Beavers ready for Moda doubleheader
The one chance for Portland-area Oregon State basketball fans to stay home and watch their teams is Saturday night at Moda Center.
Oregon State's 19th-ranked women will play the front end of the doubleheader at 5 p.m. against Cal Santa Barbara. The OSU men will match up with Saint Louis in the 7:30 p.m. finale in what is billed as the "Dam City Classic."
The Beaver women will be making their first appearance on the Trail Blazers' home court during Scott Rueck's eight years as head coach.
"l love it," Rueck says. "Such a huge portion of our fan base is in Portland. For them to see a men's and women's doubleheader is ideal. We've played at the University of Portland a couple of times (2013 and '15), but none of us have played in Moda Center before. It's going to be exciting."
Oregon State's men have played a pair of games in Portland in each of the last two seasons. The Beavers also played at UP in coach Wayne Tinkle's first season at OSU in 2014.
"We love playing in Portland, and we're excited to be playing again at Moda Center, which is a great venue," Tinkle says. "It's fun to give Beaver Nation a chance to see us in Portland. This year is unique, getting to play a doubleheader with the women's team."
Tinkle says he is dedicated to playing at least one game in Portland every season. Next year, the OSU men have signed to play Texas A&M at Moda Center.
Oregon State's men were 6-3 and on a four-game win streak heading into Tuesday night's home date with 7-2 Jacksonville State. Last Saturday, the Beavers led Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-10) only 37-34 at halftime before blowing it open in the second half en route to an 85-58 win.
"We led early 15-4, then had a lull when we took some of the starters out," says Tinkle, 47-57 in his three-plus years at the OSU helm. "I was proud of the way the guys responded in the second half. Our defense was good — we held them to 24 points in the second half. That's what we wanted to see."
Heading into the Jacksonville State game, the Beavers were shooting .487 from the field — on pace for the best shooting season during Tinkle's time at OSU — and had improved to .740 from the free-throw line. Opponents were shooting only .424 from the field.
Where the Beavers need improvement is at the 3-point line on both sides of the ball. They were shooting only .281 — primarily because their most prolific 3-point shooter, Stevie Thompson Jr., was only 13 for 50 (.260). Opponents, meanwhile, were firing at a .366 clip from beyond the stripe.
"We're shooting well over 50 percent on 2-point shots, which is good," Tinkle says. "We have to get better at shooting 3's, though, and I think we'll get there.
"Our 3-point defense hasn't been good enough. It needs to be 33 percent or less. We have to get out to shooters with more urgency and higher hands. We want to be in the top three in the league in every category defensively."
Freshman Ethan Thompson had his best game of the season against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, scoring 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with seven rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
"Like what we get from Tres (Tinkle), what we used to get from Gary (Payton II), we got from Ethan on Saturday — filling up stats in a lot of categories," Wayne Tinkle says. "It was his best defensive game of the year, too, with great on-ball pressure. That was key to our second half."
Since JaQuori McLaughlin left the team, the 6-5 Thompson and brother Stevie Jr., have shared point-guard duties. Ethan starts at shooting guard, then swings over to the point when Stevie leaves the game. Stevie, who is averaging 16.1 points on .462 shooting, has 14 assists in the past two games.
"He's showing good floor leadership offensively," Tinkle says. "Now we need to him to step up and help set the tone for us defensively. As he continues to grow in that area, he's going to have a great impact on both ends."
Going into the Jacksonville State game, Tres Tinkle was the only player in the Pac-12 among the top 12 in scoring (18.6, eighth), rebounds (7.4, 12th) and assists (3.8, 11th). The 6-8 sophomore was shooting .496 from the field, .356 from 3-point territory and .814 from foul line. Tinkle had scored in double figures in all nine games.
"Tres has played well," his father says. "He has been a great leader for us, and has to continue to be."
Drew Eubanks is averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting .708 from the field, which ranks sixth nationally. OSU doesn't keep statistics on dunks, but the 6-10 junior from Reynolds High has a bunch.
"He's so effective around the paint, we see no reason why he shouldn't be in the top five in the country (in field-goal percentage)," Tinkle says. "He wants to show things he can do away from the basket, but he's such a monster at the basket. He's gotten better at screening and becoming a recipient of passes down low. Now he needs to get more tenacious on the glass. He should average double figures in rebounds."
The Beavers already have won more games than they did a year ago (5-27, including 1-17 in Pac-12 play). Are they having to learn again how to win?
"Yes," Tinkle says. "With what we went through last year, some of it has carried over. We got to where we felt like we couldn't close games out. Now we're starting to figure that out, but it's still a process."
The Beavers were hurt some by the loss of McLaughlin, a sophomore guard who started all of last season and the first five games of this season. But he was off to dreadful start offensively — averaging 2.7 points on .238 shooting in 26 minutes a game — before leaving the program two weeks ago.
"JaQuori had a lot of things he had concerns about, on and off the court," Tinkle says. "He just didn't feel like he had the right frame of mind to be his best for us. We were caught off guard, and we wish it hadn't happened in the middle of the season. But we wish him and his family the best."
Tres Tinkle, Eubanks and the Thompsons combine to average 61.2 points; the rest of the team chips in only 16.8. The Beavers need more from their reserves, including freshmen Alfred Hollins, a 6-6 small forward, and Zach Reichle, a 6-5 guard from Wilsonville. Ben Kone, a 6-8 sophomore forward, has rejoined the team after rehabbing a knee injury, and he'll have to provide some offense. And Kendal Manuel, a 6-4 sophomore guard who started all of last season, needs to pick up his production off the bench.
"The bench needs to become a strength of ours," Wayne Tinkle says. "I think it will by the end of the season, after our young guys get more experience."
