By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Oh to be tall again.
The Hawaii mens basketball celebrated the unexpected return of senior center Troy Ostler with an unexpected 68-65 victory over Tulsa last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
A crowd of 4,171 watched the Rainbows snap a four-game losing streak with their first Western Athletic Conference victory of the season. Hawaii improved to 7-8 overall and 1-3 in the WAC. The Golden Hurricane dropped to 10-6 and 1-2.
Ostler, a 6-foot-10 co-captain starting for the first time in three weeks, scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, and created an inside presence that had been missing in the Rainbows last six games.
"You can see the importance of Troy Ostler," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "The insertion of Troy into the lineup just gave all (the Rainbows) new life, and were a different ball club with him in there."
Ostler scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds during the decisive second half, when Hawaii stymied a Tulsa rally.
"I felt a little out of shape," said Ostler, who had not played in Hawaiis last two games. "I had trouble getting up and down (the court) a couple times, but other than that I felt all right. The ankles still a little sore ... its not 100 percent, but its as good as its going to get at this point."
Tulsa coach Buzz Peterson admitted he did not expect Ostler to play much less start last night.
"I tell you what, theyre a much better club with Ostler in there," Peterson said. "You have to worry about his presence inside and that opens up things on the outside for them."
As proof, Hawaii guard Predrag Savovic also scored 18 points, including 13 during the crucial final five minutes of the game, and small forward Nerijus Puida added 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Still, it appeared early that Ostlers surprise start was going to back-fire when the Golden Hurricane raced to a 7-0 lead.
But fittingly, Ostler scored the Rainbows first two points of the game to ignite an 8-0 run that put Hawaii ahead 8-7. From there, the first half turned into a back-and-forth contest featuring five lead changes before Hawaii took a 29-25 lead at intermission.
The Rainbows got up as much as eight, 47-39, midway through the second half before the Golden Hurricane battled back. Marcus Hill scored five points during a 12-3 run that put Tulsa back on top, 51-50, with 5:27 remaining.
After that, Ostler and Savovic took control, combining to score 17 of Hawaiis final 18 points of the game. A slam dunk by Ostler off a stylish one-handed assist from Savovic put the Rainbows ahead for good at 58-56.
Savovics fourth 3-pointer of the game gave Hawaii a 65-60 lead with 39 seconds remaining.
"It was all within the offense," Wallace said of Savovics late-game flurry. "He hit big buckets when we had to have them and he made good passes when we had to have them."
Tulsa cut the lead to 66-65 with 9.9 seconds remaining, but Savovic converted two free throws for the final margin. Hills 3-point attempt came up short at the buzzer for Tulsa.
"We had enough time so I told them not to rush it," Peterson said of his teams final possession. "He had a decent look at it, thats all we can ask for."
Hill finished with a game-high 20 points, although none came in the games final seven minutes. Kevin Johnson added 19 points and eight rebounds.
Hawaii shot just 39 percent (20-of-51), compared to Tulsas 52 percent (26-of-50). However, the Rainbows held a 30-29 rebounding advantage, and outscored them at the free-throw line, 21-8.
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