Halfway through the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball season, Oregon State finds itself last in the standings.

It would be easy for the Beavers to start going through the motions.

After starting 1-8, the temptation could be there for the Beavers to switch to glide mode, put in the time and get to the offseason.

None of the players seem interested in taking that road. So when the Beavers take on Utah at 7 tonight in Gill Coliseum, expect them to go full-bore.

“I’m not down and the team’s not down,” guard Roberto Nelson said.

“We’re not giving up. We’re still fighting. If you watch the games, we’re fighting, we’re not walking around with our heads down, showing bad body language and stuff. We’re competing with these teams.”

Competing. Not winning. Not yet, anyway.

The Beavers have fallen short at the end of several games, losing in the final moments to USC, Washington State and California.

Stanford was able to create a small gap late in the game.

As tough as those losses were, the Beavers know they’re merely a play or two away from a win.

With nine games left, the Beavers still have the chance to finish at least in the middle of the standings.

The conference tournament allows every team to start at 0-0.

“It’s not over yet, I’ll tell you that right now,” Nelson said. “And we’re still going to give our best effort as far as the players and the coaching staff. So we’re all on board still and we’re going to continue to stay together and try to get over that hump.”

Getting past the Utes is the first step.

Utah has two conference victories, winning at Washington and a 58-55 win over Colorado on Saturday.

The Utes also have been on the short end of close losses to Arizona State (in OT), Arizona and UCLA.

“They are playing a lot better than they did last year,” coach Craig Robinson said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence. Jason Washburn is a very good player and they have a lot of new pieces. We are expecting a tough game. Having said that though, this is about us. We have to dictate what happens in games from here on out. And that’s what we are working on.”

One approach could be to go with a three-guard lineup.

Robinson started Challe Barton in the backcourt along with Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson against Stanford.

“I thought getting Ahmad off the ball would give him better opportunities,” Robinson said. “I think people were loading up on him at the point guard spot. Moving him to the two, we get him more looks at the basket.”

Starks had 15 points and Nelson 20.

Nelson liked going with the lineup.

“I think it helped us get into the offense and I think we played pretty well coming out,” he said. “It kind of changed things up a bit.

“(Barton is) a really uptempo kind of guy, gets the ball out fast, throws it up the court and gets us into the offense. He kind of settles us down a lot. So I like having him at the point guard and having Ahmad and I at the other guard positions.”

Kevin Hampton is sports reporter for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 541-758-9519 or kevin.hampton@lee.net.

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