Tall challenge in store for UH men's hoops
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team will take on a big task against a Big 12 team tonight.
The Rainbow Warriors will face Nebraska and its behemoth of a center, Aleks Maric, in the 43rd annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic tonight.
The semifinal game will start around 7:30 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Hawai'i, which is 6-4, beat San Francisco in a first-round game on Wednesday. Nebraska, which is 7-2, defeated Wyoming in the first round.
"We have our work cut out for us, especially our big guys," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said.
That's because the Cornhuskers center around Maric, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound junior center from Australia. He is averaging 19.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and is among the national leaders in field goal percentage at 67.4 percent.
"We just have to try and make him work as hard as he can," Wallace said. "You can't shut him out, but we want to make him work for everything he gets."
Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said the Huskers' first offensive option is almost always Maric.
"Because he is a good offensive player down low, that's our first priority — to get him the basketball," Sadler said. "But obviously the first priority (Hawai'i) is going to have is to keep him from getting it."
Hawai'i has a decent center of its own in 6-8 senior Ahmet Gueye, who had 20 points and seven rebounds in the victory over San Francisco.
"That was the first time I felt really good in a long time," Gueye said. "I had good treatment before the game — I got a massage on my leg and it felt good during the game."
Interestingly, both centers are playing hurt. Maric has a hip injury, and Gueye is still recovering from knee surgery in March.
Maric averages 25 minutes per game, and he often rotates in and out of games to rest his hip. Against Wyoming, he played around three minutes at a time, and then rested on the bench for around two minutes at a time.
"Aleks was in terrific shape until he hurt his hip," Sadler said. "He wasn't able to practice for a couple of weeks, and is not in quite the same shape."
Wallace said it will probably take more than Gueye to contain Maric. Several of Hawai'i's "big men" could rotate into the game to defend Maric.
"We have to work hard and play smart," Gueye said. "I know I have to use what ever opportunity I have to try and use my quickness."
Maric said: "You just have to adapt to the circumstances of the game. If the other team pays too much attention to me, we'll find somebody else open. I think my guards like it because it gets them open shots."
Indeed, the Huskers are not strictly a low-post team. They start four guards around Maric.
In the victory over Wyoming, 6-foot freshman Jay-R Strowbridge scored a career-high 14 points, and 5-9 senior Charles Richardson scored a season-high 13.
"They've got a couple of quick guards, so (Maric) is not the only concern," Wallace said.
It also means that the 'Bows will have a height advantage at four of the five positions.
"If (Maric) is not guarding me, I can use my size," Gueye said. "And if he is guarding me, then that means one of our other big men will have an advantage."
In any case, Hawai'i's offense is on a scoring streak, reaching 89 points in back-to-back games. It is the most points scored in consecutive games by a Hawai'i team since the 2003-04 season.
"We're hitting our shots now, and the guys are playing with confidence," Wallace said.
There will be some familiarity between the coaches. Sadler was head coach at Texas-El Paso during the 2004-05 season, when both the Miners and 'Bows were in the WAC.
"Personnel is different," Sadler said. "But I know what he's going to do and he knows what I'm going to do."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.