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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Rainbows turn back Vulcans

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

UH's Tony Akpan, right, loses control of the basketball as UH-Hilo's Kyle Bartholomew gets ready to retrieve it.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

There's a reason why the big brother is called just that.

Taking advantage of its size, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team prevailed over scrappy little brother, Hawai'i-Hilo, 73-60, last night.

A crowd of 2,917 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the exhibition game.

As expected, the Rainbow Warriors dominated the inside, out-rebounding the Vulcans, 43-31. Nkeruwem "Tony" Akpan, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward making the first start of his career in place of suspended Phil Martin, recorded a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Haim Shimonovich, UH's 6-10 center, went scoreless but grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

UHH, an NCAA Division II program, did not start a player taller than 6-6.

Still, the tenacious Vulcans kept the game relatively close until the final five minutes.

"You can see we needed this," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "The guys were starting to get stale."

The 'Bows were playing for the first time since winning the Hawaiian Airlines Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 24. The two-week layoff was evident early as UHH controlled most of the first half.

Led by the shooting of Ryan Abrahams, and a hustling zone defense, the Vulcans led by as many as five points twice in the first half.

However, UHH went scoreless in the final 5 minutes, 30 seconds of the half. During that stretch, the 'Bows went on a 10-0 run to turn a 25-20 deficit into a 30-25 lead at halftime.

"We lost it toward the end of the first half," UHH head coach Jeff Law said. "We just shot instead of attacking."

Wallace said: "Jeff knows everything we're going to do and he has them playing hard because this is a big game for them."

Ultimately, the 'Bows would take control.

The Vulcans got as close as 30-28 moments into the second half, but the 'Bows responded with a 14-3 run to take a 44-31 lead with 14:17 remaining. UHH never got closer than eight after that.

"Those big bodies took over in the second half," said Abrahams, who led the Vulcans with 19 points and six rebounds.

So did Michael Kuebler.

The UHH zone forced nine turnovers by UH in the first half, and 15 for the game. But in the second half, Kuebler stymied the UHH defense.

The 6-5 junior guard came off the bench to score 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. He shot 8-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range.

"We were trying to get them out of (the zone defense) by hitting shots from the outside," Kuebler said.

Law, an assistant coach under Wallace for eight seasons before taking the UHH job in 1998, said he was satisfied with his team's defensive effort, except for the coverage of Kuebler.

"Our guys don't know how to count up to 24 (Kuebler's jersey number) because Kuebler got open way too much," Law said.

When it wasn't Kuebler, it was Akpan. He shot 8-of-11 from the field, and played a game-high 34 minutes.

"I'm always an aggressive player," Akpan said. "Wallace gave me the opportunity of starting today and I just had to capitalize on it and show him I can do something."

Martin was not in uniform last night because of a violation of the team's study hall policy.

"We missed him," Akpan said. "Not only as a scorer, but as part of the family. I'm sure it showed on the floor."

As Wallace said: "It hurts when you lose a guy like Phil. He's a three-year starter. And against a zone, he can hit shots."

However, UHH was also without a starting forward, senior Derek Mgbeke. He was also suspended for academic issues.

Osadonor Esene made his first start of the season in Mgbeke's spot, and finished with 13 points and three rebounds.

The Vulcans shot just 31 percent from the field (18-of-58), including a dismal 11 percent from 3-point range (2-of-18).

Fatigue may have had something to do with it. While UH has not played a game since Nov. 24, the Vulcans were playing for the seventh time in 11 days.

"I'm proud of the effort," Law said. "Seven games in 11 days; I don't think these guys know how tough that really is."

Added Abrahams: "We wanted to show everybody that we can hang with a good D-1 team, and I think we did."

Hawai'i, which is 2-0, will travel for its next game, at San Diego State on Saturday. The Vulcans, 5-2 prior to last night, will play a home game against Ouachita Baptist (Ark.) Sunday.