A close look at Beavers basketball, men and women
CORVALLIS — It was quite an afternoon of basketball for Beaver Nation Saturday at Gill Coliseum.
Treated to a rare double-header featuring the Oregon State men and women's teams, more than 8,000 collective fans saw the home teams roll with back-to-back 100-point performances — surely an unprecedented occurrence in the programs' history.
OSU's ninth-ranked women (7-1) bombed La Salle 100-46 in the opener.
The Beaver men (6-1) finished the day with a 101-77 shellacking of Missouri State.
Here is what I saw during four hours of hoops at Gill ...
• Scott Rueck's women were coming off a 91-81 loss to No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in which the Beavers led by 12 points after one quarter and nine points at halftime. La Salle (0-7) is at the opposite end of the spectrum, trying to get something established under first-year coach Mountain MacGillivray.
("I was born in 1973, my parents were hippies and they wanted something different," the 5-8 MacGillivray explained about his surname. "There 'Mountain' was. If I was a girl, it would have been 'Sunshine.'")
MacGillivray did something I've not seen before in Division I basketball, employing platoons through the entire game — a ploy the coach said he used during his years coaching high school and AAU ball, and also at times while he was an assistant coach at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. With MacGillivray substituting five new players at regular intervals, 10 players saw between 18 of 24 minutes of action.
"I will tell you, if Destiny Slocum is my point guard, she's going to play all 40 minutes," he said. "There's no platoon. There is a point where the disparity is so great you don't make up for it off the bench."
Slocum is Oregon State's sophomore point guard, playing her first season after a transfer from Maryland, and she is some kind of player. The 5-8 Meridian, Idaho, native was limited to 19 minutes before fouling out with seven points and eight assists, but it's clear she is the best pure point guard Rueck has had in his nine seasons at the OSU helm.
• The Beavers — who led the nation in 3-point percentage a year ago — were 9 for 20 from beyond the arc Saturday, but didn't need the long ball against the outmanned Explorers. Oregon State ruled the backboards by an eye-popping 68-22 count, won the points-in-the-paint battle 52-14 and outscored the visitors 18-0 in second-chance points. La Salle shot .224 from the field, including 5 for 21 from 3-point range.
"It was David vs. Goliath, and Goliath did his job," MacGillvary quipped.
Ten Beavers played at least 10 minutes and scored at least five points.
"We thank Scott for having us out here," MacGillvary said. "He played a lot of players, which made the game a little more fun than it would have been had he played his top group the whole time."
• Junior guard Kat Tudor led the Beavers in scoring with 24 points in a team-high 32 minutes, knocking down 8 of 14 shots from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point territory to go with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.
After starting every game on OSU's Elite Eight team of a year ago, Tudor is serving as the Beavers' "sixth man." Judging from her performance so far this season, she'll be one of the very best in the country at her new spot.
Tudor is averaging 13.1 points while shooting .449 on 3-point attempts in the first seven games.
Rueck didn't discuss Tudor's new role with her prior to the season, in part because she was coming off of offseason hand surgery.
"I didn't know how things were going to play out," the OSU coach said. "We did talk about how it was going to be awhile before she was 100 percent."
With everyone back from last year's squad except center Marie Gulich and the eminently talented Slocum inserted into the starting five, somebody who started a year ago was going to have to take a bench role. Tudor — one of the premier pure shooters in women's college basketball — was the best candidate, though it was a delicate situation for both player and coach.
"When you've started and you're not starting, that's not easy on anyone," Rueck said. "I've recognized that in front of the team."
Tudor, who averaged 12.0 points and shot .412 from long range last season, has had to subjugate her ego.
"It's a change, but I have to do what the team needs," the slender 6-footer said. "If it's coming off the bench, I guess that's what I'm going to have to do. It was a little tough at first, but I'm accepting it now. You have to look at the bigger picture."
"That's the dilemma with this team," Rueck said. "We truly have eight players who could start. Everybody has had to really be selfless. Nobody is playing quite the minutes to this point that they have in the past, or that anybody would want.
"Kat is doing a great job. My main point is, let's not put too much on it. If you step back and look at it, it's not the biggest thing in the world."
Tudor may wind up having a better season than a year ago, for a couple of reasons. She'll be playing more minutes against opposing reserves, which means the defense against her is likely to be of lesser quality. It would make sense that she'll get more open looks, and she'll probably be on the floor at the end of close games more often than not, so she could see more playing time than several of the starters.
"The coaches have told me, 'It's good for you, it's going to be an advantage for you,'" Tudor said. "I'm hoping it works out that way."
