By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
TULSA, Okla. On a stormy day with horrendous driving conditions, the road continued to be blocked for the University of Hawaii mens basketball team.
The Rainbows remained winless on the road this season after a 79-67 loss to Tulsa yesterday at the Donald W. Reynolds Center. An electrifying crowd of 8,096 and a national television audience on Fox Sports Net watched Hawaii fall to 8-10 overall and 2-5 in the Western Athletic Conference. Hawaii is 0-5 away from home this season, including 0-4 in the WAC.
Tulsa improved to 14-6 and moved into sole possession of second place in the conference at 5-2. Since losing at Hawaii on Jan. 13, the Golden Hurricane has won four consecutive games.
"Mentally, its like were not completely ready on the road," Hawaii guard Predrag Savovic said. "Every (road) game, we miss a few minutes and let it get away. I dont know why."
In what has become a recurring road theme, the Rainbows matched their opposition shot for shot for most of the game before fading in the closing moments.
"Thats been our story," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace lamented. "Were in a good ball game and we let it pull away from us."
Yesterday, Hawaii trailed 59-58 with 8:15 remaining in the game. But an 8-2 run gave Tulsa a controlling 67-60 lead, then the Golden Hurricane outscored the Rainbows 10-2 over the final three minutes to seal the victory.
"We feel like we played a real good game," UH center Troy Ostler said. "But there were certain points where we broke down, and that cost us."
Perhaps the most costly one came near the end of the first half. With Hawaii leading, 31-30, Tulsa closed with an 8-0 run to take a 37-31 lead at intermission. Hawaii is 8-0 this season when leading at halftime, 0-8 when trailing. True to form, the Rainbows never regained the lead in the second half.
"Theyre much better than that," Tulsa coach Buzz Peterson said of the Rainbows. "Theyll get (a road win) sooner or later. Im just relieved it wasnt today."
Hawaii made it close behind Savovic and Ostler, who each scored 20 points, including a combined 23 in the second half.
"Theyre great scorers," Peterson said. "Sometimes you have to let them get their 20 and hold everybody else down."
Tulsa did just that, as no other Rainbow scored more than seven points. Ostler and Savovic combined to shoot 17-of-30 from the field; the rest of the team went 10-for-32.
In contrast, the Golden Hurricane had four players in double figures, led by David Sheltons 18. Kevin Johnson added 16, Marcus Hill 14, and Dante Swanson 11. Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward, also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds as Tulsa had an 41-31 advantage on the boards.
"They killed us in the paint," Wallace said. "We gave up a lot of points in the post, and that opened things up for their shooters."
The Golden Hurricane also made 8 of 17 3-point shots, including two crucial ones by Swanson. After Hawaii cut an 11-point second-half deficit to 59-58, Swanson drained two consecutive 3-pointers during a 40-second span to put Tulsa back in control.
"It was just like (Thursdays loss) at Rice," Ostler said. "We felt like we had it going our way, but then we give up a couple of big 3s and give them the momentum right back."
The Rainbows closed to 73-67 with 1:39 remaining, but Savovic Hawaiis best 3-point shooter fouled out moments later to spoil any chance of a late rally.
It was a redeeming victory for Tulsa, which held a players-only meeting after its loss at Hawaii.
"Really, we were thinking payback," Johnson said. "We went to their home and got a loss when we knew we could beat them. We were determined to go out there and grab this one."
NOTES: Flags around Oklahoma were flown at half-mast yesterday in recognition of the Oklahoma State basketball players and staff members who were killed in a plane crash on Saturday. A moment of silence was held before the UH-Tulsa game. "I couldnt sleep (Saturday night) once I heard about it," said UH coach Riley Wallace. "Its the kind of thing that affects everybody." . . . Nerijus Puida led Hawaii with 11 rebounds and five assists. . . . The Rainbows have lost 18 of their last 19 WAC road games. . . . The Golden Hurricane is 4-0 against Hawaii in games played in Tulsa. . . . The Rainbows will return to Honolulu today. Their next game is scheduled for Thursday at the Stan Sheriff Center against WAC leader Fresno State.
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