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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wounded knee won't stop Gueye

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Ahmet Gueye

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As his University of Hawai'i teammates headed out to celebrate their 89-85 opening-night victory over San Francisco in the 43rd Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic, Ahmet Gueye had other, more sedate, plans.

"I'm gonna be here for another two hours, at least," Gueye said, resigned to what is becoming a familiar ritual of a long night in the Stan Sheriff Center training room.

When you carry much of the Rainbow Warriors' fortunes on a tender, well-wrapped right knee, the way Gueye now must, your time ceases to be your own. And, your health is everybody's concern.

"My teammates need me and I've got to be ready," Gueye said. "Especially now."

Indeed, the importance of the 6-foot-8, 235-pounder to the 'Bows in tomorrow night's semifinal matchup with Nebraska (7-2) is hard to overstate and impossible to overlook.

For UH to reach the finals, it has to slow down Aleks Maric, the Cornhuskers' 6-foot-11, 270-pound scoring machine, something Wyoming was unable to do in a 73-58 loss. Maric had 22 points and nine rebounds, raising his season average to 20 points.

If there is a prayer of UH doing that, it goes by the name of Gueye.

So, it wasn't a good sign last night when, with about four minutes left in the first half, Gueye took a shot to the surgically-repaired knee. A bump that would eventually cause him to leave the floor with a limp and a grimace.

This coming just as he was beginning to hit his stride again after four games of being slowed by the knee.

"Coach asked me if I wanted more rest, but I knew I had to keep going," said Gueye, who eventually produced a season-high 20 points (on 9-of-13 shooting), seven rebounds and a block in 27 minutes of toil.

"Sometimes it hurts and you want a rest but you know how important it is to keep playing, if you can," Gueye said. "This is our tournament and they need me right now. If you're going to be a leader you have to do those things."

On a night when the 'Bows had three 20-point players Bobby Nash's 21 points and Matt Lojeski's 24 rounding it out for the first time since 1994, Gueye's loomed as big as any.

For he was, once again, the inside scoring presence the 'Bows needed to escape a first-round bushwhacking. He was the rebounding figure and defensive threat UH had to have to avoid what would have been the third first-round defeat in head coach Riley Wallace's 20-year tenure.

"We're a different team when he's got it going in there," assistant coach Bob Nash said of Gueye.

Which is why the only thing the 'Bows' big man had on ice last night was his knee.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.