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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2006

UH home to close regular season

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer


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Lucky or good, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team will take what ever it can get at this stage of the season.

After two comeback victories on the road last week, the Rainbow Warriors returned home yesterday.

"You could say we got lucky, but maybe things are starting to go our way a little bit," junior guard Matt Lojeski said. "We're still not playing the way we're supposed to be playing on the road, but we got two wins, so we're satisfied."

The Rainbow Warriors moved near the top of the Western Athletic Conference after victories at Idaho and San Jose State last week.

The 'Bows rallied from a 14-point deficit to defeat last-place Idaho, 70-66, last Wednesday. They then erased an 11-point deficit when Julian Sensley's 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining beat second-to-last-place San Jose State, 61-60.

"This was huge," senior co-captain Deonte Tatum said. "We needed this just to keep rolling into the WAC Tournament. Our whole outlook is to win the WAC Tournament and get to the NCAA (Tournament), so it's important for us to win the rest of our games."

Hawai'i is 16-9 overall and tied for third place in the WAC at 9-5. Its final two regular-season games are at the Stan Sheriff Center against New Mexico State on Thursday and Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

New Mexico State is in second place at 10-5, a half-game ahead of the 'Bows; Louisiana Tech is tied with Hawai'i for third. Utah State is also 9-5.

In short, the 'Bows could move into second place with two home victories this week. Hawai'i is still mathematically in contention for first, although first-place Nevada (11-3) is unlikely to lose both of its home games against San Jose State and Fresno State this week.

"We still have a chance to finish as high as second, and definitely third, although there are a lot of tie-breakers involved," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "But we just have to go home and play both those teams and beat them."

Wallace said the two road wins were important because it also kept the 'Bows in contention for an NIT bid. Because Idaho and San Jose State have such poor records, a loss to either team might have cost Hawai'i a shot at an NIT bid.

"We knew it would have been a big setback to lose as far as the NIT and the RPI and all that stuff," Lojeski said. "But we won both games, so that's all that matters."

Hawai'i lost its first six road games this season, but is 3-1 on its last two road trips. On those two trips, the 'Bows have conducted two-a-day practices, with a hard workout in the morning followed by an intrasquad shooting contest in the evening.

"It's working, so we'll stick with it," the superstitious Wallace said. "We'll use it in the WAC (Tournament)."

The men's WAC Tournament is scheduled for March 9 to 11 at Reno, Nev. Depending on the outcome of this week's games, Hawai'i could be seeded anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 for the eight-team field.

Hawai'i is also seeking to become the only WAC team to go undefeated at home in the conference this season. The 'Bows are 6-0 in the Stan Sheriff Center entering this week's games.

Hawai'i is also seeking to avenge close road losses at Louisiana Tech (65-62) and New Mexico State (87-84) in January.

"That's the road trip you have to look back on and think what might be if we got one, or both, of them," Wallace said. "We'd be right up there."

Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.