Men's basketball continue hot streak

While most Beaver fans have been eagerly talking about the prospects of next year's football team, the OSU men's basketball team have been quietly putting together one of the better opening season starts in the last decade of Beaver basketball.

The men in black of the hardwood are riding a six-game winning streak, are 2-0 in conference play, and have won their last eight of nine games. OSU’s 10-3 start is their best since a 10-2 record in 1989-90, the last time the Beavers went to the NCAA tournament.

An 85-80 victory over the UCLA Bruins in Corvallis last Friday gave Oregon Sate their first Pac-10 opening win since 1994-95. It was also the first time in 14 years that Oregon State defeated the Bruins in consecutive contests.

With their victory over USC on Sunday, the Beavers moved to 2-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1992-93 season. Their sweep of the Los Angeles schools was the Beavs’ first since the 1998-99 season.

What makes this even more exciting is the team has done most of their damage without two of last season’s starters, forward David Lucas and guard Angelo Tsagarakis. In fact, the Beavers current lineup features just two starters from last year (Lamar Hurd and J.S. Nash).

OSU is just six points away from being 12-1, as they suffered two two-point losses. And with the return of Lucas in the lineup and Tsagarakis getting healthier, they will only get better.

Besides the winning streaks and a young team playing well, there are a number of encouraging trends from this year’s squad. Over the past few years, the Beavers have played well at home and the streak is continuing into 2005 as the Beavers are 5-0 this year, their best start on Ralph Miller Court since the 1999-2000 season when they won their first six.

Their comfort level in front of the orange and black fans is seen in their impressive numbers at home as they are averaging 80.8 points while their opponents score just 69.0. OSU is shooting 46.4% from the field, 41.4% on three-pointers, and 74.6% from the foul line while at home.

Another encouraging trend is the play of the bench. The Beaver bench is averaging 26.7 points per game and has outscored the opponents’ bench nine times with OSU posting an 8-1 record in those games. Eleven players are averaging 12.6 minutes per game, five players are averaging double digit points per game, and two are averaging six rebounds per game.

The 2005 team has also been solid at the line with the team average hovering around the .750 mark. Forward Sasa Cuic made 30 consecutive free throws earlier this year tying an OSU record. Guard Chris Stephens made 22 straight while guard Jason Fontenet made 13 in a row. All three players are shooting at least 79% from the line.

Oregon State is a team full of shooters and is not afraid to launch the long bomb on a regular basis. The team has hit 38.2% of their three point attempts and are just two percentage points from the school record of 40.6%.

Guard J.S. Nash (17 of 32), forward Marcel Jones (8 of 20) and guard Jason Fontenet (16 of 38) are all shooting at least .400 from beyond the arc. Nash recently tied the school’s three-point field-goal percentage when he went 5 for 5 against UCLA.

Everything is not perfect in Beaver land. One disturbing trend is the team’s failure to hold a big lead. In 11 of their first 13 games OSU has taken a double-digit lead only to give it partly, or entirely, back 10 times.

The Beavers also play a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde in the two halves of a game. The Beavers average 36.3 points in the first half compared to their opponents’ 28.3 average. In the second half the Beavers average the same amount of points, but give up 40.3. The good new is that OSU has outscored their last three opponents in the second half, which corresponds with Lucas’ return.

Head coach Jay John has put together an exciting team to watch and one that should make at least an NIT appearance. The team travels to Eugene this Saturday for the first of three road games against their northwest Pac-10 rivals. A victory over Oregon on Mac Court would be the Beavers’ first since 1993 and huge step on an important road trip.

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