Hawai'i big on intimidation
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
It's one thing to be big. It's another to play big.
The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team is looking to continue playing big tomorrow when it hosts New Mexico State in a crucial Western Athletic Conference game.
The Rainbow Warriors are 16-9 overall and 9-5 in the WAC. The Aggies are 15-12 and 10-5. The winner will be in second place in the conference standings.
"We're at home and we've got a chance to move up in the standings, so it's big," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said.
Hawai'i's advantage during the WAC season has been its size.
The 'Bows start four players 6 feet 6 and taller: 6-6 shooting guard Matt Lojeski, 6-7 center Ahmet Gueye, 6-9 forward Matthew Gipson and 6-9 forward Julian Sensley. Also, 7-foot center Chris Botez is usually the first player off the bench.
"As far as overall size, this is one of the better teams we've had," Wallace said. "I'm sure other teams prepare for it because they know we're going to block shots and do some things inside."
The statistics prove it.
This season's 'Bows have already established a school record with 151 blocked shots. That total leads the WAC and is No. 12 in NCAA Division I.
The previous UH record was 128 set by the 1993-94 team.
Gueye leads the team with 63 blocks, which is already the fourth-best single-season mark in UH history (Tony Maroney holds the individual record for a season with 103 during the 1993-94 season).
"I think it changes a game," Wallace said. "Like when Ahmet blocks a shot in the post, (the opponents) start hesitating and looking to see where he is."
Perhaps making it more impressive, the 'Bows have been blocked by opposing teams just 48 times this season.
"I don't go into games looking for blocks," Gueye said. "But if there's an opportunity for me, I will try. I just go into games calm and confident and I try to play defense as hard as I can."
Hawai'i blocked eight shots in a 61-60 victory at San Jose State last Saturday, and Spartans head coach George Nessman said it played a role in his team's strategy.
"Hawai'i's length and size really makes it complicated to score around the basket against them," Nessman said. "If you want to score inside against them, you have to push the tempo and not let them set up their defense."
The 'Bows have also been coming up big on offense. They have 67 slam dunks this season, and have been dunked on by opponents just 36 times.
"The way kids think today, a dunk is a big thing," Wallace said. "They all want to do it."
Sensley leads the team with 31 dunks this season.
"A dunk is only two points, but it's like it's worth more because of what it does to the other team," Sensley said. "I know I'd rather get a dunk than hit a 3-pointer just because I think it gives myself and the team a little more confidence."
There are no official records for dunks, but Hawai'i associate coach Bob Nash said he thinks Sensley could be on a UH-record pace this season. Nash, who has been coaching at UH since 1981, said the only other Hawai'i player who might have had more dunks in a season was Troy Ostler in 2000-01.
Sensley's six dunks against Idaho on Feb. 2 could also be a single-game UH record.
"When Julian gets on a roll like that, it can be very intimidating," Wallace said.
After victories, the 'Bows said much of the talk in the locker room revolves around slam dunks.
"Because that's the shots you remember the most," Gueye said. "Of course, the one who always does the showtime dunks is Julian, so we're always talking about him."
The combination of dunks and blocks makes Hawai'i one of the more intimidating teams in the WAC this season.
It also helps that the 'Bows have relatively tall guards in Lojeski and 6-3 point guard Deonte Tatum. Lojeski has 16 blocks and five dunks this season.
"Not to sound cocky, but I think it is hard to come inside and shoot against us," Gueye said.
Some 'Bows like to make that known to the opponents during games. Botez, who is second on the team with 31 blocks, is one of the trash-talking 'Bows.
"I try to get in their heads," he said. "If I get a good block, I tell them not to come back in here with that, but with some little harsher words."
Hawai'i will need to rely on its size again tomorrow against a shorter New Mexico State team. The Aggies start four players 6-6 and shorter.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.