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Hurd-Fontenet combo is working for Beavers

OSU coach Jay John starts both point guards and the team is 10-3

CORVALLIS Ñ When Oregon State's basketball season began, it appeared Jay John had a decision to make. Who would be the starting point guard, Lamar Hurd or Jason Fontenet?

The answer at this stage of the season: Both.

The result: It's working.

With the 6-4 Hurd and the 5-10 Fontenet in the starting lineup the past five games, the Beavers have gone unbeaten, including a sweep of UCLA and Southern Cal last weekend to go 2-0 in Pac-10 play for the first time since 1993.

Oregon State has won six in a row overall to take a 10-3 record into Saturday's visit to McArthur Court to face Oregon. The Beavers are doing it with a starting five that includes three guards: Hurd, Fontenet and 6-2 senior J.S. Nash.

John, who spent four seasons as an assistant to Lute Olson at Arizona, says he is taking a page from his old boss.

'I remember asking Coach Olson about his (NCAA) championship team of 1997,' says John, now in his third year at Oregon State. 'I asked, 'How did it work with all of those guards?' He said, 'You can never have enough guards on the floor.' It helps the transition game, you have a chance for better ball movement, and (the opponent) can't take away your point guard.'

Hurd, a junior starter for 56 straight games his first two seasons at OSU, started the first five games this season before missing three games with a back injury. Fontenet, a junior who redshirted last season after transferring from New Mexico State, took over in Hurd's absence. When Hurd returned, John elected to use the pair together.

The two are a study in contrasts. Hurd is long, composed and defensive-minded. Fontenet is short, explosive and offensive-minded. John feels comfortable with Hurd, who is no scoring threat Ñ he went scoreless in the series against the L.A. schools Ñ but is team-oriented and led the Pac-10 in assists-to-turnover ratio as a sophomore. John likes Fontenet's energy but worries about his defense and decision-making.

'Lamar has the height and experience and is a pass-first guy,' John says. 'He is very good defensively, he gets the ball to our guys down low better than any of our guards, and he sees beyond the first pass the same way as (J.S. Nash), who is like having a third point guard in the lineup.

'Jason brings a tremendous amount of energy offensively. He can shoot and push the ball upcourt. He is still making significant adjustments to handling the press and to the tougher Pac-10 competition from his time in the Sun Belt (Conference). He has to learn how to deal with keeping (defenders) from getting the ball. He's good at breaking people down on the dribble, but you can't try to take on the whole team. Those are things that can drive a coach crazy. It's still a work in progress.'

Fontenet was a driving force in both OSU wins last weekend. Against UCLA, he hit 5 of 8 shots and collected 13 points and six assists with no turnovers in 22 minutes. Against USC, he was 6 of 10 in collecting 14 points and three assists in 22 minutes. In that game, he scored 12 points during a 16-4 second-half run that turned the tide for the Beavers.

Though John considers Hurd more careful with the ball, the statistical sheet says otherwise. Fontenet has 43 assists and 26 turnovers this season; Hurd has 18 assists and 17 turnovers.

Hurd, who averages 2.5 points while shooting .313 from the field and .364 from the foul line, isn't a numbers guy. He provides intangibles, and he is willing to help the Beavers in any way possible.

'I'm just trying to provide what this team needs from me,' says the Houston native. 'It's not always scoring Ñ we have so many scorers. I'm just trying to find out what I need to do on a nightly basis.

'Jason is a triple-threat guy. He can shoot it, drive it and pass it. It's hard for defenses to guard that. We have had the best ball movement we've had all year the last few games. If we're winning, I guess we're going to stay with it,' Hurd says.

Fontenet, a two-year starter at New Mexico State, averages 8.8 points while shooting .444 from the field, .421 from 3-point range and .771 from the line. The Beavers haven't had a player who can break down a defender with a one-on-one move like Fontenet since Gary Payton. The Phoenix native might have the quickest first step by an OSU player since Billy Nickleberry in the 1960s, and he is a pressure defender on the perimeter, hounding a ball-handler upcourt.

'Coach says my size hurts me sometimes, especially on defense,' Fontenet says. 'Lamar has a good body, is real strong and athletic. I like playing against him in practice. We both make each other work hard, and it pays off in the games.

'I do what I can for the team. I like to run and gun, to shake and bake, to penetrate and get my teammates involved. If we aren't scoring in the 80s or 90s, I don't feel like I'm doing my job as a point guard.'

Some are projecting Oregon State as an upper-division Pac-10 and NCAA Tournament team. Fontenet isn't in a pop-off mode just yet.

'We don't want to jump ahead of ourselves,' he says. 'We're off to a good start, but we don't want to get bigheaded. Right now, we're going to worry about Oregon and see what happens.'

Notes

The last time the Beavers were as good after 13 games was 1989-90, when they started 11-2 on their way to a 22-7 record and a Pac-10 title in Payton's senior year. That was the last time OSU had a winning season. É

The Beavers' best five: 6-10 Sasa Cuic, 6-8 Nick Dewitz and 6-8 David Lucas on the front line, with Fontenet and Nash or Chris Stephens in the back court. John went with that combination for periods of the game against UCLA and it was effective. 'We got pushed into it because we couldn't rebound, and we hadn't really practiced (that lineup),' John says. É John has been using 11 players in his rotation, but he shortened it to eight Sunday against USC, not counting Kyle Jeffers' three minutes. The 6-9, 270-pound Jeffers, promising 6-8 freshman Marcel Jones and 6-7 sophomore Kenny Hooks could wind up being the odd men out except in the event of injury or foul trouble. É Lucas has been coming off the bench since returning to action, but probably will make his first start against Oregon. He missed the first 10 games after offseason toe surgery, but doesn't seem to have missed a beat. É Three-point specialist Angelo Tsagarakis, who has missed the entire season while recuperating from shoulder surgery, probably will redshirt. É Beaver Nation doesn't mind when 6-6 senior reserve Jim Hanchett is on the floor. His hustle plays make him a fan favorite. 'Jim is the key player on this team,' Fontenet says. 'Without him, I don't know where we would be. He doesn't say too much; he just goes out and makes plays.' É This is OSU's most offensively capable team since the late 1980s. Its biggest problems are defensive rebounding, transition defense and defending big men such as UCLA's 7-foot, 270-pound Michael Fey. É

Cuic takes the occasional bad shot and needs work on his defense, but his offensive prowess and versatility is a lot like that of Jose Ortiz, the Beavers' Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1986-87. É The freshman from Croatia learned a lesson Friday when he picked up his fourth personal foul midway through the second half, slammed the ball to the floor and was whistled for a technical. In college ball, a 'T' counts as a personal foul, and Cuic was disqualified with five fouls.