As of Wednesday, November 22, 2017
MONMOUTH — When senior Tanner Omlid arrived at Western Oregon University two years ago, the men’s basketball team was about to embark on its historic run to the Final Four.
The Wolves are itching to make a similar run this season.
“We have a lot of competitors on our team,” Omlid said. “I think we’re playing a lot better than we were last year at the beginning of the season.”
Last year, the Wolves had to replace four of five starters. This winter, WOU returns three starters — Omlid, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year, Ali Faruq-Bey and J.J. Chirnside.
Faruq-Bey averaged 15 points per game and was second on the team in assists during the 2016-17 season.
The Wolves improved to 4-0 after a 99-87 win over Azusa Pacific on Friday and an 97-86 win over Dixie State on Saturday.
The Wolves have seen returners such as Omlid (19 points, 12 rebounds and two steals against Dixie State) and newcomers such as redshirt sophomore Riley Hawken (21 points, eight rebounds) contribute early in the season.
While Western Oregon coach Jim Shaw has used a few different lineups early on, that may be more because of depth rather than finding a workable combination.
Whether it’s junior Demetrius Trammell or transfers Malik Morgan or Vince Boumann, this year’s squad won’t be short on offensive options.
Early on, shooting has emerged as a huge area of improvement. During the 2016-17 campaign, the Wolves shot 43.5 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Through four games, those numbers are at 54.5 and 50.4 percent.
“Last year, it took us 15 to 16 games to kick it into gear,” Omlid said. “By the end, we were a solid team. I think we’re a step ahead this season. We have multiple ball handlers. We have a bunch of guys who can make big shots.”
The focus will be on ball security, Omlid said — something Western Oregon struggled with at times against Azusa Pacific.
“I think we were a little overwhelmed with their length at times,” Omlid said. “But, aside from that game, I think our ball security has improved.”
WOU plays at Holy Names Friday at 5 p.m. and at Notre Dame de Namur on Saturday at 7 p.m.
While winning a conference regular season and tournament title remain high on the Wolves’ list of goals, Omlid said they have a much larger goal in mind — undefeated.
“We’re trying to win every game,” Omlid said. “It’s nice to beat teams like Azusa and Dixie State who are usually in the tournament every year. Last year, we needed to win our (conference) tournament to advance. This year, we want to step it up so we don’t have to worry about that.”