Beavers seem to be flunking chemistry
A lot will be on Jay John's mind this week Ñ and not just how the Oregon State coach might re-evaluate his coaching style, and the effects of stress on his health.
John's team has some glaring problems, starting with chemistry. The Beavers, who dreamed of both the NCAA Tournament and their first winning season since 1990, looked awful in losses last week at Washington State and Washington.
'We still have chemistry, but right now our chemistry is in jeopardy,' observes former Madison High guard Chris Stephens. 'We've lost three in a row, and my teammates and I have to understand we have to come together. It's a long season, and we're going to have ups and downs. We have to come together and stay together Ñ and nobody can be selfish and for themselves.
'Everybody has to understand their roles, and we'll be fine. We're all for each other.'
The Beavers, who started 10-3 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10, will play host to Arizona State and Arizona this week.
'Definitely, one to 16 (players), plus our coaches, we have great relationships,' senior J.S. Nash says. 'Off the court, we're fine, it's just on the court.'
John suffered a scare Saturday at Washington, when he complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. He went to the hospital and stayed overnight. Doctors described it as a 'hypertensive event,' which is essentially elevated blood pressure brought on by stress.
He and his assistants also have to cure some ills with their player rotations. The Beavers need to rebound better and simply be tougher.
'We have to find a defensive presence in the post,' assistant coach Brian Loyd says. But the problems of late also have included lax transition defense, sloppy execution and poor shooting.
'We're letting teams score way too easily,' Stephens says.
Last year, everything seemed to work, even though the Beavs had another losing record. Everybody knew their roles, and the offense focused on feeding the ball to David Lucas. Stephens played terrifically all year, consistently shooting well and scoring from the outside. Point guard Lamar Hurd led the team, with few turnovers.
The roles have been muddled this year, due largely to a foot injury that kept Lucas out until Pac-10 play and the introduction of freshman Sasa Cuic and transfers Jason Fontenet and Nick DeWitz.
Stephens now comes off the bench. Hurd, a pass-first point, shares the ball with Fontenet, a scorer. Cuic, who started and starred early, has struggled with fouls, defense, rebounding and temperament. Jim Hanchett and Lucas need to get into better shape and get into sync with DeWitz up front.
'This year, everybody wants the same roles, everybody wants to get their shots off,' Lucas says. 'I'm not getting many touches at all. I think we need to start playing as a team Ñ I post up and they pass it in, I'll kick it out. Now, (teammates) just want to get their own shots instead of getting the post involved with the guards and guards with the post.'
The Beavers have been better on the road, but here are some of the ugly details from last week: They were down 15-1 at Washington State and gave up a 30-2 run at Washington. Tied 22-22 at UW, they gave up 24 unanswered points. They fell apart. And it wasn't painful only for the coach.
'We're a better team than that,' Nash says. 'When they come to Corvallis, it'll be a different story.'
It starts with chemistry and establishing some rhythm.
'It's tough when you have so many talented guys and (try) mixing them together,' Nash adds. 'We're trying to work through certain lineups.'
What's wrong with Ian Crosswhite? The UO junior center had an awful UW-WSU trip, committing 13 turnovers. Obviously, it's one of coach Ernie Kent's primary concerns, and he publicly criticized Crosswhite's play after the WSU game. On a one-and-one foul shot opportunity late at WSU, a Cougar player missed the first and Crosswhite casually grabbed the ball and tried to flip it to the official for another shot, with guard Aaron Brooks smartly intercepting it and helping preserve UO's 55-52 win.
The Ducks' best players last weekend were Bryce Taylor (42 points), Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen Ñ all true freshmen. Earlier, Kent said, 'Conference (play) has shocked them a little bit.' Looks like Crosswhite, Mitch Platt, Brooks and others have been shocked worse. É One would anticipate the freshmen to be tight and intimidated at Washington, a game in which the Huskies led 25-5 after 11 Duck turnovers, but the veterans? 'We have to be tougher with the ball and not let the pressure overwhelm us,' Taylor said after the UW game. É Adds Brooks: 'If I don't play to my potential, I know we struggle.'
Portland rebounded with two home wins, shooting .566 and beating Pepperdine 81-71 and firing at a .560 clip to down Loyola Marymount 74-57. Another positive: more assists than turnovers in both games, and 33 combined assists. The Pilots could help themselves with a road win or two this week (at San Diego and San Francisco).
The roll continues for Portland State Ñ eight wins in a row after last weekend's 70-59 victory at Eastern Washington. The streak should reach 10 on this week's trip to Weber State and Idaho State. It isn't silly to ask: Can the Viks go unbeaten in the Big Sky Conference?