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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, January 12, 2002

UH, SMU to battle for first place

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Game facts

What: WAC basketball, Hawai'i (14-2, 5-0) vs. SMU (9-5, 4-0)
When: 7 tonight
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Tickets: $14 lower level; $10 upper level (adult); $7 upper level (ages 4-18, UH students
TV/Radio: Live on K5; KCCN (1420 AM)

The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team doesn't need anybody to pinch it right now.

The Rainbow Warriors know this is for real.

They have the bruises, a chipped tooth and an eight-game winning streak to prove it.

"The way we're going now, every game is big," UH point guard Mark Campbell said. "We know that if we keep winning, every game we play will be for first place."

Another huge one is scheduled for tonight, when the 'Bows play host to Southern Methodist. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

After tonight's game, only one team will remain undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference.

Hawai'i currently sits atop the conference with a 5-0 record. SMU is right behind at 4-0.

"This is as good as it gets," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "Some people might be surprised that SMU is up there undefeated,but they're a very good team."

So is Hawai'i.

The 'Bows are 14-2 — their best start in 30 years — and coming off an impressive 20-point victory over Louisiana Tech on Thursday.

"We know Louisiana Tech well," SMU head coach Mike Dement said. "For Hawai'i to beat them as easily as they did is a great sign for how strong they are."

Two weeks ago, SMU defeated Louisiana Tech 74-71 at Rustin, La.

"Their win at Louisiana Tech probably says more than our win over here," Wallace said.

Either way, both teams are on a roll. UH's eight-game winning streak is its longest in 13 years; SMU is 4-0 in the WAC for the first time since joining the conference in the 1996-97 season.

"It doesn't surprise me that Hawai'i is (5-0 in the WAC)," Dement said. "We're a little bit surprised, pleasantly surprised, from our standpoint because we are a pretty young group."

The key matchups could be played on the perimeter, where both teams feature a pair of dynamic scorers.

Hawai'i wing players Predrag Savovic (19.0) and Carl English (14.4) are combining for more than 33 points per game. Savovic chipped a tooth in a collision with teammate Mike McIntyre during Thursday's game, but had it repaired by a dentist yesterday and should not be affected by it tonight.

SMU guards Damon Hancock (20.5) and Quinton Ross (15.5) account for 36 per game. Hancock, a 6-foot-4 senior, leads all WAC players in scoring.

"They create a lot of things for Hancock," Wallace said. "And he knows how to score from just about anywhere."

The 'Bows boast the WAC's top statistical defense, allowing just 59.0 points per game. Campbell, a 6-4 junior, will draw the initial task of defending Hancock.

"I can't expect to shut him down," Campbell said. "I just want to get him off his game and make him work for everything he gets. And hope some of his shots don't fall."

McIntyre, who came off the bench to score 22 against Louisiana Tech, will relieve Campbell when needed.

"Even if Mike's shot is not falling, we need his defense," Wallace said. "He's a key for us one way or the other."

Dement is equally concerned about defending Hawai'i's "flex motion" offense that passed circles around Louisiana Tech.

"They execute so well in the half court, I'm not sure there is a strategy," he said.

The success of the 'Bows has also been noticed nationally. Eight players participated in a photo shoot with Sports Illustrated yesterday.

"If you're a good program, more and more attention will come with it," Wallace said. "You have to able to handle it. When you think about it that way, this week is a very big test for us."