The Washington men's basketball team's non-conference schedule is about to kick up a notch, really kick it up a notch. But first, the UW will face Idaho and Southern Utah before taking a dive into the tougher part of its schedule.
Helping the Husky effort to stay undefeated will be freshman Adrian Oliver. For the first time this season, a move that seemed likely since the year began, the guard will be entering the starting lineup.
"I'm happy about it," Oliver said. "I can't look too much into that, I just [have to] play to win."
His entrance into the lineup, in place of junior spark plug Ryan Appleby, will cause the Huskies (5-0) to start three true freshmen and a pair of sophomores, giving them a youth explosion that is quite a change from last season's senior based squad.
"He has been coming for a while in some means," said UW coach Lorenzo Romar said about Oliver. "He gets to the foul line which means he's aggressive. He does a lot and the big thing with [him] is that he has to go out and compete at a high level every minute while he's on the floor."
Oliver earned his spot in the starting lineup in part because of his play last Friday against Eastern Washington. He scored 14 points while adding team-highs with nine rebounds and five assists. But it was his defense that got him into the lineup.
"He wasn't doing some of the things you want," Romar said about Oliver before the season. "Defensively he was not where you wanted him to be and now he's not playing relaxed but with a level of assertiveness."
The first opponent that the Dawgs will face will be the Idaho Vandals.
The Vandals (1-4) are coming off of a 76-51 loss at Gonzaga. Last season, Idaho came into Hec Edmundson Pavilion and left with a 90-67 loss thanks in part to 14 first half points put in by Jamaal Williams.
"They're extremely quick," Romar said of this year's version. "They're real aggressive and really quick to the ball, [and compared to last year] they're quicker and a little more tenacious."
5-foot-10 senior Keoni Watson leads the Vandals, averaging 17 points in 29.4 minutes per contest this year. He also grabs 2.6 rebounds and dishes out 1.2 assists. While Watson will be doing a lot of the scoring, junior Clyde Johnson hits the board hard, pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game.
"We haven't had a game we played a full 40 minutes," said sophomore Jon Brockman. "We've seen some glimpses of it, but there are a lot of mistakes we can take care of and cut out from game-to-game."
After Idaho, Brockman and company can continue looking for that perfect brand of basketball against Southern Utah.
The Thunderbirds (4-2), like Idaho, are also led by a 5-foot-10 senior guard.
Steve Barnes is one of three players averaging double figures in scoring for Southern Utah. He is putting the ball into the hoop at an average of 14.2 points per game, and he also leads the team in assists with 5.3.
Nurudeen Adepoju and Justin Allen are the other two Thunderbirds averaging double figures with 11.3 and 10.8 points per contest, respectively.
"We just have to be patient," said freshman Spencer Hawes, in reference to not looking ahead. "We're not looking past anybody, but you're looking forward to it."
After Idaho and Southern Utah, the Huskies face Gonzaga in Spokane for what will be the toughest challenge of the young season.