Oregon State Finds Success By Swapping Starting Point GuardsPosted by Kenny Ocker on January 23rd, 2014
Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is a Northwest-based national columnist for Rush The Court and filed this report Wednesday night from Washington State’s Friel Court in Pullman.
Craig Robinson might have just figured it out just in time to make something of this Pac-12 season. The Oregon State coach, who has struggled for consistent point guard play since taking over in Corvallis back in 2008, has given the reins of the offense to freshman guard Hallice Cooke in the last four games, and it’s paid immediate dividends. After a middling non-conference performance that included losses to Coppin State, DePaul and Hawaii, and an 0-2 start to conference play, Robinson put Cooke in the starting lineup in place of junior Challe Barton, and the Beavers (11-7, 3-3 Pac-12) have looked like a different team.
Let’s not forget that Oregon State shooting guard Roberto Nelson is the top-scoring player in the Pac-12, putting in more than 21 points per night, and the Beavers’ interior triumvirate of Angus Brandt, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier each average more than 10 points per game themselves. Cooke doesn’t have to do a lot to help his team. But his skill set – the third-best three-point shooting rate in the country at nearly 56 percent, and the team’s second-best assist rate behind Nelson – fits well within the construct of a team led by three inside scorers and a perimeter scorer (Nelson) who commands double-teams. The Beavers have a 3-1 record in games in which Cooke has started, including home upsets of Stanford and Oregon, and a 66-55 road win at Washington State on Wednesday night.
After the game, Robinson said of Cooke’s impact in the starting lineup: “He has brought a little bit more scoring ability from the point guard spot, even though he didn’t have much scoring today, and he’s a little bit longer from a defensive standpoint.” Although the guard finished with three points on just 1-of-2 shooting from the field, he had a team-high three assists. And that length gave fits to Washington State point guard Royce Woolridge; the junior, someone Robinson said his team has had trouble defending in the past, finished with only four points on four shots with four turnovers. Nelson, a front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year, was similarly effusive in his praise for Cooke after the game. “That guy, he plays with a lot of heart,” said Nelson, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “Hallice has just been playing extremely well. He hits those big shots for us and he has really long arms, so he’s out there in the passing lanes, stealing, going up there and dunking, so he does a lot for us offensively and defensively.”
The Beavers are still flawed – their lack of depth, especially in the backcourt, is a big red flag, as is their high turnover rate – but Cooke’s growing role in the playing rotation and his team’s stronger performances means they could potentially end up playing postseason basketball this season. The NIT certainly wouldn’t be a bad place for Nelson, Brandt and Collier to end their collegiate careers in Corvallis, and Cooke’s growth as a freshman could be the necessary catalyst to help them get there.