Revitalized Hawai'i plays at Fresno State tonight
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
FRESNO, Calif. — What a difference one win makes.
Instead of the usual road words like sluggish, cold and tired, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team was talking about finding energy, warming up and having fun yesterday.
"Of all our road trips, this is by far the best one," senior forward Julian Sensley said. "We're just having fun as a team and so we're playing confident."
The Rainbow Warriors flew from Boise, Idaho, to Fresno on Saturday night, and they were still riding high yesterday after their breakthrough road victory at Boise State on Saturday afternoon.
"You can see how much the energy level rises when you get a win like that," Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace said. "It's amazing how that works."
The 'Bows went through a spirited practice last night in preparation for today's game against Fresno State. The Western Athletic Conference contest is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Pacific time (5 p.m. Hawai'i time) at the Save Mart Center.
Hawai'i is 13-8 overall and tied for third place in the WAC at 7-4. The Bulldogs are 12-10 overall and 5-6 in the conference.
"When you lose on the road, it sets a tone and everybody feels down," junior guard Matt Lojeski said. "Now that we got the win, we can loosen up and just relax and play our game."
Early in yesterday's practice, the 'Bows turned a layup drill into a slam-dunk contest. Reserve guard John Wilder had the most impressive dunks, and the team erupted in laughter when freshman Hiram Thompson got rejected by the rim on one of his attempts.
At the end of practice, the team split into two groups based on height for a shooting contest — "Bigs" versus "Guards." The team started doing it in Boise, so Wallace wanted to keep it going in Fresno. Just like in Boise, the "Bigs" won.
"The guards can't shoot, so I guess the big men have to carry the team again," Sensley joked. "It's all in fun, but it's the kind of thing that keeps everybody positive."
But it won't be all fun and games today.
The Bulldogs are 10-2 in the Save Mart Center this season, and they feature two of the WAC's most dynamic players in guard Ja'Vance Coleman and forward Quinton Hosley.
Coleman, a 6-foot-3 junior, leads the WAC with 71 3-pointers, and is averaging 17.8 points per game. Hosley, a 6-6 junior, is averaging 18.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
Wallace described the Bulldogs as "dangerous" because of their long-range potential. Fresno State averages 26.1 3-point attempts per game, making an average of 9.4.
In a 73-65 loss at Hawai'i on Jan. 21, the Bulldogs set a WAC record with 37 3-point attempts (they made 13).
"We're going to shoot 20 3s a game because we have to," Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland said. "We really don't have an inside presence, at least not like Hawai'i does, so we rely on our shooters. But if we're shooting 30 to 40, that's too many."
The 'Bows will counter with size. Fresno State will start four players 6-6 and shorter alongside 6-9 Hector Hernandez.
The 'Bows will start four players 6-6 and taller: 6-6 Lojeski, 6-9 Sensley, 6-9 Matthew Gipson and 6-7 Ahmet Gueye. Those four combined for 63 points and 25 rebounds in the victory over Fresno State last month.
"We had no answer for some of their big guys the last time," Cleveland said. "So we're just going to have to play our game and hope our shots fall this time."
The 'Bows surprised the Bulldogs the last time by playing a zone defense for most of the game. Wallace, however, said the traditional man-to-man scheme is still priority.
"I'm sure they'll be prepared for it this time," Wallace said. "We just have to do a better job with our man and keep them off balance."
Hawai'i is one game behind WAC co-leaders Nevada and Louisiana Tech with five conference games remaining. The Bulldogs are not eligible for the postseason — including the WAC Tournament — because of a self-imposed ban for past recruiting violations.
"We're not trying to be spoilers, we're just trying to improve with each game and take it into next season," Cleveland said. "But we are aware of Hawai'i's situation and that they will be very confident coming in here off that huge road win. We just have to be at our best."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.