Night is right for 'Bows at Classic
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team wants to continue an important holiday tradition this week — playing under the bright Christmas lights in the Rainbow Classic.
The Rainbow Warriors will host San Francisco on the opening night of the 43rd annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic tonight.
Nebraska and Wyoming will tip off the four-day tournament today at 5 p.m., followed by Hawai'i and San Francisco around 7:30.
"Every game is important, but we have to get that first one to start everything off right," UH junior guard Matt Gibson said.
The winners of tonight's games will advance to the night bracket on Friday and Saturday. The losers will be banished to the afternoon consolation bracket on Friday and Saturday.
The 'Bows have made it to the night bracket each of the last 10 seasons, meaning they have won their Rainbow Classic opener every year since 1996.
In Riley Wallace's previous 19 seasons as head coach at Hawai'i, the 'Bows have had to play in the lonely afternoon bracket twice (1987 and 1995).
"You never forget those," Wallace said.
For the benefit of the UH athletic department — not to mention K5 television — the 'Bows need to make the night bracket to draw crowds to the Stan Sheriff Center.
K5 is also banking on Hawai'i, since it is scheduled to televise only the evening games of the Rainbow Classic. If the 'Bows lose tonight, their afternoon games on Friday and Saturday will not be televised.
And an opening-night victory is not guaranteed against a San Francisco team that is still putting its players in place. Hawai'i is 5-4; the Dons are 4-7.
"We're not where we'd like to be, and there are reasons for that," USF head coach Jessie Evans said. "We started the season with only five scholarship athletes available to play. So our chemistry has been slow to come together, but now that we're getting everybody back, we're starting to come around."
Two San Francisco players were injured at the start of the season, and three others had to sit out three games for an NCAA suspension.
"You can't judge them by their record," Wallace said of USF. "On a given night, if they get hot on you, and you don't get back on defense — if they get the ball in the right hands, they're going to wear you out."
The Dons have three quick guards — 6-foot-1 Armondo Surratt, 6-3 Antonio Kellogg and 6-2 Manny Quezada.
Surratt leads the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game, while Quezada is scoring 13.5 per game, and Kellogg is at 13.4. All three are transfers from Big East programs — Surratt from Miami (Fla.), Quezada from Rutgers, and Kellogg from Connecticut.
"We can play three guards at any time because we feel like we have three capable guards," Evans said. "But we have the versatility to go bigger as well."
The top post player is Alan Wiggins Jr., a 6-9 senior who is averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The Dons also have five other players 6-8 and taller who normally see action.
"We have a tremendous challenge in front of us, having to play the host team on the first day," Evans said. "We know we're the team everybody wants to play, and I don't like that. But that's the way it is and I guarantee we'll be ready for the challenge."
Hawai'i junior forward Bobby Nash said: "We're not taking this lightly. We know we can't play in the afternoon games."
The 'Bows will go with the same starting lineup they used in an 89-78 victory over Northwestern State on Saturday: 6-5 Gibson and 6-6 Matt Lojeski at guards, 6-6 Nash and 6-8 P.J. Owsley at forwards, and 6-8 Ahmet Gueye at center.
"They have good guards, and so we've seen a lot of teams like that already this year," Gibson said. "We just have to make sure we use our height to rebound and hit our shots."
Wallace said he would like to get more production out of his low-post players. In Saturday's victory over Northwestern State, Hawai'i's four tallest players — Gueye, Owsley, Stephen Verwers and Todd Follmer — combined for 10 points and nine rebounds.
"It's a concern," Wallace said. "But you just have to be patient and wait for them to break out of it. I've seen what they're capable of, all of them, so hopefully it'll come this week."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.