Wallace says home opener a must-win game for 'Bows
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
Apparently, it's not too early to be in a must-win situation for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace is describing tonight's game — the second of the season for the Rainbow Warriors — as just that.
The 'Bows will host Coppin State in their home opener tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"Five of our first seven games are on the road, so you have to win the home games," Wallace said. "And this is the (home) opener. We need to establish ourselves here at home. If you look at all those things, it's a must win."
Hawai'i opened the season with a 73-59 road loss at UNLV on Friday.
Despite having just one practice to prepare for tonight's game, Hawai'i is hopeful that Coppin State will be the proper remedy.
The Eagles, who compete in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, are one of the most well-traveled teams in the country. They will play 12 of their first 13 games on the road this season.
"We've been doing this for a while, where we try to play the best competition we can in our non-conference schedule because we feel like it makes us better when we get into conference (games)," Coppin State head coach Ron Mitchell said.
Included on the Eagles' brutal early-season schedule this season are road games at No. 7 Ohio State, No. 11 Alabama, No. 18 Connecticut, and No. 25 Tennessee.
"It also helps us in raising some funds," for the athletic department, Mitchell said.
The scheduling strategy worked to a certain extent last season, as the Eagles started the season 0-12 and then went 12-6 the rest of the way to place second in the MEAC.
Not surprisingly, Coppin State has lost 27 consecutive non-conference games, including a 94-43 blowout loss at Virginia Tech on Friday.
When asked who some of his top players are, Mitchell responded: "We just lost by 50, so I can't really give you any names of players to watch."
Things got so bad in that game, a Coppin State player made a layup in the wrong basket, scoring two points for Virginia Tech.
What's more, the Eagles spent all day Saturday just getting to Honolulu from their home city of Baltimore.
Still, the 'Bows are not taking the Eagles lightly.
"We're aware they lost by 50, but Virginia Tech is a tough team," Hawai'i sophomore guard Dominic Waters said. "That only means they'll be hungry for a win just like us."
Wallace said Coppin State likes to play a zone defense, which is something the 'Bows rarely see.
"They zone about 85 percent of the time, so I don't know how we'll react," Wallace said. "We definitely need to have good ball movement and knock down some shots."
Hawai'i will also have a distinct height advantage. The 'Bows will start 6-foot-5 Matt Gibson and 6-6 Matt Lojeski at guards, 6-6 Bobby Nash and 6-8 Ahmet Gueye at forwards, and 6-11 Stephen Verwers at center.
Coppin State does not have any players taller than 6-7.
"We're going to see a lot of (defensive) pressure, a lot of quickness," Waters said. "We have to be ready for anything, and I think we are. We're ready to show how good we really are and how good we can be."
University of Hawai'i students who attend tonight's game will receive a coupon for a free pizza from Papa John's.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.