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ON COLLEGE HOOPS/BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Both teams have much room for improvement

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Payton Pritchard, Oregon guard, gets inside for a shot in the Ducks' victory Saturday over Oregon State.EUGENE — For much of the first half on Saturday at Matthew Knight Arena, it looked like Oregon would have an easy time with Oregon State. Feeding off Oregon State turnovers, the Ducks led by as many as 21 points and held a 16-point halftime advantage.

Alas, nothing is coming easy to this young Ducks squad. In the second half, the Ducks made only six baskets but managed to avoid any serious trouble by making 11 of 15 free throws.

The 66-57 victory meant a split in the Civil War series this season. But both teams head to the Bay Area this week knowing time is running short to make something memorable of this season. Oregon is 14-7 overall, 4-4 in Pac-12 play. OSU is 11-9, 3-5. Neither looks like a NCAA Tournament team.

• Four of the nine Ducks who saw the floor on Saturday are freshmen, and seven are in their first year in Eugene.

Of the players working the significant minutes for the Beavers, only Seth Berger is a senior — and he is in his first year in Corvallis.

So, while the 350th Civil War basketball game won't last in series lore, the most-played rivalry in college basketball might soon deliver some compelling, and meaningful, entertainment. If players such as Oregon's Troy Brown Jr., and Kenny Wooten and Oregon State's Tres Tinkle and Ethan Thompson stick around a couple more years, the sizzle is bound to increase.

• The here and now for coaches Dana Altman and Wayne Tinkle, though, is about turning moments of promise into consistent play.

To win on the road, the Beavers need to find the poise to handle or halt an opponent's momentum. Saturday's game was decided when Oregon went on a 27-4 run over a 10-minute span in the first half.

For the Ducks, bottling the intensity and efficiency they showed during that burst has proven difficult. Altman has been preaching urgency to his players for two months, but their desire to improve has not translated into a significant uptick in performance.

"They've been coachable. When they see the film, they do recognize (mistakes), they do admit it," Altman said. "Changing it's been a little harder for us. They know what they want to do, and I think they want to do it. It's just not easy to change habits."

Saturday was a microcosm as the Ducks played a strong first half, then plodded to victory. Altman pointed to less activity on defense as a prime cause of the second-half sluggishness. But the word stagnant has been a consistent descriptor of the Ducks' half-court offense this season — and was true for long stretches on Saturday.

"To start the second half we take three really quick bad 3's," Altman said, "and never really got that same rhythm offensively that we had the first half."

Some of the credit for that goes to Wayne Tinkle's Beavers — who rose to the halftime challenge but came up a few plays short of really pushing the Ducks.

The Beavers, who lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense, were more assertive at both ends of the court in the second half. The Ducks shot only 25 percent from the floor — including 2 of 11 from 3-point range — and seemed to either put up a quick shot or be working against the shot clock.

• The Ducks have made strides since the Beavers got the best of them, 76-64, on Jan. 5 in Corvallis. Altman points to rebounding — each team grabbed 28 boards on Saturday; the Beavers won that battle by seven at Corvallis.

• From OSU's perspective, it is difficult to win when post Drew Eubanks takes three shots and scores four points. The Beavers entered the game as the third-best 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12 at 38 percent, but finished 3 of 17 (17.6 percent) and missed all eight of their 3's after halftime.

• Making 19 of 24 free throws, Oregon was right at its Pac-12-best 79-percent success rate from the line. Converting 11 of 16 in the second half made it possible for the Ducks to maintain a lead of eight or more points despite going almost the last eight minutes without a field goal. 

• The only time Altman smiled during his postgame news conference was when asked about Dillon Brooks being selected to play in the NBA Rising Stars Game on Feb. 17. Altman said Jordan Bell likely would be in that game if not for an ankle injury, Tyler Dorsey is getting playing time with Atlanta (he scored a season/career-high 14 points on Saturday), and Chris Boucher has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of last season's NCAA tourney and has started to play for Golden State's G League team in Santa Cruz, California.

"It's very, very fun to watch them," said Altman, who keeps in touch with the former Ducks. "I hope it's great for our fans. I know it's great for our players. They're following those guys every day, looking at their stats and whenever they're on, watching them."

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