Tudor appears to be a more complete player than she was a year ago, the result of hard work during the offseason. She looks to be a better facilitator, a better rebounder and a better defender than in the past.
"The coaches told me I had to be more of a creator," she said. "I worked on getting stronger, on dribbling and on defense, too."
Even so, her best attribute is with her sweet shooting stroke.
"Kat changes the game when she's on the floor," Rueck said. "She stretches the defense. As far as her overall game, it's reflective of the entire team. Our guards are all playmakers. They are all looking to be more aggressive off the bounce. A year ago, they didn't need to be. We could just throw it inside to Marie, and she could catch it at three feet or 12 feet.
"This year, we need to create off the dribble, and Kat is a perfect example of our development in that area."
• Oregon State had 29 assists on 37 baskets against La Salle. Rueck has had some excellent passing teams in the past, but might this team be his best in that area?
"It would be hard to say no," the coach said. "Our M.O. is to be unselfish. There have been years when we've moved the ball well, but this year the ball is moving so quickly that it's impossible to stop if we're reading on time and it moves when it should. That's becoming more and more the case."
• The one area where Oregon State isn't as strong as in past years is in the post. All-Americans Gulich and Ruth Hamblin were dominant players at both ends of the court the past four seasons. Maddie Washington got her first career start Saturday, and the 6-1 junior played well, contributing eight points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. She has improved her post-up game, adding a short turnaround jumper to her repertoire.
"Maddie can score," Rueck said. "She can find a way to get the ball to the rim pretty much against anyone."
But is she too small to play the better posts Oregon State will face in the Pac-12 and in the NCAA Tournament?
"That's the question," Rueck admitted.
Rueck is using three other players at the position — 6-8 senior Joanna Grymek, 6-2 junior Janessa Thropay and 6-7 freshman Patricia Morris. Will he stay with Washington as his starter?
"To be determined," Rueck said. "Hopefully, we will be able to play all four of our 5's. They all give a different look, which is hard to play against."
The best solution would be 6-9 freshman Andrea Aquino, one of the top recruits in the country last season. But Aquino, a native of Paraguay, is suffering from an undisclosed medical condition, and Rueck announced this week she will redshirt this season.
The medical condition is "one component" of Rueck's decision to redshirt Aquino, he said. She is able to take part in practice — though not in five-on-five or contact situations — but she has not been medically cleared for full duty.
"She is working through that situation," Rueck said Saturday. "She is using this year to develop and get stronger."
Will Aquino be able to play next season?
"We hope so," Rueck said.
Aquino, with athleticism, good feet and 3-point shooting range, has the looks of being Oregon State's most talented post. Her availability this season could have meant the difference between being a good team that reaches the NCAA Tournament and one that is strong enough to make the Final Four.
• MacGillivray — who comes from a Quinnipiac program that averaged more than 27 wins over the past six seasons — sounds as if he thinks the Beavers might have a long NCAA Tournament run, anyway.
"They're really good," he said. "They're so efficient offensively. Their numbers are scary (.495 shooting from the field, .416 from 3-point range). They make (opponents) take difficult shots. The only way they're going to lose is if they're playing somebody who can shoot the ball at the same clip. That's a uniquely talented team with some extraordinary size inside, which makes it even more difficult."
• Oregon State's men's team isn't ranked, but it has a chance to be the best club in Wayne Tinkle's five years at the OSU helm — even better than the one that won 19 games and made the NCAA Tournament in 2015-16.
The Beavers are led by junior forward Tres Tinkle, senior guard Stevie Thompson Jr. and sophomore guard Ethan Thompson. The Thompson brothers — offspring of OSU assistant coach Stevie Thompson Sr. — put on a shooting display for the ages Saturday in the rout of Missouri State.
The Thompsons were perfect from the field in the first half — 11 for 11, including 8 for 8 from beyond the arc — and were unerring until Stevie finally missed a 3-point try six minutes into the second half. They finished with a combined 47 points on 18-for-23 shooting, including 10 for 14 from downtown.
Coach Tinkle loved that the Beavers had 29 assists on their 39 baskets.
"It's wildfire when they share the ball like they did," he said.
Missouri State (3-5) is not a Pac-12-caliber team, but the Bears shot superbly, too — finishing 12 for 26 on 3-point tries. Defensively, they weren't up the task, the Beavers taking advantage by hitting the century mark for the first time in the Tinkle era.
Maybe the Bears were the perfect antidote for an OSU team that had shot only .293 from the 3-point line in the first six games.
