Oregon State at Oregon
When: Noon, Sunday
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 100.1 FM, 1110 AM
CORVALLIS — Life has not been easy for the Pac-12’s leading scorer the past couple of weeks.
Hounded by defenses intent on stopping him and struggling to make shots when opportunities arise, Oregon State senior guard Roberto Nelson has been in a bit of an offensive funk. And yet he is still averaging 21.5 points per game.
Yes, a slump for Nelson is still a pretty good stretch for most college basketball players.
But Nelson remains the engine that makes Oregon State go. And when he struggles, typically the Beavers struggle as well.
It is not so different for Joseph Young, the Oregon Ducks’ leading scorer at 18.4 points. Young almost single-handedly brought Oregon back from a 20-point halftime deficit in its 74-72 loss to Arizona State on Saturday with a 29-point performance in the second half.
Nelson can relate. He scored 24 of his 26 points against the Sun Devils after halftime in the Beavers’ 86-82 overtime loss last Thursday.
Young and Nelson will face off for the second time this season in the Civil War game Sunday in Eugene. Tipoff time is noon at UO’s Matthew Knight Arena.
Oregon State (13-10 overall, 5-6 Pac-12) won the first game against Oregon (15-8, 3-8) last month in Corvallis by a score of 80-72. Nelson had 22 points in that game, and Young tied his season low with just five.
“You just have to make it hard for him,” Nelson said of Young. “Contest shots as much as possible and not leave him open. If you leave him open and he gets one or two open shots and he bangs those, that’s six points that can turn into 14 really quick if you’re not careful. A guy like that, you just got to make sure you’re on him each time. You got to make sure you sprint down the floor and get as close to him as possible.”
Nelson is talking from experience. He has increasingly been the focus of opponents’ game plans and his production has dipped because of it.
Not counting the four points he had before being ejected early in a game against Towson in December, Nelson scored a season-low 12 points in the victory over UCLA on Feb. 2 when he was forced to play decoy for much of the game.
He followed with two points in the first half against Arizona State before his outburst in the second half and overtime.
Then on Sunday against No. 2 Arizona and the stingiest defense in the conference, Nelson made just three of his 12 shots and finished with only 10 points in the Beavers’ 76-54 loss.
He is averaging 16.7 points over the past three games but is shooting just 34.2 percent from the floor. Before the UCLA game, he was shooting 45.8 percent.
“I’ve just got to take my game to the next level,” Nelson said. “These teams are preparing really well, watching a lot of tape, trying to force me into positions where it makes it tough. I’ve just got to find different ways to score.”
He also needs to get more help, Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said.
“We have to have other guys step up and we have a number of guys who can do that,” Robinson said. “We’ve got Devon Collier, Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt, and now, even Hallice Cooke. So I’m not as worried about scoring the points. If we play well as a team, we should have a better showing, and it should be irrespective of what Roberto’s points are. I mean, we need him to score, but we can’t rely on him to score all the time. Other guys have to step up.”
While Nelson’s scoring is down, his effort has not dropped with it, said Robinson, who praised Nelson’s efforts on defense the past three games — especially against UCLA’s leading scorer, Jordan Adams, who made none of his nine shots from the field against the Beavers.
“It’s hard being the leading scorer in a conference,” Robinson said. “Everybody’s going to try to shut you down. That’s what we do.”
And that is what the Beavers will try to do again Sunday against Young, who has averaged 19.5 points in Oregon’s six games since the last Civil War.
“He’s very much like Roberto where he can score points in bunches, especially from behind that three-point line,” Robinson said. “He doesn’t have to be right on the line to make them; he can be a couple steps behind that. So you have to limit his touches, which is what we tried to do last game, and make somebody else beat you.”
Just as teams have been doing all season to Nelson.