By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
TULSA, Okla. For a Hawaii mens basketball team in desperate need of a road victory, football will have to take a back seat today.
"Super Sunday? Never heard of it," said Hawaii forward Nerijus Puida, a senior from Lithuania. "I know theres the Super Bowl (today) but I also know that we have a pretty big game to take care of."
The Rainbows version of Super Sunday will come in the form of a nationally televised Western Athletic Conference game against a suddenly resurgent Tulsa team today at the Donald W. Reynolds Center. The game is at 10:05 a.m. (HST), and will be televised on Fox Sports.
"Well be playing before a packed (gym), its on national television, and its against a team that went to the final eight a year ago," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "I told our guys, this is why you play Division I basketball. The stage is there for us. We just have to go out and prove we belong there."
It wont be easy. For starters, the Rainbows have not been successful on the road for the past three seasons. Since the 1998-99 season, Hawaii is 1-17 in WAC road games. This season, the Rainbows are 0-4 on the road, including 0-3 in conference.
Hawaii, 8-9 overall this season, and 2-4 in the WAC, is also hoping to climb into the middle of the pack of the conference with a victory. Tulsa, 13-6 and 4-2, can move into second place in the WAC with a win.
"As far as positioning (in the standings), its big for both teams," Wallace said.
Whats more, the Rainbows have never won in three previous trips to Tulsa.
"Its about time to break through," Hawaii freshman forward Phil Martin said. "I never realized how tough it is on the road. All the traveling and changing hotels can take a toll. We just have to get over that and play like were capable of playing."
At their best, Hawaii can be a surprising force. Just two weeks ago, the Rainbows upset Tulsa, 68-65, at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I felt like we played hard that game, but we didnt play as hard as we could down the stretch," Tulsa coach Buzz Peterson said.
The Golden Hurricane used that Hawaii loss as a rallying point. On the flight back from Honolulu, they held a players-only meeting and vowed "not to let any more games get away." Since then, they have won three consecutive WAC games by an average of 15 points.
Of particular concern to Wallace is the Golden Hurricanes recent shooting success. Since the Hawaii loss, Tulsa has made 27 3-pointers at a 44-percent rate in three games.
"Our post defense has not been good all year, and so Im sure theyll try to go at us inside," Wallace said. "But what scares me more is them shooting 3s on us."
In Honolulu, Tulsa made a season-low five 3-pointers.
However, Peterson is equally concerned with Hawaiis motion-oriented offense. "They execute their half-court offense as well as anybody in the league," he said. "Well have to be a lot better defensively (today) than we were back then."
If anything, the Golden Hurricane will have the crowd on its side. Tulsa has drawn more than 7,200 fans to each of its home games so far this season, and as Wallace noted, "its a very hostile place to play."
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