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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hawai'i rallies past Idaho

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

MOSCOW, Idaho Any more teams in Idaho want to join the Western Athletic Conference?

The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team continued its late-season surge with another late-game rally in a 70-66 victory over the University of Idaho yesterday.

A crowd of 1,166 at tiny Memorial Gym watched the Rainbow Warriors erase a 14-point deficit to improve to 15-9 overall and move into fourth place in the WAC at 8-5. The 'Bows also improved to 2-7 on the road, with both wins in Idaho (they beat Boise State on Feb. 11).

It was Hawai'i's fifth victory in its last six games, and the last three wins have featured rallies from double-digit deficits.

"Any win is good, I'm not knocking that," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "But we're always coming out flat to start the game and I don't like it."

It probably helped yesterday that the opponent was the last-place Vandals, who dropped to 4-21 overall and 1-12 in their first season in the WAC.

"Idaho's a good team and all, but we came here thinking we were going to start off good and then take care of everything," Hawai'i senior Chris Botez said. "It really was a wake up because we knew we couldn't lose this one."

Senior forward Julian Sensley once again led the charge with 19 points, including 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. He scored 16 of his 19 in the second half, including four 3-pointers.

"I'm a second-half player anyway," said Sensley, who is now 10 of 13 from 3-point range in his last two games. "First half, they weren't giving me any looks, so I only took three shots. Second half, the big guys did a good job of getting me open."

Senior point guard Deonte Tatum tied his career-high with 17 points, and also had five assists. He and Sensley played the entire 40 minutes.

Junior center Ahmet Gueye contributed 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots. His two free throws with 13.9 seconds remaining helped secure the win.

Botez added eight points on 4-of-4 shooting, four rebounds and three blocked shots off the bench.

Hawai'i shot a sizzling 71.4 percent from the field in the second half (15 of 21), including 85.7 percent from 3-point range (6 of 7). For the game, the 'Bows shot 54.2 percent (26 of 48) to Idaho's 45.9 percent (28 of 61).

"When they got open looks, they didn't miss," Idaho head coach Leonard Perry said of the 'Bows. "And Sensley was the ring leader. When he got an open look, he jumped up and he stuck it."

It didn't start out that way.

Hawai'i trailed almost the entire first half against the shorter Vandals. Idaho led 31-17 with 7:26 remaining in the half, and eventually took a 37-27 lead at intermission.

"We came out flat defensively in the first half and (Idaho) really executed," Wallace said.

But the Hawai'i locker room was relatively calm at halftime, according to the 'Bows.

"We knew we were beating ourselves," Sensley said. "Second half, we just gave 110 percent and came out ready to play and knocked some shots down."

The 'Bows got back in it with a 10-4 run to start the second half. A layup by Botez with 12:43 remaining then gave Hawai'i a 51-49 lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.

The 'Bows increased the lead to as many as 10 before holding off a late Idaho surge. The Vandals got as close as 67-66 with 40 seconds remaining on a putback by Mike Kale.

On Hawai'i's ensuing possession, Gueye was fouled with 13.9 seconds remaining. He entered the game with a 61.6 free throw percentage, but calmly sank both shots to give the 'Bows a 69-66 advantage.

"I asked him when he was walking to the free throw line, 'you gonna knock these down?' He said, 'oh yeah,' " Sensley said. "I could see in his eyes he was going to make it."

Gueye said: "Hey, it was big time. We needed this win, so I had to concentrate and knock them down."

On Idaho's final possession, Brett Ledbetter missed an open 3-pointer from NBA range. Hawai'i's Matt Lojeski grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled. He sank one of two free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining for the final margin.

"Defense was the difference," Gueye said. "I can't say we underestimated them, but we let them shoot wide-open in the first half. We just played better in the second half, locked it down."

Idaho, which does not have a player taller than 6 feet 8 on its roster, out-rebounded Hawai'i 30-29. However, the 'Bows did assert their size with nine blocked shots.

Keoni Watson led the Vandals with 22 points. Tanoris Shepard, who was playing his final home game for Idaho, added 12 points.

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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