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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Hawai'i stuns Butler in OT for Rainbow Classic title

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Michael Kuebler drives past Butler's Lewis Curry in overtime for two of his game-high 29 points .

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertise

In 39 years of Rainbow Classic history, there may have never been a more classic final than this one.

In pulsating fashion, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team defeated previously undefeated Butler, 81-78 in overtime, to win the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic last night.

A frenzied crowd of 6,646 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the Rainbow Warriors win their second consecutive Rainbow Classic championship and eighth overall. It was also UH's 19th consecutive victory in the Stan Sheriff Center, seven short of the school record.

Hawai'i improved to 7-1 with its fifth consecutive victory. Butler, unranked and no longer one of the nation's eight remaining unbeaten teams, dropped to 10-1.

"I don't know of a better championship game in all my years I've been around," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "For the fans and the team and this program, it's gotta be one of the best."

Indeed, the 'Bows rallied from a 21-point first half deficit and a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime.

Michael Kuebler was the hero of the game, scoring a career-high 29 points, including 25 after halftime.

Carl English was the hero of the week, earning Most Valuable Player honors for the eight-team tournament. He scored 21 last night and 66 for the tournament.

He was joined on the all-tournament team by Nkeruwem "Tony" Akpan, who hit the go-ahead basket in overtime.

"We just didn't want to lose," said English, a 6-foot-5 junior guard. "(Butler) came out on fire. We didn't come out on our game, but we cut the lead down and had that drive inside of us the whole game."

In fitting UH team fashion, five different 'Bows scored in overtime. Akpan's short jump shot put UH ahead for good at 70-69 with 3:41 remaining.

Kuebler was 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the extra period, including the two clinching free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining that gave Hawai'i an 81-78 lead.

Butler's Brandon Miller was stripped of the basketball by UH's Jason Carter as time expired.

"I couldn't hear anything," Kuebler said of his free throw shooting. "I was just focused on making shots. I didn't think I was going to miss any of them."

He didn't miss many shots, period. He was 9-of-12 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.

Led by Kuebler and English, the 'Bows erased a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes of regulation to force the five-minute overtime. English scored nine — including a 3-pointer from NBA range as the shot clock expired — and Kuebler added six as Hawai'i closed regulation with a 17-2 run that turned a 64-49 deficit into a 66-66 tie.

Kuebler's baseline drive with 1:13 remaining resulted in a basket as he was fouled by Butler's Mike Monserez. Kuebler made the ensuing free throw to tie the game at 66.

"It was the championship game, I knew they were going to focus on Carl," said Kuebler, a 6-5 junior guard. "That frees things up for me when I come off picks."

Both teams missed shots in the final minute with a chance to go ahead.

UH center Haim Shimonovich missed a free throw with 30.8 seconds remaining, but then blocked a last-second shot by Butler's Joel Cornette as regulation time expired.

Sparked by reserves Duane Lightfoot Jr. and Bruce Horan, the Bulldogs went on a stunning 15-0 run midway through the first half to increase a 14-12 lead to 29-12. Horan scored nine on three 3-pointers, and Lightfoot added four points during the surge.

Butler increased the lead to 37-16 with 4:26 left in the half. At that stage of the game, Horan was 5-of-5 from 3-point range for 15 points, and Lightfoot was 6-of-6 from the field for 12 points.

However, Butler went scoreless in the final 4:26 of the half, allowing Hawai'i to score 10 unanswered points, making it 37-26 at halftime.

"When we cut into that lead, we knew going into halftime that we were going to win," Kuebler said. "As a team, we got really fired up."

English scored five points during a 9-2 UH surge that cut the Butler lead to 46-42 with 14:18 remaining in the game, and energized the crowd.

Butler built the lead back up to 64-49 with 4:02 remaining before Hawai'i made its last comeback attempt.

"We played good enough to win," Butler head coach Todd Lickliter said. "(Hawai'i) hit big shots. English, he hit big shots. And they pounded us on the boards."

Shimonovich finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead UH to a 39-23 advantage on the boards.

Hawai'i also converted 21-of-26 free throws to Butler's 12-of-14.