UH hopes luck, attitude go long way
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
RENO, Nev. — In a city where fortunes can change at any moment, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team is hoping to get on a lucky roll.
The Rainbow Warriors will play New Mexico State in a quarterfinal game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament tonight at the Lawlor Events Center. It is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Hawai'i time) and will be televised on KFVE.
"You have to be good, but you have to be lucky, too," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "And you have to believe. You have to go in with the attitude that you can win it."
Wallace should know. He is the only men's coach in Reno this week who has won the WAC Tournament before.
"It's a great feeling, I know that," said Wallace, who guided the 'Bows to titles in 1994, 2001 and 2002.
The odds are against Hawai'i this time. It takes three victories in three days to win the WAC Tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.
The 'Bows will suit up only eight scholarship players for tonight's game.
"We've been dealing with depth all year," senior co-captain Deonte Tatum said. "Now is not the time to worry about it. There's no tomorrow if you lose, so you have to put it all on the line."
Tonight's game will feature a contrast in styles.
Hawai'i is 17-10 and the No. 4 seed in the eight-team field. New Mexico State is 15-13 and the No. 5 seed.
If anything, the teams are familiar with each other. The 'Bows beat the Aggies, 61-56, just last week in Honolulu.
"They're a team that wants to slow the game down," New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus said of Hawai'i. "And we want the game to be as fast as possible. So it's really going to be a matter of who can get the tempo going their way."
Each team will be different from last week. Hawai'i will be without starting center Ahmet Gueye, who tore ligaments in his right knee in practice the day after the victory over New Mexico State.
The Aggies will welcome back starting point guard Elijah Ingram, who did not play in Ho-nolulu because of a hamstring injury.
"With Ingram back, they're going to want to push the ball on us," Hawai'i senior Julian Sensley said. "We just have to counter what ever they throw at us."
The 'Bows have been relying on a zone defense in recent games, and will probably turn to it again tonight to help slow the pace and conserve energy. New Mexico State struggled against Hawai'i's zone defense last week, and the 56 points was its lowest total in a WAC game this season.
"I think that was our best defensive game of the year," Hawai'i senior forward Matthew Gipson said. "But I'm sure they're going to be prepared for it this time. We just have to step it up."
The game will feature two of the WAC's best individual players in Sensley and New Mexico State forward Tyrone Nelson. Both were named to the All-WAC first team this week, and both wear jersey No. 41.
Sensley, a 6-foot-9 forward, is averaging 17.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He scored 32 points in an 87-84 loss at New Mexico State in January, and then had 22 in the victory over the Aggies last week.
Nelson, a 6-9 sophomore, is averaging 18.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season. He averaged 22.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the two meetings with Hawai'i.
"A lot of people are counting us out, so that just makes us want it even more," Sensley said.
The 'Bows seemed to show it last night when they went through a competitive shooting contest at Hug High School in Reno. For the past few weeks, the team has been holding shooting contests — bigs versus guards.
Each team made a shot at the buzzer last night, and Wallace declared it a tie amid the vocal protests from both sides.
"It's a tie for now," Wallace said. "I want them to believe that the season's not over and we can continue this thing."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.