Saturday, February 3, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, February 3, 2001

Rainbows focus on keeping up their intensity

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Like the kid who just beat up the schoolyard bully, the Hawaii men’s basketball team was suddenly the Big Man On Campus yesterday.

"There must have been a lot of people watching that game on TV because I’ve had all kinds of people come up and say what a great game it was," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Rainbows upset No. 19 Fresno State, 91-73.

Even in the musty atmosphere of Gym II on the Hawaii-Manoa campus, love was in the air. For the first time in weeks, the Rainbows were asked to sign autographs after yesterday’s spirited practice.

"It’s amazing what we looked like (Thursday)," senior center Troy Ostler said. "We looked unbelievable — like we should be ranked 19th."

But in fitting with this roller-coaster of a season, the Rainbows will go from taking on first-place Fresno State on Thursday night to last-place Nevada tonight at 7:05 at the Stan Sheriff Center. And only in the wacky WAC can it be just as meaningful.

"I’m not saying anything about (Fresno State)," Wallace said. "That day is over. We look to Nevada now."

The Wolf Pack is one of two teams chasing Hawaii in the standings of the nine-team Western Athletic Conference. The Rainbows, who are 9-10 overall and 3-5 in the conference, are currently in seventh place. San Jose State (10-9 and 2-6) is in eighth, and Nevada (8-11 and 1-7) is ninth.

At the end of the regular season, the eighth- and ninth-place teams will play for a spot in the WAC Tournament.

"It’s a very important game," Wallace said. "They want to gain ground on us, and we want to separate ourselves from them."

On Thursday, the Rainbows proved they can play with any team in the conference. So far, they are the only team with victories over the WAC’s top two teams, Fresno State and Tulsa.

But as Ostler put it: "The difference is we have to bring that every night. That’s something we haven’t done yet."

Wallace put his team through intense drills yesterday, continuing to focus on the motion-oriented offense that frustrated Fresno State. No players were allowed to rest on the laurels of that game, not even leading scorer Predrag Savovic, who had to run extra sprints after practice for "cheating" during a shooting drill.

"A lot of teams will want to come in here and beat us now," Wallace said. "We have to be ready for them."

In briefing the Rainbow players about Nevada, Wallace warned, "they’re better than their record indicates."

"That sounds like a cliche, but they are," Wallace said. "They scare me because I saw on film how quick they are. They have good quickness, especially with their perimeter players. It’s the kind of team that has hurt us in the past."

Six of the Wolf Pack’s first seven WAC losses were by an average of six points. However, Nevada is coming off its worst defeat of the season, a 71-47 loss at San Jose State on Thursday.

Hawaii forward Mindaugas Burneika, who scored a career-high 27 points against Fresno State, realizes how deceiving WAC scores can be.

"Look at us, we lost to TCU by 39, then we beat Fresno by 18," he said. "You have to be ready to play every night."

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