Sometime between the men’s basketball team’s loss to Villanova on Dec. 29 and its home win against Kent State on Jan. 5, coach Fran Dunphy had a “hunch.”
Sophomore forward Craig Williams was outplaying his competition in practice. The Owls were in the midst of a three-game losing streak. So, with that, Dunphy made a surprising change to his starting lineup.
With only 25 career minutes of collegiate work, Williams took the floor against the Golden Flashes — and found a cozy little spot at the top of the key to rain 3-point buckets. A then-career-high 16 points in just 22 minutes marked the beginning of a retooled Owls squad that is 4-1 in the new year.
“I think we’re doing a great job of coming out and starting off great,” senior guard Dionte Christmas said. “The games before we would start off kind of slow, but now with Craig in the starting lineup, with Juan [Fernandez] coming in, we’ve been starting off fast.”
Freshman point guard Juan Fernandez has been a solid addition to an Owls backcourt that can occasionally lose focus. The Argentinean has averaged 5 points and 2.8 assists in five appearances this season.
“I think he’s getting better,” Dunphy said. “We are trying to get some of tahose mistakes that he’s making out of his system. He tries to do still a little bit too much on both ends of the court.”
The mistakes include errant turnovers and wild passes, things that can be amended with experience and time. Fernandez has also been caught in a web of fouls, fouling out against Penn last week and committing four more against Massachusetts this past Saturday.
Fernandez’s Spanish-speaking counterpart, senior center Sergio Olmos, has been the odd man out.
He lost his customary spot in the starting rotation and has seen a decrease in minutes. But the 7-footer understands his role and provides a much-needed spark from the bench.
“It’s just a new thing,” Olmos said. “I started every game last year, most of these games [this year]. It’s just a new experience. Craig’s playing great basketball right now.”
Dunphy spoke highly of his big man, complimenting his character and urging him to be patient.
“Serg has handled it very, very well,” Dunphy said. “There’s some frustration that sets in. He wants to play, but right now the way we’re playing, the way we’re going, his minutes are going to come depending on how well he plays.”
In the past month, the Owls have found a new identity and plenty of viable scoring threats to help make Christmas’ life easier. Since Williams’ insertion into the starting lineup, he has averaged 9.4 points per game. Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen has also been assertive during the run, averaging 11.8 points per contest.
In a landslide win against Penn last week, the Owls were paced by some hot shooting hands. The Cherry and White nailed a season-high 13 triples to go along with a 53.6 shooting percentage from the field.
Against Massachusetts, the Owls found themselves playing a bit more one dimensional. They attempted 33 3-pointers and never really challenged the Minutemen in the low post. The end result was a 79-75 road loss in Amherst, Mass., to even their conference record at 1-1.
The next question Dunphy will find himself pondering is if the Owls stick with the course that was laid out against Kent State or if it’s time for another shake-up. The team has averaged a 9.4 point lead heading into the locker room in 2009 but failed to hang on against UMass.
The good news is that the well-seasoned Dunphy is not afraid to add wrinkles to the rotation. The Owls will just have to take it one hunch at a time.
Anthony Stipa can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.