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Utah basketball: Oregon State’s Robinson in hot seatas Utes prepare for visit

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Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson, right, talks with forward Olaf Schaftenaar, of the Netherlands, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Los Angeles, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. UCLA won 74-64. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

By Tony Jones

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 05 2013 04:07PM
Updated May 21, 2013 11:32PM

He is the brother of first lady Michelle Obama. He is known as a onetime successful investment banker and remembered as one of the best players in the history of Princeton basketball.

Craig Robinson, the coach at Oregon State, is also very much on a warm seat in Corvallis — one that is getting hotter by the game.

As OSU prepares to face Utah on Wednesday night at Gill Coliseum, the Beavers will do so with a roster as talented as any in Robinson’s four years at the helm. But Oregon State, despite playing well in November and December, is just 1-8 in Pac-12 play. That’s good for dead last, with the Utes winning their second league game on Saturday against Colorado.

"It’s really frustrating," Robinson said. "We’re consistently trying to fix what’s wrong. We do feel that we’re more talented than our record. But our record is our record because we’re not living up to the talented level that we have. We can be as talented as we want. But if we’re not playing well, then it means nothing."

On Monday, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak called the Beavers one of the most capable teams on the schedule. And on paper, anyway, Krystkowiak is on the money. Ahmad Starks is generally thought of as one of the better point guards in the league. NBA scouts are interested in Joe Burton, a Glen "Big Baby" Davis clone who is on pace to become the first non-point guard ever to lead OSU in assists in three consecutive years.

Roberto Nelson is one of the more feared shooters in the Pac-12. Oregon State also has the kind of length and athleticism on the wing that’s given the Utes fits in the past — think USC and Stanford.

"They have a lot of options," Krystkowiak said. "They are one of the better offensive teams in the league, and they can make shots in bunches. Playing against them is a real challenge for anyone and they can beat anyone on any night."

So what’s gone wrong for the Beavers?

You can start with a defense that has yet to hold a team under 60 points in conference play. You can continue with a penchant for losing close games — a trait Utah shares. The Beavers have lost three of their last four games by a combined 15 points. And that 81-73 defeat at Stanford on Super Bowl Sunday was a one-possession game with two minutes remaining.

In his fourth season, Robinson is 27-45 in the Pac-12, 61-70 overall. He has yet to take a team to the NCAA Tournament, has finished above eighth in the league just once and has had an overall winning record once. Like Krystkowiak, Robinson took over a decimated program in 2008. The question is whether he’s running out of chances for a complete turnaround.

Robinson knows this, and realizes that explanations for losing are wearing thin. He also realizes that the team he’s coaching is the same group that defeated Purdue, and the same team that went on the road and lost to Kansas by six points.

"We have to figure out a way to finish games out and to get wins," Robinson said. We don’t have the confidence we had at the beginning of the year, and we have to figure out a way to get that back."

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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