Rainbows hope to rebound at home
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
After experiencing more heartbreak last week, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team returned to its true love yesterday home.
The Rainbow Warriors practiced in the Stan Sheriff Center yesterday for the first time in two weeks. The 'Bows returned after going 1-2 on an 11-day road trip.
Hawai'i is 13-7 overall and in seventh place in the Western Athletic Conference at 5-7. The seven losses are by an average of 2.6 points. Six of those losses have come on the road.
"One way to look at it is that we're losing all the close ones," senior forward Jeff Blackett said. "But another way to look at it is we've been in every game so far and we feel like we can play with any team out there."
The 'Bows will host Boise State (10-14 overall, 4-9 WAC) in a conference game tomorrow.
"The only way to forget about tough losses is to win games," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace. "We have three games coming up at home, and if we win all three, we get our momentum back."
In an effort to get back to their winning ways, the 'Bows went back to basics yesterday. Wallace put the entire team through fundamental defensive drills for most of yesterday's practice.
"We're not getting the job done defensively," Wallace said. "We're fouling too much, which means we're not moving with our feet we're reaching in. So I felt like we needed to refresh some stuff that we did in the preseason just to remind these guys what it takes."
Hawai'i has made 221 free throws in 337 attempts this season. Its opponents have made 258 free throws in 372 attempts.
In WAC games, the difference is even greater. Hawai'i is 129 of 185 on free throws against WAC competition, while its opponents are 185 of 261.
"You can't complain because most times it's us not being aggressive," Wallace said. "So we need to work on it on both ends. We need to attack more on offense so that we start getting to the line, and then we need to start playing better defense so that teams are not beating us at the line."
If there is a cure, it could come in the Stan Sheriff Center.
The 'Bows are 11-1 at home this season, and have never lost to Boise State in Honolulu.
"You don't want to make excuses, but the places we go to on the road are nothing like here," Sensley said. "It's not just about the cold and the thin air and all that. It's also that there's nobody coming to the games. It's hard to get up for games like that."
Hawai'i is seventh in the 10-team WAC with six regular-season games remaining. The bottom four teams in the standings at the end of the regular season must participate in the "play-in" games of the WAC Tournament. The 'Bows are currently in one of the dreaded "play-in" positions.
"But the playoffs are not starting today," Blackett pointed out. "That's the good part. We know we can still make up a lot of ground with these next few games."
Hawai'i still has home games remaining against first-place Nevada and second-place Texas-El Paso. The 'Bows lost to those teams by a combined four points on the road.
"Who's better than us in the league?" Wallace said. "I don't think anybody. We've lost to some of them, but nobody has come out and flat beat us. We have to think that we have a shot against anybody."
Louisiana Tech, which beat Hawai'i by one point last week, is in third place in the WAC at 8-5.
"Only one or two games separate a whole bunch of teams," Blackett said. "So we can still get a good position."
Wallace also pointed out that a 20-win season is not out of reach. The 'Bows have five home games remaining in the regular season, and two road games.
By his logic, if Hawai'i wins all five home games, and then wins one of two road games, and then wins at least one game in the WAC Tournament, that adds up to 20 overall wins.
"And that's the number everybody wants to see," Wallace said. "Our season is not lost by any means. We just need to put it together and start winning these close ones."
Boise State struggling on WAC road
If there is a team that doesn't want to hear about Hawai'i's road woes, it's Boise State.
The Broncos are 1-8 on the road this season, including 0-6 against WAC teams.
"I guess they're kind of like us," Wallace said. "They're good at home and come up short on the road."
Boise State snapped a five-game losing streak last Saturday with an 82-68 home victory over Fresno State.
A month ago, the Broncos beat Hawai'i, 80-76, in Boise, Idaho.
"They play us tougher than anybody," Wallace said. "Their transition game really gave us problems at their place and they can shoot the 3, so we'll have to be alert defensively."
The first 500 fans through the turnstiles tomorrow will receive a free regulation-size basketball courtesy of Papa John's Pizza Hawai'i.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com or 535-8101.