Thursday, January 25, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 25, 2001

UH takes different road for Rice game

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Hoping to make the long road feel a little shorter, the Hawaii men’s basketball team took a detour this week.

In preparation for today’s Western Athletic Conference game against Rice, the Rainbows trained at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Tuesday. After spending that night in California, they arrived in Houston yesterday.

The Rainbows will play the Owls at 3:35 p.m. (HST) today in a game that will be televised to a regional audience on Fox Sports Southwest.

"Our last trip (also to Texas), we came all the way and it took all day and the guys said they were tired," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "So this time, we tried to break it up into two different stops, and see what that does."

In truth, the Rainbows have nothing to lose. During the past three seasons, Hawaii is 1-16 in WAC games on the road. Earlier this month, the Rainbows lost at Texas Christian and Southern Methodist by a combined 52 points.

"Personally, I like this trip a lot better already," Hawaii senior forward and co-captain Nerijus Puida said. "I felt a little tired when we were in Los Angeles, but now I feel pretty good. I think it helped to get adjusted there first. The trip (to Houston) felt like it was really fast."

Tonight, the Rainbows are hoping to start out fast against the Owls, who are probably the WAC’s most improved team from a year ago.

"They’re a solid defensive team," Wallace said of the Owls. "They’re maybe not as good defensively as San Jose State, but I think they’re better overall than San Jose State."

Still, the Rainbows lone WAC road victory since 1999 came at Rice last season.

"We got one win on the road last year and it was here," Puida said. "I think that helps our confidence. But this is also a completely different (Rice) team."

Indeed, the Owls are 10-6 overall and 2-2 in the WAC. Last season, Rice finished 5-22 and 1-13. The leader of the turnaround has been guard Mike Wilks, a 5-foot-11 senior, who is second in the WAC with an average of 20.3 points per game.

"They’re quick on the outside and they got that big guy in the middle," Wallace said of Rice’s 6-10, 255-pound center T.J. McKenzie. "So they’re good inside and out."

The Rainbows are hoping to counter with a team that is finally recovering from crucial injuries. Since senior center Troy Ostler returned to the starting lineup, Hawaii has won two consecutive WAC games. While he sat out with a sprained left ankle, the Rainbows started the conference season 0-3.

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