After Oregon State faces Saint Louis (4-5 going into a Tuesday date with Murray State) on Saturday at Moda Center, the Beavers have one more game — at Kent State on Dec. 21 — before beginning their Pac-12 slate hosting Colorado on Dec. 29 and Utah on Dec. 31.
"This freshman group reminds us of the group two years ago (including Tres Tinkle and Stevie Thompson Jr.) that contributed heavily once we began conference play," Wayne Tinkle says. "We know we're heading in the right direction. We're building game to game. We have the potential, but we have keep getting better."
Oregon State's women were 6-2 prior to a Wednesday home date with Savannah State. The three-time defending Pac-12 champion Beavers' losses were 72-67 at home to Notre Dame and 72-65 at Duke. The Fighting Irish are currently ranked third in the country, the Blue Devils 14th.
"I'm real pleased with where we are," says Rueck, 159-83 during his seven-plus years at the OSU helm. "Those losses sting, but we learned a lot in both of them.
"There's a different level of intensity with this team. They didn't like the feeling of losing. They were frustrated. But they've been real receptive to coaching, and they've worked hard in practice. We're gaining some valuable experience. Things are coming together."
Oregon State unleashed its offense in a 110-62 win over San Jose State on Sunday at Gill Coliseum. It tied for the most points a Rueck OSU team has scored and was just short of the school record of 117 set against Portland State in 1982.
The Beavers, who led 36-13 after one quarter, shot .639 from the field and .522 from 3-point range and owned the backboards, 54-27.
"We shot it really well," Rueck says. "(The Spartans) are a shoot-quick team. They want to score a lot of points. We ran with them and were able to get out in front, and we kept it up. It was an encouraging game."
Six players scored in double figures, led by senior center Marie Gulich with 22 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes. That didn't include sophomore point guard Mikayla Pivec, who took only four shots but collected six points, seven rebounds and 10 assists with no turnovers in 20 minutes.
Reserves accounted for half of Oregon State's points. Junior guard Taylor Kalmer (19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 3 for 4 on 3-pointers), freshman forward Taya Corosdale (13 points on 6-for-9 shooting and six rebounds), junior center Joanna Grymek (10 points, five rebounds and four blocks) and freshman guard/former La Salle Prep star Aleah Goodman (nine points and eight assists) were all major contributors.
Defense has been Oregon State's calling card under Rueck, and the Beavers are holding opponents to .320 shooting — tied for fifth nationally — and 56.2 points per game.
But this team can shoot, and it can score. Going into the Savannah State game, Oregon State led the nation in field-goal percentage (.549), was second in 3-point shooting (.459), third in assists per game (23.5) and 14th in scoring (85.6 points per game). The Beavers also were outrebounding opponents by 12 per game.
"We have a great inside/out presence," Rueck says. "For as long as I can remember, I've had four 3-point shooters on the floor around a dominant post player. We call it the 'four-out' system. There have been years when haven't quite had that, and we've learned to survive through our defense.
"This team really passes the ball well. It's just fluid. The ball rarely stops. Being a senior with all that experience, Marie gets in good position. And when she doesn't, the ball comes out well. Teams have to scramble to defend us.
"We're really difficult to cover because of the inside threat and scoring at all five positions. This team as a whole probably has the most firepower shooting the ball from one to 10 of any team I've had at Oregon State."
OSU's defense, Rueck says, "is catching up. It's not where we need to be yet. The standards are very high there, but we are improving."
The 5-8 Pivec is the floor leader and OSU's best all-around player. In her first season as point guard, she is averaging 13.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting .625 from the field, .412 from 3-point land and .769 from the free-throw line.
"Mik is learning the 1," Rueck says. "She wasn't comfortable at Duke and got exposed. She's now settling into that role, and when she bumps over to the 2, it's effortless. She's a great rebounder, and she's not hesitating to shoot the ball when she's open."
Rueck is getting a lot from Kat Tudor, a 6-foot sophomore who was a designated 3-point shooter off the bench a year ago. Tudor is starting, averaging 13.4 points a game, killing it from the 3-point line (28 for 68) and also playing some defense.
"Kat came in as a 'horse' player — someone who shoots, and that's it," Rueck says. "She came in with a label and is proving she's more than that. She's a long defender, and her positioning and angles are getting better. She's just a winner. She impacts every possession in a positive way."
Oregon State's other resident gunner — Kalmer — has added defense to her repertoire, too.
"She has morphed into an outstanding defender," Rueck says. "Her clear weakness a year ago has become a strength."
Grymek, the 6-8 transfer from Seward County (Kansas) JC, had her best game of the season against San Jose State.
"She is catching up to the faster pace of the game (at the Division I level)," Rueck says. "She is a very good player, but the game was running circles around her at first."
Oregon State has 10 squad members, plus redshirting point guard transfer Destiny Slocum, the national freshman of the year at Maryland last season. Rueck used nine of his players in each of OSU's first eight games.
"History will tell you that, in the biggest games, we've gone with seven, eight or nine in the rotation," he says. "I told (the players) I'd like to have 10 interchangeable pieces. We have a lot of talent on our roster."
OSU's Portland opponent, Cal Santa Barbara, is 1-7 and on a seven-game losing streak. The last time out, the Gauchos lost to seventh-ranked UCLA, 74-44.
After that game, the Beavers will face Cal Davis at home on Dec. 20, then open Pac-12 play with home dates against Washington on Dec. 29 and Washington State on Dec. 31.
"Our nonconference schedule has featured a couple of big tests and some good preparation for us," Rueck says. "We've learned a lot. This team's expectations are high. I think we're going to be ready once the Pac-12 season rolls around."