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November 25, 2006

Oliver shines as Dawgs defeat Eagles

Adrian Oliver came off the bench to score 14 key points, team highs of 9 rebounds and 5 assists and most importantly put a damper on the fireworks of one incredible player by the name of Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey, the Kentwood High (Covington Wash.) product, looked every bit a future NBA combo guard during a 21 point first half and looked every bit as good as both of last years players of the year in the State of Washington (and the country for that matter) Brandon Roy and Adam Morrison.

In the 2nd half Oliver, the young freshman from Modesto California, in what seemed like a breakout performance, took that freight train and slowed it down long enough for the Huskies to close out a 90-83 win at the Bank of America Arena in Seattle over the Eastern Washington Eagles. It was their 11th straight home game and the 44th win in their last 46 games at Bank of America Arena. While Oliver was providing the heroics, including a half court buzzer beater to end the first half, a more familiar hero to Washington fans was leading the way for the Huskies.

Justin Dentmon stepped up big in the 2nd half with 19 points and a number of big defensive plays, including a few on Stuckey himself. He fouled out on a questionable call, while watching Stuckey, with 50 seconds to go and explained it to the press corps to laughs, in the afterglow of the Husky victory. "I didn't touch him. I'm going to look at the film. I didn't touch him at all."

While Stuckey did score another 10 points in the 2nd stanza to finish with 31, the collective defensive efforts of Oliver, Quincy Pondexter and Dentmon, took enough out of him to save what was looking to be a game in great danger of getting away from the Dawgs in the first half. Stuckey truly played like a warrior, but so did Dentmon, who stepped up to take control of the day for Washington in the 2nd half, somewhat inspired perhaps by the competitive fire demonstrated by Oliver, throughout the game.

Dentmon shattered a previous career high of 17 points against Northern Iowa two weeks ago and Gonzaga last year, with a 23 point game, followed by Pondexter on another one of his consistently outstanding performances with 15 points and 8 rebounds (as well as 2 blocks). Spencer Hawes scored 14 points on 7-12 shooting (though he was 4-5 in the first half) and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes.

This was, other than the exhibition game in which he was just getting his feet wet, probably the least noteworthy outing of Hawes' brief career at Washington, thus far highlighted by statistics like 7 assists, 6 blocks and 7-7 from the field on separate occasions. Even at that he helped turn the tide with some key plays down the stretch and showed one very nifty move on the fast break, which you would expect more from a wing, as he received a speedy bounce pass running full stride and finished off the window.

He started the game strong on both ends, but receiving his 3rd foul with 4:30 to go in the first probably hampered his game and perhaps his momentum. He never got a 4th foul in the 2nd half, but played a bit more tentatively and while at the line himself went 0-3. Jon Brockman had 11 points, 8 rebounds and a nice steal in the open court, but missed some key free throws down the stretch, including a front end of a one and one. In the first half he was a perfect 3-3 from the field with 3 rebounds, but had two sloppy turnovers.

The top scorers in this contest, Dentmon, Pondexter, Oliver, Hawes and Brockman could end up being the starting line-up at this juncture for the Huskies, or at least that was the buzz around the arena, following Oliver getting the start for the 2nd half. Starter Ryan Appleby had an off game shooting the ball, going 1-5 from the field for 3 points, and though it seemed to be a changing of the guard, I'm not sure that the coaches are convinced yet.

Since Appleby had played a very efficient game against Northern Iowa, two games ago, in what was probably the biggest challenge that Washington has faced this year and this was really Oliver's first game in which he really seemed to come into his own, it might be premature to anoint Adrian the starter for the rest of the season.

But the arena had a buzz going that had the air of "This is where Oliver becomes a starter and Appleby settles into his role as the instant offense off the bench and zone buster". Coach Lorenzo Romar deflected that notion by saying, "We'll see", obviously wanting to see more in practice and in future games before making that kind of a pronouncement.

The Eagles seemed to efficiently execute their game plan around the presence of Stuckey. Big Center Paul Butorac, who finished with 14, only took 3 shots, but he made them all and was 8-10 from the line. He did a good job of getting production whenever he got the ball in deep. Shooter Omar Krayem put down some key 3 point shots, when Stuckey started drawing his man away to help and ended up as 2nd leading scorer with 18 and the only other scorer in double figures besides Stuckey and Butorac, who also added a team leading 9 boards.

It was the Rodney Stuckey show though and had the Dawgs defended him in the 2nd half the same as the first, this game could have been a much different story. Stuckey is the kind of player that if the game would have gone to the last shot and he had the ball in his hands, there is no way that I would expect the Eagles to walk away with a loss. He's just a truly outstanding talent with an excellent shooters touch and the ability to do everything well.

