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  • 17 Sep 2014

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EGGERS: It's win-win for Robinson, Rueck in Beavers' twin-killing

CORVALLIS — Oregon State swept its historic basketball double-header Friday night at Gill Coliseum, the OSU men and women winning both ends of the first male/distaff twin bill since the school started fielding casaba crews back in 1901.

At least we think it is. Even us old-timers can't remember it happening before.

It came about this time because the men's game with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, postponed a week ago due to weather conditions, was added as a preliminary to the women's game with Hawaii.

Had I asked coach Craig Robinson how it felt to have the OSU men play the junior varsity game, the president's brother-in-law might have clocked me, so I didn't. Women's coach Scott Rueck only smiled and said he was honored to forever be a part of Beaver lore.

The Oregon State men overcame a dreadful first half to take down Arkansas-Pine Bluff 77-63. The OSU women gathered steam in the second half, too, defeating Hawaii 76-64.

Attendance for each game was announced at 2,369. I don't think anybody took a true hand count of the nightcap, but it was a pretty good crowd for the women, considering only a few dozen students chose to show up to celebrate the end of finals week.

  •  Seniors Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier carried the Beavers (4-2) as usual, combining for 46 points in a night when none of their teammates reached double figures.

    Nelson, who entered the game as the nation's No. 2 scorer at 25.4 points per game, exceeded his average with 26, dropping in 8 of 16 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line. Collier, who I'm thinking is as good a post-up player as there will be in the Pac-12 this season, hit 9 of 10 shots and came through with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his second 20/10 game of the season.

    Robinson opened in a 1-3-1 zone defense and, after a good start that saw the Beavers jump on top 7-0 and 12-2, the Golden Lions (2-7 and now on a seven-game losing streak) began to figure it out. The visitors from the Southwest Athletic Conference worked the unprotected baseline with a series of lobs and dunks and took a 28-25 lead with five minutes left in the first half.

    At that point, Robinson called time out and switched to man-to-man against a Pine Bluff unit that started no one taller than 6-8. The ploy seemed to work. The Lions didn't score another field goal in the half as Oregon State entered intermission with a 36-32 lead.

    The Beavers stayed in man the rest of the way, built their lead to 62-42 midway through the second half and never were seriously threatened. When I asked Robinson afterward if he thought changing to man made any difference, he weighed the possibility.

    "Our 1-3-1 was working so well," he began. "You may be right -- I'll know more after I watch the game (video) -- but I don't think it was the defense. I think it was the rebounds and loose balls."

    Robinson had earlier explained to the media that it's traditionally hard for his teams to play well after final exams, and that the Beavers hadn't played a game in 12 days.

    "That's a long time," the sixth-year OSU coach said. "But the first half, we gave up too many offensive rebounds and didn't hustle after loose balls. It looked like we were plain outworked rather than showing rust. It seems like the guys got the message at halftime, and I didn't even have to yell at them."

    Suspended forward Eric Moreland -- who hasn't yet played and won't return until Jan. 9 -- evidently delivered an inspirational message to his teammates during the break. The Beavers did play better in the second half.

    Asked if what was happening in the first half reminded him of Coppin State -- the Eagles upset the Beavers 78-73 in the opener on Nov. 10 -- Robinson shook his head no.

    "I wasn't thinking Coppin State," he said. "I was thinking, 'Why aren't we getting every rebound?' I was enraged that (the Lions) were playing so much harder than us."

    Of more concern is the help for Nelson and Collier at the offensive end, at least until Moreland gets back. Senior center Angus Brandt took only three shots -- he made them all -- and had nine points and three rebounds in 25 minutes. The affable 6-10 Australian -- coming back after redshirting last season due to knee surgery -- seemed reluctant to shoot or even to engage at the offensive end.

    "Devon is playing with a lot of confidence," Robinson observed. "Roberto is playing with a lot of confidence. We have to get Angus back to the confidence he had pre-injury."

    No other player averages more than eight points a game. Even with that, the Beavers entered the game tied for first nationally in field-goal percentage (.549), and they improved on that by shooting .600 against the Lions.

    "Nobody minds that Roberto and Devon are carrying us in scoring," Robinson said.

