Thursday, February 1, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, February 1, 2001

Hawai'i takes on WAC-leading Fresno State

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Big, bad Fresno State is back in town, bigger and badder than ever.

When the Hawaii men’s basketball team last met the Bulldogs, the villains were strutting away with a 103-100 double-overtime victory in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament last season at Fresno, Calif.

"I don’t remember the shot as much as how hard that game was played," said Fresno State guard Demetrius Porter, who made the game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer. "It seems like every time we play Hawaii, it’s a tough game. No matter what the records are, we know it’s going to be a battle."

This season’s first battle between the teams is scheduled for tonight at 7:05 at the Stan Sheriff Center. They will also play at Fresno on Feb. 11.

"They’re a rival for us," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "In football, (Fresno State) is a rivalry; in baseball, it’s a big rivalry. So it’s probably our rivalry, too."

Legendary Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian countered: "Everybody treats us as a rivalry. I don’t know why. To me, we don’t have any rivals. We don’t like anybody."

Indeed, the Bulldogs have had a bad-guy reputation in Hawaii ever since Tarkanian took over the program in 1995.

"We like to play them," Wallace said. "Part of it is because they have a good coach and they always have name players."

To be sure, Wallace installed new offensive schemes this week, with an emphasis on precise motion and crisp passing — a plan designed to lull the athletic Bulldogs into breakdowns.

"It’s based off our regular offense, but just with a few more cuts," Wallace said.

Perhaps more important, Wallace has preached to every Rainbow the need "to believe." Despite staying close until the closing moments against both Rice and Tulsa last week, the Rainbows lost both road games to fall to 8-10 overall and 2-5 in the WAC.

"We just need to continue to work and be patient," he said. "If we run our offense the way it’s supposed to be run, we can play with anybody."

Fresno State may be the ultimate test for that. The Bulldogs bring with them:

A 17-2 record, including a 13-game winning streak. They are atop the WAC at 6-0, which includes a stunning 108-56 victory over Texas El-Paso last week.

The No. 19 national ranking by the Associated Press. It is the first time Fresno State has been ranked this late in a season since 1984.

A 6-foot-4 freshman phenom of a point guard in Tito Maddox, who has been the talk of the WAC. Since becoming eligible on Dec. 19, Maddox has guided the Bulldogs to an 11-0 record by averaging 14.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and a nation-leading 9.8 assists per game.

"I’m amazed how well he’s played," Tarkanian said. "I knew he was going to be good, but not like this."

The emergence of Maddox has allowed Porter to move to shooting guard, where he is averaging 14.3 points per game. Last season, Porter led the WAC in assists.

"(Maddox) speeds up the game and puts so much pressure on a defense," Porter said. "He’ll run it down your throat if you don’t get back on defense. And then if you try to stop his penetration, it opens up a lot of stuff for the other guys."

As proof, Porter and Maddox rank only third and fourth on the team in scoring. Chris Jefferies, a 6-8 forward, leads the team with 16.9 points per game. Melvin Ely, a 6-10 center, contributes 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

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