Coach Romar had plenty to say about the local kid, who wanted to play at Washington, but didn't quite have the grades to get an offer from the Huskies three years ago. "I said before the game that Rodney Stuckey is an NBA player. I didn't say that he has the potential to be, I said that he is. I think he could play in the NBA right now. He's a heck of a player. I don't know what he can't do. I think he put that on display tonight with passing and rebounds and shooting from the perimeter. He's just a very good basketball player."

The Huskies started with the long armed, quick footed Pondexter, who did a solid job on Stuckey, but only to watch some unbelievable shots go down, despite playing his man tight. When Rodney was occasionally switched over to others, it usually worked to Eastern Washington's advantage greatly, but Dentmon sliced into the mix on him for a few surprising but productive defensive possessions.

The Dawgs finally finished him off with the guy with the mojo working, Oliver. That seemed to be the key to a game that turned Washington's way with an 11 point run in the last three minutes of the 1st half, punctuated by Oliver's huge half court 3 point shot at the buzzer. Romar felt that gave his team a good strong boost going into halftime.

"That was worthy of Sports Center. We were already coming, but we closed out the half pretty well. That's one of the great plays as a coach. You don't want your players to come in all hot and bothered. That gets them awake. That sent us in the locker room with a risen spirit."

Hans Gasser had a nice outing in a back-up role with 6 points and 5 rebounds, while Brandon Burmeister filled out the rest of the scoring for the Huskies with 4 points. Artem Wallace played with some spirit and grabbed 3 rebounds. He missed all three of his shots, but made smart plays and eliminated mistakes. Phillip Nelson played only 4 minutes and was again ineffective shooting from long range.

Nelson's lackluster stint seemed to additionally aggravate the mood about the situation behind Pondexter on the wing. The fact that Joel Smith, who hurt himself again in practice this week, is still in limbo for what Romar characterized as "4-7 weeks", seems to indicate that someone, be it Nelson, Perry (who didn't see the floor again and looked down) or perhaps even Oliver (if Appleby can establish enough consistency) will have to come in and take the reins backing up Pondexter on the wing.

Of course this will all be moot if Joel can finally come back and really solidify that spot with his experience and athleticism, but another "4-7 weeks" doesn't give the Dawgs an easy feeling of confidence. The Huskies are a work in progress and have a few unanswered questions to be worked out, but the talent is definitely there and there is a fire underneath the surface, as these young players do so much of what needs to be done for the very first time. Romar has a quiet confidence, though he knows that the work to get his team to compete at a high D1 level is still in full swing.

"We told our guys before the game, that no matter if it was a one point game or a twenty point victory, as long as we competed, we had done what we wanted to do. We didn't do it for forty minutes, but I thought tonight we still made some progress."

Former Washington State assistant coach Mike Burns can be proud of the way his kids played. They did a good job of supporting Stuckey and putting him in a position to be effective and should be very successful in the Big Sky Conference, along with former Washington assistant Ken Bone's Portland State Vikings, who Washington will face in mid-December. He was very complimentary of the Washington program and its young group.

"First of all, when you have players who played in the McDonald's game at the 4 and 5, you are dealing with an elite level of basketball player. Brockman and Hawes--that is as good of a front-court as you are going to see. You say that, and Pondexter is the leading scorer. They are very talented. I thought Justin Dentmon was fabulous in the second half tonight. We just didn't have an answer for him. Adrian Oliver comes off the bench and gets 14 points, and 9 rebounds playing the guard spot. They are a very good team, and their coaching staff does a phenomenal job, as they are taking a young group of guys and turning them into a really good basketball team."

The star of this game was definitely Oliver and Romar acknowledged him clearly. "I thought for us, Adrian Oliver was the catalyst of our team, in terms of providing energy."

Against Pepperdine it was Brockman with a career high 25 fed by Hawes' 7 assists. Against Nichols State it was Burmeister with 5 of a school record 17 threes, while the stubborn Colonels lived or and infact died by the zone rather than let Hawes and Brockman work inside. Against Northern Iowa it was Dentmon with his previous career high 17 and a cold as steel 6-6 from the line, to win a tightly contested game. Against Sacramento State it was Pondexter with 22 points 9 boards and his usual highlight reel finishes keeping the pesky Hornets at arms length.

But tonight, even though Dentmon set his career scoring high in an awesome performance, it was about Oliver setting his own career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals and nailing the half court shot that made everything come alive.



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