Oregon State senior center Gligorije Rakocevic isn’t a one-man show on defense.
But he gets a lot of credit from coaches and teammates alike for what he brings on that end of the court. His presence and communication on the backline is a key.
Rakocevic has played a total of 17 minutes in two games back after missing five straight with a stress fracture in his left foot. But Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle says there’s no understating what it’s meant to have the 6-foot-11 post player in the mix again.
“I don’t think it was just a coincidence the games that he was out we were giving up much higher percentages and shots from 3. He really helps,” Tinkle said, adding that Rakocevic has spent time mentoring fellow big men Kylor Kelley and Warren Washington, both first-year players in the program.
“He’s been much more inclusive in our deal the last few weeks and it’s no surprise those numbers have gotten back to where they need to.”
Rakocevic played in the first six games of the season, and the Beavers held five of those teams under a 40-percent field goal percentage, one of Oregon State’s measuring sticks of defensive success.
In the next five, with Rakocevic on the sideline, OSU kept just one opponent under that threshold and another to exactly 40 percent as the Beavers went 2-3 in that stretch.
In Rakocevic’s return the past two games, Central Connecticut shot 32.8 percent and Oregon 37.7 in OSU wins.
“We were really good early on. We had a stretch where we kind of lost it. A lot of that was when we didn’t have G, we didn’t have his voice,” OSU junior forward Tres Tinkle said of Rakocevic. “Since my dad’s been here they’ve always been good defensive teams. We know what we’re capable of, we know what our zone does and our man as well. As long as we’re locked in and focused we know we can get stops and pressure teams.”
One of coach Tinkle’s goals is to limit scoring by the opponent’s top two scorers. In last Saturday’s Civil War win in Eugene, the Beavers didn’t hold down the Ducks’ leading scorers but made them shoot a low percent to reach their point totals.
Louis King had a team-high 17 points on 6 of 17 from the floor. Pritchard, Oregon’s leading scorer, got 14 points on 5 of 16.
“Obviously they have lots of great players. But we knew (Pritchard) was the key to their whole team and we had to contain him and I think we did a pretty good job of that,” said OSU sophomore guard Zach Reichle.
A clutch moment
Reichle and senior guard Stevie Thompson each made two free throws in the final minute Saturday to help the Beavers take the lead and then hold on to win the 351st Civil War.
Also making two at the line was freshman guard Antoine Vernon, who has seen his on-court role grow in recent weeks.
Vernon said he believes he’s being trusted more. His clutch foul shots could only help that.
“It felt really good, because I felt like I needed that to solidify my spot on the roster,” he said. “Because I felt like I just needed to do something that was significant so that I could feel confident in myself. That moment right there, it helped me believe in myself a little more.”
Answering the press
Oregon State didn’t handle Oregon’s full-court press well during a four-plus-minute stretch late in the second half where the Ducks turned a 14-point deficit into a one-point lead.
Breaking the press was the first area the Beavers worked on in their return to the practice court Tuesday. It would be no surprise if USC (Thursday’s opponent at Gill Coliseum) and USC (Sunday) test OSU’s progress.
“We’ve got all kinds of tips in the last couple days, which is fun. Really, watching the film, it came down to us and our lack of execution,” coach Tinkle said before Tuesday’s practice. “We don’t try to dribble through traps, we don’t try to dribble versus pressure. We all know that spacing and ball movement is the key. We’ve just got to get better at those.”
Oregon State had six turnovers during Oregon’s comeback and 19 for the game.
Reichle said his team “panicked a little bit” in the late stretches.
“We just have to work on taking care of the ball, not putting the ball down right away as soon as we get it. Read the floor, see where the defense is,” he said. “We just need to slow down and go at our pace rather than have the defense speed us up.”