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Beavers win, but Robinson needs plenty more of them

CORVALLIS — Maybe Oregon State’s 82-64 victory over Utah Wednesday night at Gill Coliseum will kick-start the Beavers toward a big second half of the Pac-12 season.

Or maybe the Beavers (12-11 overall, 2-8 in Pac-12 action) just found an opponent playing even more poorly than them.

In the second year of the Larry Krystowiak era, the Utes (10-12, 2-8) are more shy of talent that the Beavers are in the fifth year of the Craig Robinson regime.

And Oregon State was playing at home, though the announced crowd of 4,118 wasn’t exactly an intimidating factor for the visitors.

But the Beavers took care of business against the team that is now tied for 11th with them in the Pac-12 standings. They shot .593 from the field in the second half, fired at an .833 clip from the foul line for the game, won the boards 41-33, committed only eight turnovers and played what Robinson said was “easily” their best defense of the conference campaign.

“We communicated more on defense tonight,” Robinson said. “We’re a year and a half into playing man-to-man as our predominant defense. We’re getting better with the experience.”

The Beavers, Robinson added, “knew they had to play very good defense in order to win this game. And they were motivated. When you’re 1-8, you want to be 2-8.”

Amen. But is even 2-8 really necessary?

Oregon State waltzed through its soft preseason schedule 9-2 — losing only to Alabama and Kansas and beating Purdue and San Diego — before stumbling in an excusable 68-67 overtime loss at home to Towson.

Two games later, OSU opened its Pac-12 schedule with a 79-66 home loss to Oregon, beginning a slide that took the Beavers to the basement through the conference season’s first half.

They have been inconsistent offensively but mostly woeful defensively, entering Wednesday’s game last in the league in scoring defense and 11th in opponents’ field-goal percentage. California scored the clinching basket in its 71-68 win last weekend on a dunk in the closing seconds — something that should never happen. Stanford had open looks all day from 3-point range and knocked down 14 of 25 in an 81-73 victory three days later.

“The last few games we’ve lost, we’ve played well except for in spurts — six or five or four minutes to go,” Robinson said. “These guys were going to make sure we weren’t going to have one of those slip-ups tonight.”

Utah — which shot .357 from the field — had little going offensively other than guards Brandon Taylor and Jarred DuBois, who combined for 41 points.

Credit Joe Burton — on a night when the 6-7, 300-pound center was wheeling and dealing his way to 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds — with doing a good defensive job on Utes center Jason Washburn, who had two points in 32 minutes.

But there were a lot of open shots Utah missed that could have made things a little more scary for the Beavers as they pulled away in the second half.

What has to be even more scary for athletic director Bob De Carolis is the apathy in Beaver Nation about Oregon State basketball. The vast majority of those fans who still care are not in Robinson’s corner, a proposition that surely makes De Carolis — who has twice extended Robinson’s contract that now runs through 2017 — uncomfortable.

Before Wednesday’s game, De Carolis expressed unqualified support for Robinson, offering, understandably, the ready-made excuses — the loss of junior guard Jared Cunningham to the NBA after last season, the loss of senior center Angus Brandt to knee surgery early this season.

“I’m confident he’s the guy,” De Carolis told me. “He can coach. He certainly can recruit. It wasn’t in the original equation that Cunningham would leave early to the pros. Angus makes that much of a difference, not only on the court but in leadership. You hope somebody else steps up and provides that for you.

“I think they’re that close. A shot here, a couple of foul shots there. I know everybody can say that, but for us, that’s where it’s at right now.”

Robinson recruited pretty well his first couple of years, attracting the likes of Cunningham, Burton, Devon Collier, Roberto Nelson, Ahmad Starks and Eric Moreland. The last couple of years, not so much.

This year’s sophomore class (other than Moreland and injured center Daniel Gomis, who both redshirted) is point guard Challe Barton. The freshman class — Olaf Schaftenaar, Jarmal Reid, Langston Morris-Walker and Victor Robbins — looks forgettable, each player shooting 30 percent or lower from the field.

Two prep seniors who have signed letters of intent — 6-3 shooting guard Hallice Cooke and 6-11 center Cheikh N’diaye — will be added to next year’s roster that loses only Burton from this year’s club.

In an interview last week with The Oregonian, Robinson said, “People want quick fixes, even if it was a horrible place to be just five years ago. That’s what I signed up for ... you have to keep winning if you want to keep these jobs.”

People are tiring of Robinson’s references to how bad things were with the program when he arrived on the heels of an 0-18 conference season in 2008. These are all his recruits now. No remnants of the dismal Jay John period remain.

After Wednesday’s victory, Robinson’s record at OSU stands at 76-82 overall and 29-52 in Pac-12 action, with no postseason play other than third-rate events you can buy your way into. That’s even with the conference being very much down from top to bottom over the past three years, with all sorts of winnable games out there to be had.

The CBI was fine his first season, and it was cool that the Beavers won. Good experience, perhaps a portent of good things to come.

Good things haven’t come yet. Beaver Nation is growing impatient.

With four years left on his contract, Robinson is in no danger of being fired. But a charge through the second half and some success in the Pac-12 Tournament would do wonders for his standing among OSU supporters.

I asked Robinson if Wednesday’s win might be a springboard for success through the second half of the season.

“I’d love it to be, but we won’t know until we have the second half,” he said. “We can’t turn around and have a horrible game (Sunday against Colorado). In this conference, everybody can beat everybody on a given night. Homecourt doesn’t mean as much this year.

“We’d love for this to be a springboard. With the way these guys are going to work, it has a good shot at being that. As long as we’re not playing poorly, I’m feeling pretty good. Each game, I go into it feeling like we have a shot at winning, And then they go out and play like we have a shot at winning.”

Too many times, those shots at winning have turned into losses.

As Robinson himself says, you have to win if you want to keep these jobs.

It’s something to keep an eye on over the next season and a half.

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