Rainbows looking to halt road slide
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
RENO, Nev. In a city where you can become a millionaire with one lucky pull of a handle, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team is hoping to change its fortunes tonight.
The Rainbow Warriors are on the last stop of an 11-day, three-game road trip. It will also be their last chance for a victory on this trip.
Hawai'i is scheduled to play Nevada in a Western Athletic Conference game tonight at 5 p.m. (Hawai'i time) at the Lawlor Events Center. The 'Bows (11-4 overall and 4-3 in the WAC) and Wolf Pack (9-8 and 4-3) are tied for third place in the conference.
"Every game for us is a must-win now," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "We put ourselves in this position, so we have to get ourselves out of it."
The 'Bows opened the trip with a stunning 79-67 upset loss at San Jose State. That was followed by a heartbreaking 56-55 loss at Fresno State on Thursday.
Wallace said last night that he believes those two losses will cost Hawai'i an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship Tournament.
"We have four losses, and with our schedule, we felt like we couldn't lose that many," he said. "But we can't worry about that right now. We have to get this road thing unleashed."
The 'Bows are 1-4 on the road this season. In those five games, they are averaging 59.6 points per game and shooting 39.9 percent from the field. At home, where they are 10-0, the 'Bows average 79.2 points per game while shooting 49.9 percent.
"I still have no clue why this team is so different on the road," Wallace said. "They just seem to lack energy for some reason."
Yesterday, it was hard to tell.
The 'Bows had a spirited two-hour practice yesterday, and any lingering disappointment from the loss at Fresno State appeared to be erased.
A routine lay-up drill turned into an impromptu slam-dunk contest, and then the half-court scrimmage between starters and scout team was more intense than usual.
"We gotta win this one, it's as simple as that," UH junior guard Carl English said. "We started this trip hoping to win all three (games). There's no way we can go out and lose all three."
Teammate Michael Kuebler added: "We can't think about anything else down the line except this next game. We all know how important this one is."
Based on Wallace's prognostication about the NCAA Tournament, the 'Bows would need to win the WAC Tournament in order to advance to the "Big Dance" for a third consecutive year.
"That's why every (WAC) game is important now," he said. "We're playing for seeding (in the WAC Tournament). And if we can't win on the road, we're not going to get a good seed."
But Hawai'i has never hit a winning jackpot in Reno. The 'Bows are 0-4 in games played at Nevada, including losses in each of the last two seasons (Nevada is in its third season in the WAC).
The Wolf Pack has won four of its last five games, including an 86-59 whipping of San Jose State on Thursday. Like seemingly every WAC team, Nevada has established a home-court winning tradition. This season, the Wolf Pack is 7-1 in the Lawlor Events Center, with the only loss to intrastate rival UNLV on Dec. 4.
"I picked them to finish third (in the preseason coaches poll)," Wallace said. "They have four starters back from last year, and they gave us all kinds of problems last year."
Nevada forward Kirk Snyder is one of the most talented players in the conference one national preseason publication listed him as the "Best NBA Prospect" in the WAC. The 6-foot-6 sophomore leads the team in scoring (16.0 per game) and rebounding (7.6).
What's more, guards Garry Hill-Thomas and Terrance Green have caused problems for Hawai'i with their speed the last two seasons.
"They seem to be playing better basketball the last couple games," Wallace said. "So we'll have our work cut out for us."