    That may be the case, but the coach should. They're going to need more help if they are to successfully negotiate a Pac-12 schedule that will provide a much stiffer test than did the undersized Lions.

    I'd like to see more of Hallice Cooke, the 6-3 freshman point guard out of Union City, N.J., who scored six points -- going 2 for 2 from 3-point range -- had three steals and made things happen in his 21 minutes. He has much more of an effect on the game than does junior starter Challe Barton, who had two points on 1-for-3 shooting with two assists in 17 minutes.

    Cooke "is a basketball player," Robinson said. "He's a little shaky with the ball, a little casual. Roberto and Jared (Cunningham) and Challe were like that as freshmen. You can't make the soft passes like you did in high school. But he's turning into a guy who can make shots when he's open."

    Next up for the OSU men are home dates with Maryland Eastern Shore and Towson -- the Tigers beat the Beavers 67-66 in overtime at Corvallis last season -- and a three-game tournament at Hawaii.

  •  Oregon State's women (6-2) were sluggish early, too, trailing through much of the first half before going into intermission ahead 36-32 -- the very same lead their male counterparts had at the half.

    Hawaii was much smaller but more experienced that the Beavers, and 5-11 Kamilah Jackson -- who finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds -- was the best player on the floor.

    The Beavers did a better job utilizing their advantage in size and talent in the second half, cranking up the defense to hold the Warriors scoreless for nearly six minutes in expanding their lead from 46-42 to 57-42 midway through the half.

    Oregon State, which entered the game 11th nationally in 3-pointers per game (8.9), improved on that while making 10 of 16 from beyond the arc against Hawaii.

    "I love that we can knock 3's down," Rueck said. But the Beavers were only 14 for 40 (.350) on 2-point attempts, showing there is much work to be done on their mid-range game.

    Rueck's fourth OSU team is young. Junior guard Ali Gibson starts and senior Alyssa Martin comes off the bench, and the rest of the 11-player rotation is sophomores and freshmen.

    "We have nine kids who are going to be together for three years," Rueck said.

    Sophomore shooting guard Jamie Weisner led the way with 19 points, 15 in the second half. Freshman point guard Sydney Wiese, a left-hander from Phoenix, was 5 for 5 from 3-point range and had 17 points and five assists. The other freshmen -- 6-3 Breanna Brown, 6-3 Kolbie Drum and 5-11 Gabriella Hanson -- are in the rotation.

    "Our four freshmen are all proving they deserve time immediately," Rueck said.

    Oregon State's most important player may be Deven Hunter, a 6-3 sophomore forward out of McNary High who had 12 points and seven rebounds and did the most effective defensive work against Jackson.

    "Deven's offense is coming," Rueck said. "She's never had to be a shooter. That's the curse of being a great athlete who can get to the basket. Her decision-making is a lot better than it was a year ago. The perimeter scoring is going to come. She brings us a lot of heart and energy."

    Rueck's biggest challenge might be maximizing the potential of 6-6 sophomore Ruth Hamblin, who struggled making shots at point-blank range against Jackson, even as her teammates were working at getting the ball to her with lob passes.

    "Ruth is learning to have confidence at this level," Rueck said. "The speed of the college game is something she's still getting adapting to. Jackson did a great job of mixing up her defense on Ruth. Sometimes she was in front, sometimes behind, and that kept our passers off-balance. That whole part of our game is in its infancy stage."

    The same can be said for the OSU women in general.

    "We're a pretty talented team that's growing right before our eyes," Rueck said. "The mistakes we make are correctable ones. They come with experience. We have a big upside. I'm thankful for the test we're getting with our non-conference schedule."

    That includes a tournament at Las Vegas next week that features games against Creighton, Nevada-Las Vegas and Clemson. And a Dec. 29 home date with fourth-ranked Notre Dame.

    "Back in July, we were both looking for a game, which is unusual," Rueck said. "We had a cancellation right after Christmas and (the Fighting Irish) were looking. It's a one-time thing."

    It will be a good barometer to tell if the Beavers are ready for the big-time, or still deep into development mode.

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    Twitter: @kerryeggers