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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Oregon State hopes vs. Oregon hinge on help for Tres Tinkle

COURTESY PHOTO: RANDY L. RASMUSSEN - Oregon State men's basketball coach Wayne Tinkle's Beavers will play host to Oregon on Saturday night.

CORVALLIS — Pore through the statistics of Oregon and Oregon State and there's not a lot of difference in a lot of categories.

The Beavers and Ducks — who square off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Gill Coliseum in the 353rd renewal of one of college basketball's longest-running rivalries — are close in scoring offense and defense and field-goal percentage.

Oregon has an advantage in opponents' field-goal percentage; the Ducks are allowing foes to shoot only .398 while the Beavers' rivals are shooting .433.

But the biggest difference comes in 3-point percentage. Oregon (18-5 overall, 7-3 in Pac-12 play) leads the conference and ranks 13th nationally at .387. Oregon State (13-8, 3-7) is ninth at .322.

OSU swept the Ducks last season and has won three of the last four meetings. If the Beavers are to continue the trend, they'll need to get something done from the 3-point line.

Senior forward Tres Tinkle has been solid at .371, but he has gotten little help. Of the players who have taken at least 30 attempts, freshman guard Jarod Lucas (.348) is next, followed by junior guards Ethan Thompson (.329) and Zach Reichle (.324), freshman guard Gianni Hunt (.258) and junior forward Alfred Hollins (.234).

That's not going to get it done, especially with players such as Thompson and Reichle, who are supposed to be shooters.

"We have good shooters, and we're not taking bad shots," sixth-year coach Wayne Tinkle said. "We're in a little bit of a funk, with some guys putting too much pressure on themselves instead of just, when they know the shot is there, letting it fly.

"But we've talked about in games when shots aren't going down, let's find another way to score. Get to the basket; get to the free-throw line. When we do that, a lot of times it relieves that pressure."

The 3-point shooting, decent in the preseason, has plummeted in Oregon State's 10 conference games — a collective .266, with opponents shooting .360. Tres Tinkle is shooting only .240 in those games. Reichle is at .355; nobody else exceeds .300.

"Some guys need to make sure they're taking good shots, but the next thing is just being confident," Coach Tinkle said. "We have to find a way to be relaxed. Maybe I need to do a better job of getting them to relax and knock those things down confidently."

Short of prescribing Prozac, what might work best is more often setting up his good shooters as the game evolves more into a 3-point contest. Lucas, who averaged 39.6 points and set a Southern California scoring record as a senior in high school, has struggled with his shot most of the season. In Oregon State's 68-63 win over Stanford last weekend, Lucas hit three treys en route to a season-high 21 points.

"Jared had been passing up shots," Tinkle said. "I pulled him aside early in that game and said, 'Shoot when you think you're open, until I tell you you're taking bad shots.' He gave us a big lift the rest of the way."

The Beavers are getting an average of only 15.3 points a game from their reserves.

"We need one little amber to spark the fire," Tinkle said. "We need somebody off the bench to hit some shots, and to do it defensively, too. That's when the fire can start for us."

Pac-12 opponents have focused much defensive attention on Tres Tinkle, putting their best interior defender on the 6-7 southpaw and then double- and triple-teaming him once he gets the ball anywhere near the basket. Until teammates make them pay by hitting 3's, that plan of attack will continue.

In 12 nonconference games, Oregon State scored fewer than 70 points only twice, both of the losses in a 10-2 start. In league play, the Beavers have been under 70 six times, including four in a row. Defense is important, but lack of offense can be a killer.

Oregon has had periods of scoring difficulties, too. The Ducks have been under 70 in five of their Pac-12 contests, but have had a knack for winning the close ones. Oregon has three overtime wins (Arizona, Washington, Southern Cal) and three other victories by nine points or fewer.

The Ducks are led by senior point guard Payton Pritchard, a finalist for the John Wooden and Bob Cousy awards as the nation's best player. The 6-1 West Linn High grad leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.6 points per game (Tinkle is third at 19.2) and in assists at 5.8.

"He is having a heck of a season," Coach Tinkle said. "He finished last year so well and carried that over. He was always really solid, but now he is comfortable being the guy in his last year.

"He had so much talent around him in previous years, you lost sight of what he brought. They're talented this year, too, but they have so many new guys, he is really standing out."

Pritchard is 10th in the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage (.400), but he has become better on the drive, both as a scorer and facilitator.

"You used to worry mostly about him shooting the 3-point ball," Coach Tinkle said. "Now he is impacting the game in different ways, driving and probing and making good decisions. And defensively, he's so scrappy, getting his hands on balls."

Sophomore guard Will Richardson leads the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage (.444), and senior guard Anthony Mathis is fourth (.418). Then there is junior swing man Chris Duarte, who is contributing 14.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.

"Duarte is really good defensively, too," Coach Tinkle said. "He is high in steals (38) and creates havoc defensively with his length. Now he's starting to shoot it and score.

"They have so much length across the front line. It's a team with a lot of new guys, but they're very good."

The Beavers are good, too, when they play well. They hold league wins over Arizona, Colorado and Stanford, all upper-echelon teams in the Pac-12. But home losses to UCLA and USC put the Beavers on their heels. The win over Stanford, followed by a down-to-the-wire 69-67 loss at California, renewed hope.

"(The players) are in a better place after last week," Coach Tinkle said. "A sweep would have been great, but they saw what the attention to detail led to at Stanford. Our assistant coaches have done a great job of keeping things upbeat and positive. We have to stay together, and one little spark can get the confidence going again. We know when we're right, we can compete with and beat the best in the league.

"We're excited to be back in Gill. We want to get the bad taste out of our mouth from the last time we were here. We were better last week. We'll have a lot more confidence heading into this weekend."

Oregon is 20th in NET rankings, which are used to determine seeding and spots in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon State is 78th and on the outside looking in. A win over the Ducks would be particularly meaningful in that regard.

Tres Tinkle, incidentally, has scored 2,084 career points, putting him 88 behind Gary Payton (2,172) as the school scoring record-holder. Tinkle has 820 career rebounds and needs nine to pass Dave Gambee (828) and move into third place. Tinkle is 60 behind No. 2 A.C. Green (880).

The junior Tinkle is 3-0 at Gill against Oregon in his career. He would love to be able to say he never lost to the Ducks at home.

The Ducks, coming off a 70-60 loss at Stanford last Sunday, hope to have something to say about that Saturday night.

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