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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wallace reluctantly gives in

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

What's the next out-of-character surprise from University of Hawai'i men's basketball coach Riley Wallace?

Freshmen in the starting lineup? The head coach sitting quietly detached on the bench a la Jim Bolla?

For in the life of Riley there have been few more sacred or hard-held some would say hard-headed truths than the dogged, almost exclusive reliance on the man-to-man defense.

So, when the Rainbow Warriors went to a zone early last night, and stayed in it for the duration, Fresno State wasn't the only one thrown off in a 73-65 UH victory. There also was a sense of momentary disbelief among veteran Wallace-watchers in the Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 7,100.

Zone? Wallace?

The first impression was that there must have been a mutiny on the UH bench. That associate head coach Bob Nash and booster Dave Chun, another enduring advocate of the zone, must have seized control and installed the 1-2-2 defense.

After preaching zone frequently for their 20 seasons side-by-side on the bench, Nash finally got Wallace to listen.

But such were the desperate circumstances that the 'Bows needed something and needed it soon. And Wallace wasn't above taking some hoarse advice or too proud to see the prevailing wisdom.

UH trailed 18-9 at the 14:04 mark after a 3-point shot by Ja'Vance Coleman, the Bulldogs' third long-distance shot of the game to that point. The man-to-man wasn't getting it done, Julian Sensley was on his way to two early fouls, and Fresno State was on its way to the kind of shooting exhibition that beat Iowa State, Oregon State and Utah State.

On a night when the Bulldogs would eventually attempt a UH opponent record 37 3-point shots (making 13), the 'Bows had to turn the pages in their playbook or risk a devastating third consecutive Western Athletic Conference loss.

"I said we'd try it until they (Fresno) hurt us with it," Wallace said. The Bulldogs didn't and, the 'Bows took their zone to the final buzzer.

Afterward, a somewhat defiant Wallace maintained the only reason Nash was able to talk him into the switch was the 'Bows had looked sharp in the only two days this past week they had used the zone in practice. "I don't go to the zone unless we've practiced it first," Wallace declared.

Said Nash: "I don't think we've ever played 35 minutes of zone in all the years we've been together. This was a rarity. It just doesn't happen."

But it did last night and, for that, the 'Bows have reason to celebrate a historical event and the win it helped produce.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.