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Just a friend to share Beavers' misery in the end.

Byline: The Register-Guard

LOS ANGELES - When the buzzer finally sounded, Jake Shell wasn't sure how to feel.

Arizona's 87-56 victory had been secure for a long time, almost since the opening tip. And it was long past time to put this Oregon State season out of its misery.

"It's been a long, long year," said Shell, one of a very small number of Beaver fans at the Staples Center Wednesday night. "It's been painful. It's been hard to sit through."

Even so, he wanted one more game. And then another. In the moments just before tipoff, he stood in the Staples Center lobby and talked about how great it would be if the Beavers could somehow upset the Wildcats.

"If they won tonight," Shell said, "it would be a miracle."

And then Shell entered the arena, sat in his fifth-row seats - courtesy of a close friend - and watched the expected unfold. Halfway through the first half, it was 32-8. Shell leaned back, locked his hands together atop his head, and sighed.

He knew it was really over. And he knew what that meant.

Even as most OSU fans were surely dreaming of a new coach and a fresh beginning, even as athletic director Bob De Carolis was probably getting ready to hit fast-forward in the search process, Shell found himself thinking back to last Sunday in Corvallis, to a lazy afternoon with friends.

The families gathered, as they have often over the past few years, for a backyard barbecue. Shell grilled the steaks, and they talked and laughed and generally just relaxed.

And Shell remembers thinking that Kevin Mouton didn't seem to be feeling the strain that comes with being interim coach of a team heading for the wrong end of history.

"Kevin is unbelievably strong," he said. "He remains positive. He always has good things to say. I'm surprised at how well he's doing."

The Shells and Moutons met several years ago when their daughters became friends in day care.

Maybe it was an unlikely coupling, assistant basketball coach with auto glass company owner. But something clicked; soon enough, Jake and his wife Malinda had become close with Kevin and his wife, Jacquie.

They've shared dinners and drinks and dozens of other moments. The trip to the Pac-10 tournament has become a rite of early spring. Kevin was always busy, but the families would fly down together, and find something fun to do - Disneyland, or Universal Studios, or shopping - and then go watch the Beavers.

So Wednesday? Although most OSU fans stayed away from Gill Coliseum all season, and only a couple dozen made it to the Staples Center, there was no other place Jake would have been.

"We're just here to support (Mouton)," he said. "It's been hard to sit through. But I have to keep a smile on my face."

For much of the season, Shell has occasionally served as a sounding board. Every so often, Mouton would call: "You won't believe this!" he'd say, and then he'd share the latest discouraging tidbit in a season filled with them.

"He just wanted to vent," Shell said. "I just listened, basically."

There was plenty to vent about. It didn't take long for anyone to realize that the Beavers weren't going to win many games. And with Shell's insider's view, he knew a midseason change was coming before most others.

"The only thing I wish," he said, "was they'd have done it sooner rather than later. But who knows if that would have changed anything?"

There was a time he thought maybe Mouton could conjure up three or four wins. He hoped his friend might do enough to earn a serious shot at the permanent job.

"Going `oh-fer' had something to say about that," Shell said. "That goose egg, that's ugly."

Now, Shell hopes Mouton might stay on as an assistant. He knows that might be a long shot. The new head coach will bring his own staff, and there will be sentiment to complete the house-cleaning.

But hey, a guy can dream, right?

So Wednesday night, as the Beavers floundered to their 21st straight loss, Jake and Malinda sat quietly beside Jacquie Mouton. Those wild hopes of an upset faded in a hurry. When it ended, they sat for a moment, then stood and waited for the crowd to thin out.

As Shell turned to go - he planned to meet the interim coach for a drink - his emotions were mixed.

"I'm kind of glad it's over," he said. "But I don't want it to end, because I don't want to lose my friend."
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Title Annotation:Sports Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 13, 2008
Words:765
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