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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2002

UH can count on Savovic

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Coach Jason Rabedeaux didn't need the placard in the stands that said, "Savo WAC MVP" to tell him who should be the front runner for the top honors in the Western Athletic Conference.

Nor did his University of Texas-El Paso players require the ringing second-half chants of "Savo! ... Savo!" to remind them who the most dangerous basketball player in the conference is.

If the Miners weren't convinced before they set foot in the Stan Sheriff Center last night — and their sworn testimony is that they were — then Predrag Savovic's 22-point second half sealed the issue as well as the 75-60 University of Hawai'i victory.

For there is nobody this side of Herceg Novi, Yugoslavia, Savovic's hometown, who has seen him any better or suffered at his hands any more.

Especially last night.

While it was teammate Carl English's 21st birthday, it was Savovic's night in a career-high 32-point, 10-of-15 shooting (3-of-4 from the 3-point region) performance.

"I think I must inspire him or something," the animated Rabedeaux would say afterward. "Will I be glad to see him go? Definitely. What has it been, eight years?"

No, it only seems that way. In six meetings over his three-year UH career, Savovic has averaged 25.8 points a game against the Miners. Until last night, his season high had been 29 — against UTEP. His career high had been 31 — against you know who.

The growing legend of Savo has it that during a previous visit he loped by the UTEP bench and declared: You can't stop me.

And, so far, the Miners haven't even come close.

"You can't take your eye off him for even one second," said Eugene Costello, who had, on occasion, the task of trying to slow Savovic down last night.

"I don't think anybody stops him," Costello said. "You saw how it was tonight."

Indeed, Savovic's worth to the 19-3 and first-place Rainbows could be measured in one telltale 5-minute, 40-second stretch in the second half where he took over the game.

From a tenuous two-point, 43-41 lead, Savovic willed the Rainbows to a nine-point advantage (56-47) with 8:46 left. With a showman's flair, he scored nine of their 13 points in a let-me-take-it-from-here stand of highlight video proportions. And, when UTEP tried to get back in it again, Savovic scored all eight UH points in an 8-4 run.

Except for the point total, perhaps, it was a familiar scene for the Rainbows, Savovic hoisting them on his shoulders and delivering.

"He's not afraid to take the big shots; he's got the confidence and toughness to make the shots when you have to have 'em," said UH coach Riley Wallace. "He can always get open and he has the confidence to step up. He's a winner and he proved it again for us."

"You know he's got a great shooter's mentality," Rabedeaux marveled. "He doesn't care how many he misses, his mentality is 'give me the ball, I want to shoot it again.' Because of that, he's successful. But mostly it is because his foundation is one of great, great toughness."

Eleven games into the 18-game WAC schedule, there is little doubt who should be the front-runner for the conference MVP. Barring an injury, it is hard to see who could push him, especially if he delivers UH to a regular-season title.

"The only thing is if he runs into the prejudice factor," Wallace acknowledged. "A foreigner versus a ... "

There is one vote he can count on already. Said Rabedeaux: "It is hard for me to think of a better player in our league or anybody who is more valuable to his team than Savo is."

In that, he would find himself in agreement with 7,595 of Savovic's closest friends last night.