conference tournament champions for the first time.
Colorado was picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll despite the return of Wright, one of the toughest, steadiest guards in college basketball.
Behind Wright and big man Evan Battey, Colorado finished third in the Pac-12, then had a pair of down-to-the-wire wins over California and No. 24 USC in the conference tournament.
The Buffaloes had a hard time slowing the Beavers in the first half of the title game but also hit half their shots (13 of 26) to stay within reach at halftime.
Wright helped keep Oregon State within reach down to the wire but came up one shot short.
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