'Bows make road debut today at Texas-El Paso
|||Vebobe quits, plans to return to France|
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
The road through the wacky WAC has already been just that for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
And the Rainbow Warriors have yet to play their first road game in the Western Athletic Conference.
On the day before the 'Bows were scheduled to play at Texas-El Paso, they found out that one player received a rare award while another unexpectedly quit yesterday.
"Sometimes you have to take the good news with the bad," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "Either way, we can't let it affect us."
Indeed, the 11-2 'Bows will take a five-game winning streak and a 2-0 WAC record into the Don Haskins Center today. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. (Hawai'i time).
Hawai'i will be without reserve forward Luc-Arthur Vebobe, who quit the team yesterday out of apparent unhappiness with his playing time.
But the 'Bows will be with the reigning WAC Player of the Week, Predrag Savovic.
Savovic, a 6-foot-6 senior guard, received the award yesterday after recording 42 points including seven 3-pointers and eight rebounds in UH's WAC victories over Fresno State and Nevada last week.
"I think the Savo of old has been showing up the last couple of games," Wallace said. "It's what we expected from him."
The award, however, was not quite as expected. Over the last three seasons a span of 55 player-of-the-week awards Hawai'i players have now won three. Savovic also won one as a sophomore on Jan. 3, 2000, and Troy Ostler won one last season.
"There is still much more room for improvement," Savovic said. "I can take out some bad shots and rebound more."
They could certainly use it today against UTEP, which has become a formidable road block for the 'Bows. Since becoming a part of WAC basketball in 1980, UH is 3-18 against the Miners in games played in El Paso.
"What worries me most about UTEP is UTEP," Wallace said. "A reason why we haven't had much success against them is because they've always had good teams."
This year is no exception, although injuries to key players have caused the Miners to struggle to a 5-8 start, including 0-2 in WAC games.
"We haven't hit our stride yet because we've been injured," UTEP head coach Jason Rabedeaux said. "But if there's one thing that can help cure things in the WAC, it's being at home."
The Miners are 20-3 in El Paso over the last two seasons, including 4-1 this season. Still, Rabedeaux is concerned about a Hawai'i team he describes as "the best in the league at this point."
"We caught Hawai'i at the right times last year, when they had some guys hurt," Rabedeaux said, referring to UTEP's two victories over the 'Bows. "This year it looks like the other way around."
UTEP will be without senior Leonard Owens, a 6-6 starting forward who has a bruised knee. He averages just 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, and will be replaced by 6-6 sophomore Antone Jarrell, who averages 4.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
"Losing (Owens) doesn't put us in a huge hole," Rabedeaux said. "But he's a senior who understands our system, and from that standpoint, it's a big loss."
The major Miners could be point guard Eugene Costello and center Brian Stewart, who were both injured earlier this season.
Costello broke his foot in the preseason and is "still playing his way into shape," according to Rabedeaux. However, Wallace said the 5-10 senior is UH's primary concern. Costello amassed 37 points, eight assists and seven steals in the two games against UH last year.
"He caused a lot of problems with his penetration," Wallace said. "We can't let him do that again, because it opens everybody else up."
Wallace said Mark Campbell and Mike McIntyre will take turns defending Costello.
Stewart, a 6-10 senior, had 29 points and 19 rebounds in the two victories over Hawai'i last season. He sprained an ankle early in the season, but is still averaging 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
In any case, the Miners are hoping to capitalize on a recent Hawai'i trend. Over the last three seasons, the 'Bows are 2-20 in WAC road games.
"Every team talks about how tough it is to travel, but it really is the toughest for Hawai'i," Rabedeaux said. "They have the largest task coming across that Pacific (Ocean) five or six times in two months. I just hope they haven't figured out any secret formulas to that yet."