Cowboys, Forte Ready To Get On Track

Will Phil Forte break out of his shooting slump? Can Oklahoma State win against Oregon in the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening if the Cowboys second-leading scorer doesn’t play well? Or will Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young lead Oregon to its second NCAA win over OSU in the past three years?

It’s going to be more than Forte playing against Young when the Cowboys and Ducks meet at 5:50 p.m. Friday (Central Daylight Time) in a West Regional matchup in Omaha, Nebraska.

But Forte and Young are two of the major storylines entering Friday’s game.

The Cowboys have lost six of their last seven games, including last week’s 64-49 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament. They have won only one game – a victory over a TCU team that finished ninth out of 10 teams in the Big 12 – since Feb. 10.

Forte is one reason the Cowboys have struggled over the last month. In his last seven games, he’s made just 16-of-56 shots from the field (28.6 percent). He was 1-of-10 shooting in the 15-point loss to the Sooners in the Big 12 tourney, and finished with just three points.

“If you’re somebody who doesn’t work on your game, then you have regrets,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said. “He doesn’t have those regrets. He doesn’t fall into that category.

“I know he wants to play better. But I’ll be honest with you, we’re not spending a whole lot of time worrying about what happened in the past. I think he’s going to be great the next game. That’s always my thought,” said Ford.

Forte was averaging 17.0 points after the Cowboys three-game winning streak over Texas, Kansas and Baylor in early February. But he’s struggled since then, being held to single digits in three of the last seven games (scoring seven points in a loss at TCU, being held scoreless for the only time all season against Texas Tech, and then scoring three in the loss to OU last week).

While the Cowboys and Forte are hoping to find a way to regroup following the disappointing end to the season, Young and the Ducks are on a high entering the NCAA tourney.

The Ducks have won 11 of their last 13, including wins over Colorado and Utah in last week’s Pac-12 tourney before losing to Arizona late Saturday night.

In the Pac-12 semifinals, Young sank a three-pointer in the final seconds to give Oregon a 67-64 victory over No. 17 Utah. The 6-2 senior guard who transferred to Oregon two years ago is averaging 20.2 points.

OSU assistant coach James Dickey is familiar with Young, who played for him at Houston for two years before transferring to Oregon.

“Good player. He can score,” Dickey said earlier this week. “He’s really improved. He’s always been a guy who’s worked on his game. He’s gotten better at ball handling, made the transition from the two to more of a combo guard. He’s always had the ability to score and has great range.

“They’ve done a good job with him and he’s done a good job. He handles the ball (more), but I think he’s worked and it’s a natural maturity process. But the thing that he had then is the same thing he has now – he can get that ball in the hole. That’s what he can do.”

Young is the son of former Houston standout Michael Young, who ranks as the third-leading scorer in Houston history and is one of five players to have his jersey number retired by the school.

Michael Young was on Dickey’s staff as director of operations but was asked to take another position in the athletic department after the 2013 season. He refused the reassignment and shortly after that Joseph Young left Houston for Oregon.

Dickey’s team was 17-16 in 2013-14 without Young, and he resigned after four seasons as head coach of the Cougars. He joined Travis Ford’s staff at OSU a few months later.

“It’s just another game. When I say another game, it’s a big game because it’s the first game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what I’ll be focused on, our guys and doing everything to prepare us,” Dickey said.

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