Beavs, Ducks pose disparate hurdles for Cougs

REMEMBER THE BAD OLD days at Washington State? Those sordid times when Cougar basketball fans would count the days until Kevin Eastman or Paul Graham was fired, or until Dick Bennett would build the program enough to turn things over to his energetic son?

Welcome to the sad state of Oregon State as the Beavers prepare for Thursday's game at eighth-ranked Washington State (7 p.m., no TV).

The Beavers have lost two straight to WSU, six straight overall, seven straight to Pac-10 opponents, 10 straight to Pac-10 opponents on the road, yada yada yada.

Not that playing at home is much of an advantage. The Beavers rank a distant last in average attendance in the Pac-10 at 3,625. Last week's two games each drew announced (not actual) crowds of barely 4,000, the smallest at OSU for conference games in more than 40 years. One fan wore a paper bag over his head.

Maybe that fan would be kind enough to hand that bag to Jay John before he goes before the firing squad -- employment firing, that is. Athletic director Bob De Carolis publicly stated prior to the season that the Beavers must shown improvement for John to keep his job.

A 6-10 start, including 0-4 in conference play, presumably does not constitute progress. John Canzano, a sports columnist for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, wrote that John may be fired in the next few days if he doesn't win at WSU or at Washington on Saturday.

"I've not been given any indication of that," John said Tuesday.

No one questions that the Beavers are more athletic than John's previous five teams, which compiled a 66-85 record (28-62 in the Pac-10). C.J. Giles is a gifted 6-foot-11 junior who ranks third in the Pac-10 with 1.75 blocked shots per game, but the former Seattle prep standout from Rainier Beach (who was kicked off the team at Kansas for various transgressions) has struggled with foul problems and was suspended one game for missing practice. Since then, he's been seen arguing with a coach at practice.

"Oregon State -- certainly they've struggled to get victories, but they're very talented," Bennett said.

The Beavers' main problem, simply put, is that they simply can't shoot -- 38.7 percent from the field (last in the Pac-10 and 318th out of 328 NCAA Division I teams) and 63.4 percent from the line (ninth in the Pac-10 and 289th in the nation). The Beavers score just 61.6 points per game, which ranks last in the Pac-10 and 293rd in the nation.

"The talent defending us is better than our talent at shooting," John summed up.

John said the Beavers rebound "extraordinarily well," but even that compliment is accompanied by an asterisk.

"We miss so many shots," John noted, "you can pad your (rebounding) stats."

Sophomore swingman Seth Tarver leads Oregon State with just 12.9 points per game, and he's struggled with his shot of late.

BENNETT AND HIS PLAYERS are looking forward to playing in Pullman for just the fifth time this year -- "It'll be so nice to be back home and have that atmosphere" -- but the Cougars will need more than home cookin' to win Sunday.

The run-and-gun Oregon Ducks (12-4, 3-1) have gunned down WSU 13 straight times, with the last three games in Pullman decided by three points or less. Last season the Ducks pulled out a 77-74 overtime thriller in the Palouse despite Derrick Low's nine 3-pointers and 37 total points.

"They're sort of unique," Bennett said. "They play four guards, and their ‘5' man, Marty Leunen, can play on the perimeter, step out and shoot 3's."

Senior forward Malik Hairston, finally living up to the hype that followed him out of high school in Detroit, leads the Ducks with 18.1 points per game and 51 percent shooting on 3's. Leunen, one of three senior starters, averages 15.3 points and 9.9 rebounds.

The Oregon game looms large, obviously, but Oregon State is the first order of business. Bennett said he's not worried about any hangover from Saturday's first loss of the season at UCLA.

"I wish we had played better at UCLA," Bennett said, "but you've got to let it go."

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