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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:42 p.m., Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hawai'i holds off San Francisco, 89-85

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Even with San Francisco trying its best to play the Grinch, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team continued its holiday tradition of winning on the opening night of the Rainbow Classic last night.

The Rainbow Warriors jumped to an early lead, and then held off a furious rally by San Francisco for an 89-85 victory on the opening night of the 43rd annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic.

A crowd of 4,172 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the 'Bows advance to tomorrow evening's semifinals against Nebraska at 7:30 p.m. The other semifinal will be determined today.

It is the 11th consecutive year that Hawai'i has won its opener in the Rainbow Classic.

"A win's a win. We'll take it," Hawai'i co-captain Matt Lojeski said.

Lojeski scored 24 points to lead a trio of Hawai'i players with at least 20 points. Bobby Nash added 21 points and eight rebounds, and Ahmet Gueye contributed 20 points and seven rebounds.

It is the first time since 1994 that a Hawai'i team had three players reach 20 points in the same game (Trevor Ruffin, Phil Handy and John Molle Jr. did it against Brigham Young in 1994).

Matt Gibson added 11 points and passed for a career-high eight assists. The 'Bows passed for 23 assists, but committed 17 turnovers.

"Our offense this week (in practice) has been much more crisp," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "And there were times tonight when it looked really good. But then the whole thing fell apart in the second half."

San Francisco used a full-court pressure defense to cut a 16-point Hawai'i lead down to two in the closing seconds, but the 'Bows converted 8 of 10 free throws in the final 3:27 to preserve the victory.

Hawai'i improved to 6-4, and is 15-1 in its last 16 Rainbow Classic games. San Francisco dropped to 4-8.

Lojeski shot 9 of 13 from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. His layup with 24.7 seconds remaining gave Hawai'i an 86-81 lead after San Francisco missed a 3-point shot that could have tied it on the previous possession.

"We had spurts of playing really well in the first half, and then really bad (in the second half)," Lojeski said. "No consistency."

Nash, however, has been consistent for two consecutive games. After reaching career-highs of 22 points and 11 rebounds in a victory over Northwestern State last Saturday, he nearly matched it last night.

"If you practice enough, then in game situations you can be confident enough to step up and hit shots," Nash said. "But it's not only me ... we've just been shooting in practice and working hard and it's paying off."

Gueye's performance was perhaps the key for Hawai'i. Gueye shot 9 of 13 from the field, and the 20 points were his season high. It was the first time he reached double-figure points in five games.

"I thought we could take them on the block, which we did," Wallace said. "(Gueye) played hard tonight."

Gueye had to leave the game briefly at the end of the first half after bruising his right knee, which is still in the process of recovering from surgery in March.

"He hit that sore spot," Wallace said. "I wanted to keep him out if I could, but I had to rotate him back in."

San Francisco head coach Jessie Evans said: "We allowed them to shoot too high a percentage — 57 percent. And we allowed them to get off on the inside. Their inside guys are not that good, but we made them look good."

Hawai'i shot 57.1 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent in the second half, but also committed 12 of its 17 turnovers in the second half.

"It was an ugly win, but with every win that you have, you learn from it," Nash said. "I think our mistakes are very correctable."

The 'Bows controlled most of the first half, although San Francisco took a brief lead at 18-17 with 10:45 remaining.

Hawai'i went on a 12-0 run late in the half to take a 39-25 lead. Lojeski highlighted the surge by draining two 3-pointers.

The 'Bows took a 41-30 lead at intermission, with Nash (14) and Gueye (12) combining for 26 points.

The 'Bows increased their lead to as 72-56 with 7:05 remaining in the game, before the Dons made it close at the end.

San Francisco cut the Hawai'i lead to 84-81 with 1:40 remaining, and had possession of the ball. But Armondo Surratt missed a 3-pointer.

"I thought our defense was just good enough for us to get beat," Evans said. "We can't play defense for 25, 26, 27 seconds, and then bend at the end. It's a 35-second shot clock."

Alan Wiggins Jr. led San Francisco with 24 points, and Surratt added 22.

The Dons will play Wyoming in a consolation game tomorrow at 11 a.m.


Nebraska went down low to its center from Down Under in a victory over Wyoming in the opening game of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic.

Aleks Maric, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound junior, had game-highs of 22 points and nine rebounds to lead the Cornhuskers.

Maric hit 9 of 14 field goals, most of them coming from within 5 feet of the basket. His 22 points came in just 25 minutes of action.

"He gives everybody a chance to have open looks," Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said.

As proof, guards Jay-R Strowbridge and Charles Richardson contributed 14 and 13 points, respectively, for Nebraska.

Strowbridge, a true freshman making the first start of his collegiate career, also had eight assists.

"How could you not be pleased with him?" Sadler said. "That was his first start in college."

But Sadler was most impressed with his team's defense. Wyoming entered the game averaging 79 points per game, and had scored at least 69 points in each of its previous 10 games.

"I thought defensively, this may be about as well as we've played on the perimeter," Sadler said.

Wyoming's high-scoring backcourt duo of Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones scored 17 and 10, respectively. They entered the game combining for nearly 40 points per game.