"I'm thrilled that our guys found a way to get going offensively," Coach Tinkle said.
• Tres Tinkle remains the straw that stirs the Orange-flavored drink. The coach's kid contributed 24 points, six rebounds and five assists Saturday, sinking 10 of 17 shots as he displayed his wealth of moves and a great knack for finishing around the basket. A first-team all-Pac-12 selection as a sophomore, he'll again be one of the premier players in the conference this winter.
• The Beavers' chances of returning to the NCAA Tournament may hinge on improvement at the defensive end, though. The biggest factor there may be the addition of Kylor Kelley, a 7-foot, 215-pound junior stringbean who transferred to OSU after stints at Northwest Christian and Lane Community College.
Kelley, 21, came into the game ranked fourth in the nation with 3.50 blocked shots per game despite averaging only 18.8 minutes while backing up 6-11 senior Gligorje Rakocevic. With Rakocevic on the shelf for four to six weeks with a stress fracture of a foot, Kelley made his first start an effective one Saturday, blocking four shots and intimidating the Missouri State offense in increasing fashion as the game wore on.
Kelley is a work in progress on offense, at least until he hones a jump hook that fell short several times against the Bears. But with 25 blocks in seven games and increased playing time on the horizon, he is a legitimate threat to break the school single-season record for blocks of 73 set by Eric Moreland in 2012-13.
A native of Gervais, located four miles south of Woodburn just off of Interstate-5, Kelley has good genes. His father, 6-10 Jeff Kelley, played basketball at Boise State. His mother, 6-5 Shandel Howell, played at Utah State.
Kelley was a 6-10, 190-pound senior for a Gervais High team that failed to make the Class 3A tournament in 2015. By then, Tinkle was aware of Kelley, alerted to his potential by a Beaver booster, Albany farmer Bill Case, who had been watching Kelley play basketball since grade school. "Bill put him on our radar," Tinkle said.
A few Pac-12 schools showed interest, but "in my mind, I was going to go to Oregon State," Kelley said. "I went to a lot of Beaver games growing up. That's where I wanted to play."
There was a family connection. Kylor's older brother, Konnor, recently graduated in engineering from OSU.
Tinkle recalled that he would be doing postgame radio at Gill, "and I'd seen this skinny kid in jeans, shooting and dunking the ball. It was Kylor."
Tinkle watched Kelley play at Gervais, but didn't offer a scholarship at that point.
"He was pretty raw, but you could see a skill level," the OSU coach said. "He was super skinny, but he had good hands, good touch and he could run and jump."
Kelley wound up at Northwest Christian, an NAIA school in Eugene, then coached by former Oregon standout Luke Jackson. Kelley redshirted the 2015-16 season with medical issues, then averaged 8.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.6 blocks there as a freshman in 2016-17. At that point, Jackson told me he felt Kelley had NBA potential.
Academic issues caused Kelley to transfer to Lane, where he averaged 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks for the Titans last season. During the offseasons and summers, he would come often to play pickup games with OSU players, going head-to-head with former Beavers center Drew Eubanks, now with the San Antonio Spurs.
"Our guys gave us great reports on Kylor," Tinkle said. "Drew usually had the edge because he was thicker and stronger, but Kylor battled him pretty well."
Kelley intends to improve his short-range offensive repertoire, "but I came here to be a defensive force," he said. "If somebody drives, I have to protect the rim."
Does he find it more fun blocking a shot than scoring a basket?
"At times," he said. "It gets the crowd riled up, and a lot of times we can get a fast-break out of it at the other end."
Tinkle said Kelley "has gotten good at waiting at the rim and bluffing at the penetrator. If the guy goes up, he's there to protect the rim."
OSU coaches had hoped to bring Kelley along slowly this season.
"Now with the injury to 'Big G,' Kylor is thrown into the fire," Tinkle said. "But he's doing great. Offensively, he is just scratching the surface. Sometimes he shies away from contact because he's not that strong, but he's coming along.
"He has a great attitude. He wants to listen and learn. He's a sponge for what we're telling him. He's a tireless worker. He wants to be good and understands he has a long way to go."
Kelley knows his role with the Beavers increases with the injury to Rakocevic.
"It was hard to hear about 'Big G' getting hurt," he said. "Knowing that he's out for a while, I have to step up and help my teammates."
Kelley said he is focusing more on his studies than ever before, with the aid of academic tutors.
"We have a lot of help here keeping me on track," the liberal studies major said.
And he has enjoyed his short time as a Beaver.
"Love my teammates," he said. "It's been great since I got here in the summer. Can't tell you how much fun it has been."