CORVALLIS — When USC fired coach Kevin O'Neill a couple of weeks ago, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson winced and then joked, "When you see a guy 2-2 get fired, when you're 0-3, you get nervous.''
Robinson, his Beavers having dropped to 1-6 in thePac-12 (11-9 overall) still isn't nervous, but he and his players recognize the urgency of their situation.OSU traveled to the Bay Area on Wednesday, for games against California and Stanford. The Bears are 3-4 in league play and Stanford improved to 4-4 with a win over Oregon Wednesday.
If the wins don't come for the Beavers, who knows what the team's mind set would be when it returns to Corvallis.
"With our record, you've got to put together some wins and turn this thing around,'' Robinson said. "We're trying to give these guys the level of confidence they had before they started on this streak.''
On one hand, the Beavers are a couple of free throws and a couple of stops away from being a run-of-the-mill 3-4, too. And they have played the Pac-12's better half, with just two games remaining against teams with winning conference records (Washington and Oregon). On the other hand, they are not clicking on offense, their defense gives up more Pac-12 points than any other, there is some slippage in rebounding and, well, they are 1-6.
"I mean, we're right there,'' said forward Eric Moreland. "We see it, and we believe. We believe in the coaching staff, and we believe in each other. We've just got to keep on grinding it out.''
The Beavers are ninth in the Pac-12 in attendance for league play, a notch below where they were last season (resurgent Arizona State has passed them). And many fans have taken to the message boards with gripes about Robinson.
"People want quick fixes, even if it was a horrible place to be just five years ago — that's what I signed up for,'' Robinson said. "If my evaluation is wins and losses, my evaluation is wins and losses. You've got to keep winning if you want to keep these jobs.''
Robinson admitted that, in his first four years at OSU, his teams largely stayed away from the injury bug. But the loss of center Angus Brandt has left a void bigger than what one might expect from the loss of a player who averaged 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds last season.
Without Brandt, probably the team's most reliable 15-footshooter, the spacing has suffered on offense, and the dirty work is gone on the other end. No OSU player was better at rotating and taking a charge. Nobody was more willing to bang his body.
Defensively, Robinson admits his team is a work in progress, and Robinson was frank in admitting he doesn't have all the answers just yet.
"I'd like to be better at the whole concept of man-to-man defense,'' he said.
But he did point to the recent improvement in Roberto Nelson's defense, and the on-the-ball defense of Devon Collier. And freshman Jarmal Reid has been a defensive find. Reid has guarded everybody from ASU's explosive point guard Jahii Carson to Washington State big man Brock Motum, and it's a good bet he'll be harassing Cal guard Allen Crabbe tonight.
Opponents are shooting 46 percent against OSU. Last year, they shot a league-worst 48 percent. So there is improvement on a team that is in its second year of playing man-to-man. The Beavers held both Washington schools below 45 percent shooting from the floor last weekend. They just had no answer for Motum, arguably the league's best player at dissecting a defense.
On offense, OSU has had to endure the growing pains of freshmen Reid, Olaf Schaftenaar and Langston Morris-Walker, who are shooting a combined 29 percent from the floor.It adds up to a tenuous situation, where the margin for error is slim and mistakes harder to avoid with each defeat.
"We feel like we know how to win games and are capable of it,'' Robinson said. "It's just having the stomach to put it all together. By stomach, it could be guts, it could be courage, it could be character — just a lot of things that go into winning a game at this point.''
Practices have been as energetic as ever, as players have handled the situation "about as well as they can,'' Robinson said.
"There's no real give-up in these guys, no real negative vibe yet,'' Robinson said. "That's good to see.''
What would be better to see is another victory.
"We've got to turn this thing around, and we've got to do it fast,'' Moreland said. "It's getting tiring to say, 'we're right there.' We've just got to go and do it.''