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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 3, 2006

Botez big reason for UH success

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

At an even 7 feet, University of Hawai'i center Chris Botez just might be the tallest college basketball sixth man in the country.

But, even at his size, Botez continues to define "big" almost nightly for the Rainbow Warriors of late.

Big minutes. Big plays. Big moments.

Few of them bigger than last night when he filled a larger role than usual off the bench to help lift the 'Bows past New Mexico State, 61-56.

The win gave the 'Bows (17-9, 10-5 Western Athletic Conference) the pole position for the much sought-after No. 2 seed in next week's WAC Tournament. It is theirs for the taking if they beat Louisiana Tech (18-11, 10-5) tomorrow by virtue of tie-breaking procedures.

That scenario began to look like a long shot early last night when UH's post players, Matt Gipson and Ahmet Gueye, struggled from the opening tip. Gipson got two fouls in the first three minutes and Gueye, who scored but seven points all night, never got untracked as the 'Bows fell behind to what has become their customary double-digit deficit in the first half.

"I knew we were in trouble then," UH coach Riley Wallace said.

Enter Botez, a zone defense and a prayer. Thriving in the middle in UH's rarely used zone, Botez gave UH more minutes (30) than he had seen all year, along with six points, six rebounds, two blocks and a team-high four assists. All told, "one heckuva game from Bo," Wallace said.

"No doubt he gave them solid minutes, which is what a sixth man is supposed to do," said New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus.

The 'Bows have come to rely on Botez in his reserve role even more than they did last year as a starter. In a year when the bench has been significantly reduced by injury, they have come to count on Botez as a pillar of reserve strength.

"He's the sixth man of the year because when he comes in he gives 110 percent," said Julian Sensley. "When the other guys get in foul trouble or need a break, he does the job for us blocking shots, getting rebounds, tip-ins, doing all the right things."

Sensley added: "There's no reason why he couldn't be starting for us, but I think he's found his role for us coming off the bench and giving us that something extra."

Last night it would be a lot extra, much of it coming in the final 17 minutes when he played with three fouls. He forced the Aggies to change shots, rejected a couple, slammed down a dunk and even led a fast break.

But, then, the 'Bows have come to count on their tallest player being a big difference for reasons now measured in more than inches.

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