Confident UH meets Michigan in NIT game
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Here today, gone to Michigan.
The Rainbow Warriors had reason to celebrate Monday after beating Nebraska, 84-83, in a second-round game of the National Invitation Tournament.
The Rainbow Warriors will play Michigan in a quarterfinal game of the National Invitation Tournament today at 4 p.m. (Hawai'i time). The game will be televised live on ESPN2.
"Considering the situation, the travel was perfect," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "At this point of the season, you don't complain about things like travel or the short turnover (between games). You just keep playing."
The 'Bows departed Honolulu at 11:40 Monday night for a six-hour flight to Salt Lake City. After a two-hour layover, they made a three-hour flight to Detroit, followed by a 30-minute drive to Ann Arbor, where the Michigan campus is located.
"I think we're used to (the travel) by now," junior forward Jeff Blackett said. "We've traveled a ton, so I don't think it really makes a difference."
Instead of worrying about the jet lag, the 'Bows are riding a jet stream of confidence.
Hawai'i has played arguably its two best offensive games of this season in the NIT. The 'Bows shot 61.8 percent from the field in an 85-74 first-round victory at Utah State, then 61.2 percent in an 84-83 second-round win over Nebraska.
"Basketball is a strange game that way," Wallace said. "One guy gets hot and it starts to be contagious. This is the best energy we've had all year, so we just need to keep it going."
Hawai'i will need to be at its best today in what Wallace is describing as the biggest road game for a Hawai'i team in more than a decade.
"The only one I can compare it to is when we got sent to New Mexico (in 1990)," he said.
Fourteen years ago, the 'Bows lost a NIT quarterfinal game at New Mexico.
A victory today would send Hawai'i to next week's NIT final four at historic Madison Square Garden in New York.
Hawai'i has made seven previous NIT appearances, but never got past the quarterfinals, where it is 0-4.
"We want to be the ones to do something no other (Hawai'i) team has done," senior co-captain Phil Martin said. "And this is our chance."
It's not going to be easy against a Michigan team that will have tradition and a rowdy crowd on its side.
The Wolverines are 20-11, including NIT home victories over Missouri and Oklahoma. They tied for fifth in the Big Ten Conference at 8-8.
"Don't know much about them, but they probably don't know much about us, either," Wallace said.
Even though NCAA sanctions wiped out the official records of some of Michigan's best teams of the 1990s, many of the Hawai'i players grew up in that era admiring the Michigan program.
"I think for all of us, it's like a childhood dream (to play at Michigan)," sophomore forward Julian Sensley said.
But the crowd at Crisler Arena could turn it into a nightmare. The arena has a capacity of 13,751, and at least 11,000 are expected to attend today.
Hawai'i got to practice in Crisler last night, and will have a one-hour shootaround today.
"It's enough time to get a feel for it," Wallace said. "But we know it's going to be one of the best atmospheres around come game time."
The 2,500-seat student section located at courtside is called The Maize Rage. All students wear maize-colored shirts and stand and cheer the entire game.
"We are confident when we play here," Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker said. "In terms of getting postseason victories, I think it is going to do worlds of wonders for the confidence of our kids. It is a really nice atmosphere."
On the court, Wallace thinks the 'Bows could match up well, especially if Michigan leading scorer Lester Abram continues to sit out.
Abram, a 6-foot-6 forward who averages 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, has missed the last three games with an injury to his left (shooting) shoulder. He is listed as doubtful for today.
"They've got some size to match us," Wallace said. "But if we keep shooting it like we have been, we're hard to stop."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com or 535-8101.