Oregon State's Cinderella Story is Not Over Yet

“Oregon Express is back, baby.” The words stuck to the wall like gum smacked onto a railing. In a way, it was symbolic. The Beavers were there when UCLA, Oregon, and even Colorado were on top. Now it was time for the Beavers to come, surfing a wave into the March Madness and drawing comparisons to the Oregon State sides of the 80s. It teased a legendary Cinderella run that made their games must-watch TV.
Yet Oregon State was not an impressive team before the Pac-12 conference tournament. Yes, they outperformed analysts’ expectations and did not finish last. But in most analysts’ eyes, they still were not deserving of an at-large bid.
Of course, the rest is history. Three wins and a playoff title later, the Oregon State Beavers advanced to the NCAA tournament. The skeptic eyes of bracketologists and statisticians did not deter the Beavers. The Pac-12 champions perpetrated a Cinderella run that made school history. All of this started from the preseason, amid projections, predictions, and one team’s unwavering commitment to make history.
“I promise you, we won’t finish 12th,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle told pessimistic Oregonians. Tinkle was trying to reassure Beaver fans that this season would not be a dumpster fire like many outlets forecasted. Sports Illustrated picked Oregon State as eleventh in the Pac-12, and CBS Sports went so far as to put the Beavers in last. Honestly, who could blame them?
The Beavers were mediocre last season. They conceded many points and could not find their flow. If the Pac-12 tournament and March Madness were not canceled, the Beavers would probably miss out on postseason action.
Tinkle and his team came into the season with one mission: to prove everyone wrong. The Beavers were OK, starting 5-5 in their first ten matches. Oregon State was having a mediocre season, but it was better than what outlets forecasted. They rode their middling wave through the whole season. Most notably, the Beavers shocked fans with a 75-64 win over hated rivals Oregon. 
“I am happy with our guys for staying focused and humble,” Tinkle told reporters after the win.
Yet the highlights came with their more forgettable parts. An embarrassing overtime loss to Portland and a brutal 94-68 loss at the hands of Arizona come to mind when discussing the Beavers’ vulnerability.
It was hard to differentiate between a meek, feeble regular season Oregon State and a strong, motivated Oregon State. But the flipped switch was not unexpected. The Beavers had a minuscule, if any chance, to advance to March Madness via an at-large bid. They would need to take gold in the Pac-12 basketball and shock the world.
And shock the world they did. 
Oregon State opened an eye-opening series of shockers with an overtime win over UCLA. Sure, the Californian basketball giants experienced an underwhelming regular season, losing to teams. But to take down UCLA in the face of several critics was on a different level.
On top of that, they came back from a 16-point gap. A rivalry win in the semifinals over #1 seeded Oregon put the Beavers in prime position to nab the Pac-12’s automatic tournament bid.  
Cinderella Story!, a Pac-12 recap exclaimed. It was the sentiment captured by many fans and outlets everywhere. Who were these minnows, these newcomers that just burst onto the scene? Before their breakout 2021 season, they were a minor, silly obstacle in the shadow of the Oregon Ducks. The Beavers were a Condiment King compared to the glory of Batman. Now Tinkle and his team had a chance to change that perception.
Colorado, the undisputed favorites and #3-seed, and the Beavers were neck-and-neck throughout the competition. When Oregon State hit a silky jumper from midrange or knocked down a three-point shot, Colorado responded by muscling their way to the hoop and converting a tough layup. With as little as sixty seconds left on the clock, Oregon State forward Warith Alatishe faked out the defense to make an easy layup. 
Around 55 seconds later, a scarily efficient McKinley Wright IV scored a long-range three with a hand in his face, cutting the lead to two. But five seconds was not enough for the Buffaloes. The Beavers prevailed, a sea of orange storming the basketball court. The Pac-12 hierarchy was turned on its head, and for Oregon State, it was all the better.
But the mission was not finished. Oregon State still needed to make a splash in March Madness to prove their impressive Cinderella run was no fluke.
Seeded at #12, they started their NCAA tournament with a clash against #5 Tennessee. They blew the Vols out of the water early, outsourcing them 33-19 in the first half. They pushed their higher-seeded foe around like a ragdoll. As BuildingTheDam writer Marcus Russell noted, it was "wire-to-wire domination."
They replicated that performance against No.11 Oklahoma State, led by do-it-all guard Cade Cunningham. Although a bit closer than their rout against Tennessee, they still jumped out to a big lead in the first half and held on for the win in the second. They held Cunningham to inefficient choices and forced tough shots from the Cowboys.
“Maybe now we will get some **** respect,” Tinkle told OregonLive after their tight win over Oklahoma State.
The Beavers faced Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen in their conquest for confirmation as a legitimate basketball force. Sure, they were not as prestigious as their opponents, but that did not mean they were not better. 
The Beavers’ match against the Ramblers started as a defensive slugfest. The two sides combined for just forty points in the first half. But after halftime, both sides started their offensive engines to make an enjoyable game. The Beavers were led by Ethan Thompson’s 22-point-performance and Alatishe’s double-double.
“Loyola never did solve it [their defense],” Sports Illustrated writer Jake Curtis wrote. Their defense lay at the heart of their success. Although we can point at the offensive outings of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas or the rugged determination of Warith Alatishe, the Beavers’ commitment on the other side of the ball helped them. It lifted them from the dregs of analysts’ power rankings to the big show.
So, although they heartbreakingly lost to Houston, Oregon State did not feel humiliated by a more well-known team. They felt accomplished. And, after all, what was the mission?
“I promise you, we won’t finish last.”
Now, as the Oregon State walked off after a 67-61 loss, Beavers supporters smiled a bit. The Beavers were not finished yet. Not yet.