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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 24, 2006

UH's Botez comes up big in win

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

You could hardly blame several of the Boise State basketball players for doing something of a double take seeing University of Hawai'i center Chris Botez in the hallway on their way out of the Stan Sheriff Center last night.

For there was Botez the way they had always hoped to see him, wearing a T-shirt remarkably akin to the Broncos' blue and a smile. There was the big man in the middle they were lacking; the one that had gotten away.

The Botez that Boise State thought it was getting and, indeed, nearly landed in recruiting two years ago in a down-to-the-wire tug-of-war with Hawai'i, gave the Broncos a 25-minute display of what they missed out on in the Rainbow Warriors' 72-61 Western Athletic Conference victory.

Botez loomed every bit as big as his 7-foot frame in coming off the bench for season highs in points (12) and rebounds (8) while supplying a formidable inside defensive presence on a night when the 'Bows needed all of it.

With "Big Matt" Gipson slowed by a groin pull and stomach problems, and Ahmet Gueye off to a 1-of-8 first-half shooting start, it was left to Botez to pick up the slack for the big men and the 'Bows in a way we hadn't seen him this season.

It was almost a toss-up which was the bigger surprise: Botez's breakout performance or the 'Bows' 17 of 18 free-throw shooting. Both, however, came in handy in lifting UH to 10-6 (4-2 WAC).

After scoring just 13 combined points over the previous five games, Botez had his highest scoring performance of the last 43 games in a UH uniform.

And, the way he did it opened not only the eyes of the 4,543 on hand but some of the Broncos as well.

When Botez posted up Tezarray Banks and uncoiled a confidence-building hook shot and then came back with a 15-foot jumper from the right side in his first three minutes off the bench in the first half, even the Broncos were asking questions.

"(Seth) Robinson asked me if I was working on that short jumper," Botez said. " 'Cause he didn't think I could hit it. I told him, 'it is a little something I've been working on.' "

For Botez it would be both a satisfying point of pride and supply a bit of redemption for last season in which he struggled against Boise State scoring but 11 combined points in two games.

"I wanted to show them I wasn't the same 7-foot (junior college) kid that they had tried to recruit," Botez said. "I wanted to show them that I had worked on my game."

The message got through, loud and clear.

"It didn't surprise me that he played like that," sighed Greg Graham, the Boise State coach. "I figured he'd be up to play us. He struggled against us last year and I'm sure he was ready to go and show it. That's kind of what we thought he'd look like when we recruited him."

Only last night the vision didn't come in Boise State blue and orange.

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