Warriors wary of lowly Spartans
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
|||WAC Men's Basketball
Who: Hawai'i (15-4 overall, 7-2 WAC) vs. San Jose State (5-14, 0-9)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Tickets: $15 for all lower level seats, $11 for upper level adult seats, $5 for upper level student seats, $8 for Super Rooter seats. Free upper level seats for first 100 UH students through the turnstiles
TV/Radio: Live on KFVE-TV (Ch. 5) and KKEA (1420 AM)
Whether the Rainbow Warriors heed them or not will be determined tonight.
Three of the top contenders in the Western Athletic Conference lost Thursday. As a result, the 'Bows are now alone atop the WAC standings, and well aware of the upset potential of tonight's opponent, San Jose State.
The 'Bows, who are 15-4 overall and 7-2 in the WAC, will host the last-place Spartans (5-14, 0-9) at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I'm expecting a close ball game," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "They always play good defense and they like to control the tempo. They just cause us a lot of problems with their style."
Last year was proof enough. The Spartans were in ninth place (out of 10) when they upset Hawai'i, 55-54, in the Stan Sheriff Center. It was the only game the 'Bows lost at home all season.
"Of all the teams, we're not taking this one for granted," senior guard Michael Kuebler said. "They caught us last year and we have to make sure not to let it happen again."
Still, the Spartans enter tonight's game on a roll backwards.
San Jose State is on an 11-game losing streak, including an 83-76 loss to Hawai'i in San Jose, Calif., on Jan. 10.
"I'll be honest," UH senior co-captain Phil Martin said, "it is kind of hard to get up for teams like that."
But if the Spartans don't inspire the 'Bows, then first place in the conference certainly does.
"That makes a difference," Martin said. "We see ourselves at the top there and we want it to stay that way. The only way is to keep winning games, and if you look at it that way, it doesn't matter who we're playing."
Tonight's game will be a battle of size versus style.
The 'Bows will start a frontcourt of 6-foot-10 Haim Shimonovich at center, and 6-8 Martin and 6-9 Julian Sensley at forwards. They will also have 6-11 Milos Zivanovic, 6-8 Jeff Blackett and 6-8 Paul Jesinskis available off the bench.
Blackett, who scored a career-high 19 points in the victory at San Jose, has not practiced at full strength this week because of flu-like symptoms. However, he said he expects to be ready tonight.
In contrast, the Spartans' tallest player on their roster is 6-8 Eric Walton. He is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game, but the team ranks last in the WAC with 31.1 rebounds per game (Hawai'i is third with 35.6).
"We have size, they have quickness," Martin said. "It'll come down to which team capitalizes on their strength."
During their 11-game slide, the Spartans are averaging just 60.8 points per game. Last Saturday, Rice defeated San Jose State, 82-49.
"We can't look at any of that," Wallace said. "No matter what the records are, it's always a close game when we play them."
As Kuebler put it: "They seem to take us out of our game better than any other team in the WAC. It's not so much what they do on defense, it's their offense. They kind of stall and use the whole 35 seconds (on the shot clock), so it's hard to get momentum on them."
What's more, San Jose State head coach Phil Johnson coached against Wallace when they were at rival Oklahoma junior colleges in the 1980s.
"He knows what I like to do and I know what he likes to do," Wallace said. "That's probably why the games are always so tough."
Scoring battle: Four players are within 1.4 points of the individual scoring lead in the WAC.
Nevada's Kirk Snyder is first at 19.5, followed by Kuebler (19.3), Tulsa's Jason Parker (18.9) and Rice's Michael Harris (18.1).
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-8101.