Warriors after WAC's second spot
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
The showdown for second will be settled today when the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team hosts Louisiana Tech.
The regular-season finale is scheduled to begin at 5:05 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Rainbow Warriors have won seven of their past eight games and are 17-9 overall and 10-5 in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Bulldogs are 18-11 overall and 10-5 in the conference.
The winner of today's game will finish in at least a tie for second place. The loser will drop into a tie for fourth.
The final standings will determine the seeding positions for next week's WAC Tournament at Reno, Nev.
The 'Bows will be seeded either No. 2 or No. 3 with a win today. A loss will drop Hawai'i to the No. 4 seed.
"There's a buzz," Hawai'i senior co-captain Deonte Tatum said. "We know it's a big game, so we're excited about it."
The excitement was tempered a bit yesterday when starting center Ahmet Gueye suffered a knee injury during practice. His status for the game is in question, and the extent of the injury will be determined today.
If Gueye is unable to play, 7-foot senior Chris Botez would move into the starting lineup, and that would leave no forwards or centers on the bench.
Gueye leads the 'Bows in rebounding with 7.7 per game, and is Hawai'i's best low-post defender. LaTech features the WAC's best low-post player in 6-8 junior forward Paul Millsap.
"No one's stopped him yet," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said of Millsap. "You just have to make him work for everything he gets because he's very consistent."
Millsap averages 19.7 points per game and leads NCAA Division I with 13.2 rebounds per game. He had 23 points and 18 rebounds in a 65-62 LaTech victory over Hawai'i on Jan. 12 in Ruston, La.
"It might look like a one-man team, but he's got a good cast around him," Tatum said. "The rest of the guys all play their roles."
Millsap is seeking to become the first player in NCAA Division I history to win the rebounding title for three consecutive seasons. He won it as a freshman with 12.5 rebounds per game, and then again last season with 12.4 per game.
LaTech head coach Keith Richard said his team's primary goal is to win the WAC, but another goal is to help Millsap make NCAA rebounding history.
"Even though it's an individual statistic, it's a blue-collar, workhorse statistic," Richard said. "It's something that you can address with our team because it's an effort statistic. Yes, we are watching it and I do want him to get it because it's something that's never been done in the history of the NCAA."
In any case, both coaches are calling today's game a must-win for various reasons.
As Wallace put it: "You don't want to be seeded 4 or 5. You rather be 2 or 3 because of the match-ups."
If Hawai'i is seeded fourth, it would have to play New Mexico State in the quarterfinals of the WAC Tournament. The winner of that game would then likely have to play the host and No. 1 seed Nevada in the semifinals.
"You want to be in the bracket opposite Nevada," Wallace said.
In addition, both Hawai'i and LaTech are playing for a possible NIT bid, should a WAC Tournament championship not materialize.
"This time of the year, you just need wins," Richard said. "I think both of us have had good years, but I think both of us want to have better years."
Based on recent history between the teams, today's game should be close. The last eight games in the series have been decided by an average of 2.9 points per game. LaTech has won six of those eight games.
"I don't really know why," Richard said. "Probably more than anything, some schools match up against each other for what ever reason. Us and Hawai'i kind of seem to be that way."
Wallace said: "It's been down to the wire every time. That's their style. They like to control the tempo and give themselves a chance to win at the end."
Mainly because of Millsap, the Bulldogs lead the WAC in rebounding with 40.7 per game. However, Hawai'i will have the height advantage today.
The Bulldogs like to use three guards alongside Millsap and 6-7 forward Michael Wilds.
The 'Bows will counter with 6-3 Tatum at point guard, 6-6 Matt Lojeski at shooting guard, 6-9 Julian Sensley at small forward, 6-9 Matthew Gipson at power forward, and either Gueye or Botez at center.
"They got us down the stretch at their place," Tatum said. "We feel like we played a decent game, we just made some turnovers late in the game and they capitalized."
Today's game will also be "Senior Night" for Hawai'i, and Botez, Gipson, Sensley and Tatum will be honored after the game.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Tatum said. "The game is more important for me."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.