Rainbows close in on WAC hoops lead
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
By taking care of the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team moved back near the top.
The Rainbow Warriors relied on a balanced attack in an 83-68 victory over San Jose State last night.
A crowd of 5,006 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the 'Bows improve to 12-8 overall and 6-4 in the WAC.
After beating the bottom two teams in the WAC (Idaho and San Jose State) on its current homestand, Hawai'i is now one game behind the three teams tied for first place (Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Utah State are 7-3).
The Spartans dropped to 5-16 overall and 1-7 in the WAC.
"Beating them was important for us because it would put our confidence way up," Hawai'i junior forward Ahmet Gueye said.
Several 'Bows displayed confidence last night.
Senior forward Julian Sensley once again led the way with 25 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. He made a personal-best five 3-pointers, shooting 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
"Julian's playing good basketball," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "I thought he played a complete game."
Sensley said: "A lot of those shots I took, I was just coming off picks. When I'm relaxed and just shooting it, I'm a pretty good shooter. They were able to get me open and give me some time to shoot my shot."
Gueye contributed 19 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. He also went 9 for 9 from the free-throw line to lead a surprisingly efficient performance by the entire team.
Matt Lojeski added 10 points and six assists despite playing with an injured leg, and Deonte Tatum also scored 10. Matthew Gipson contributed nine points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Hawai'i entered the game ranked last in the WAC with a 62.5 free-throw percentage, but went 19 of 20 last night (95 percent).
"They just have been practicing," Wallace said. "They have more confidence and they've been shooting the ball better. And this is without the leading free-throw shooter in the WAC taking a free throw in Lojeski, so that was impressive."
Lojeski was questionable for last night's game because he had a gash near his left ankle from a moped incident Friday night. Wallace said Lojeski sustained the injury from the vehicle's kickstand.
"It got really badly infected," Wallace said. "But we got through it; good thing we're at home."
Lojeski started and played 27 minutes. His two 3-pointers early in the second half sparked Hawai'i's solid second half.
The 'Bows lost an 11-point lead in the first half, but regained control early in the second half.
Hawai'i took a 27-16 lead with 8:11 remaining in the first half after Sensley slammed on an alley-oop.
San Jose State rallied after Hawai'i's big men got in foul trouble late in the first half. Starters Gueye (two fouls) and Gipson (two fouls), and reserve Chris Botez (three fouls) were all on the bench for the final 3:17 of the first half.
During those closing minutes of the half, Hawai'i had four guards on the court — Lojeski, Tatum, Dominic Waters and John Wilder — and Sensley at center.
"We went to the zone with a 10-point lead thinking we could buy some time," Wallace said.
But the Spartans responded with a 12-4 run over the final 4:50 of the half to tie the score at 33 at intermission.
"We were really mad at ourselves," Gueye said. "Being in foul trouble, it was hard for us to be on the bench and see our guys being down. But we picked it up in the second half. We were smarter in the second half."
With the starters back on the court, the 'Bows opened the second half with a 10-4 run to take a 43-37 lead they would not lose the rest of the way.
"I really think the difference in the game was the first six minutes of the second half," San Jose State head coach George Nessman said. "That's where they got that bump on us and we couldn't get it under a number that was reasonable over the last 10 minutes."
The 'Bows increased the lead to 63-50 with 10:37 remaining, and the Spartans never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Hawai'i sealed it by going 14 of 15 from the free-throw line in the second half. The only miss came by Botez with 1:12 remaining.
"He's in trouble now," Gueye chided Botez.
Alex Elam led the Spartans with 21 points.
The 'Bows are next scheduled to play at Boise State Saturday.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.