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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 25, 2004

UH must prove itself on road

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

This University of Hawai'i men's basketball team might be undefeated, but it is not quite good enough to be ranked among the Top 25 teams in NCAA Division I.

Hawai'i's Bobby Nash soared and scored over USC's Gregg Guenther in the Rainbow Classic final. UH won, 72-68.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

At least not yet, according to Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace.

"We have to prove we can win on the road," Wallace said. "If we can go on the road and sweep this road trip, then we deserve to be in there. We don't want something given to us. We want to earn it."

The Rainbow Warriors have earned an 8-0 record so far this season after winning the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic championship over Southern California, 72-68, on Thursday.

It is the best start by Hawai'i since the 1973-74 team began 11-0. It is also the first time ever that a Hawai'i team will enter Western Athletic Conference play undefeated.

The 'Bows will open the WAC on the road, with games at Fresno State on Wednesday, and then at Nevada next Saturday.

"We're 8-0 and you have to get to the 20s (in overall wins). And to get to the 20s, you have to win at least 12 in your league," Wallace said. "I would say if we can win (every game) at home and split on the road, we can win the league and get to the NCAAs without even having to win the (WAC) tournament. But that's a tough road trip — at Fresno and at Reno — to start with."

In any case, the 'Bows are already working their way next to the nation's elite teams, at least based on record.

Hawai'i is one of 13 remaining undefeated teams in NCAA Division I. The others are Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, Hofstra, Illinois, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, West Virginia and Wichita State.

Only six of those undefeated teams were ranked in this week's Associated Press Top 25. The next poll is scheduled to be released Monday.

Hawai'i received eight points in last week's AP Top 25, which put the 'Bows around 190 points short of getting into the rankings.

Hawai'i was also at No. 23 in the latest projections of the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) by collegerpi.com prior to this week's games.

Winning the Rainbow Classic can only help the 'Bows move up in all the polls and projections.

Over four days, Hawai'i defeated Long Beach State, knocked Oral Roberts from the undefeated list, and then beat a big USC team from the respected Pac-10 Conference.

Sophomore guard "Little Matt" Gibson led Hawai'i with 41 points in the three games, and was selected the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Wallace said he would have preferred the award go to the entire team, but added of Gibson: "The fans like his hustle. He comes out and plays hard every second he's on the floor. Sometimes out of control, but he does hustle every second."

Sophomore guard Bobby Nash joined Gibson on the all-tournament team after making one of the most memorable shots in Rainbow Classic history. His 25-foot desperation 3-pointer as time expired beat Oral Roberts and put Hawai'i in the championship game of the tournament.

Junior forward "Big Matt" Gipson was also a standout in the tournament, with 35 points, 25 rebounds and four blocked shots in the three games.

Junior forward Julian Sensley had a subpar Rainbow Classic by his standards, but Wallace said his value has been a key to the team's early season success.

"When you have a 6-9 guy who's 235 (pounds) and can go out there and guard a smaller guy ... if he weren't athletic enough to go out there and guard somebody, then we'd be in trouble," Wallace said. "This team is big and they play big, and he's kind of that key ingredient."

Sensley continues to lead the team in scoring (12.9 per game), rebounding (7.4) and assists (3.1).

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8101.