Rainbows banished to daylight play in Classic
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By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
A daytime party isn't quite like one at night.
The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team will find that out the hard way after a stunning 61-59 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on the opening night of the 44th annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic last night
A crowd of 3,583 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the Rainbow Warriors lose a first-round game in the Rainbow Classic for the first time since 1995.
Hawai'i, which dropped to 3-5, will play St. John's in a consolation game tomorrow at 11 a.m.
ULL, which improved to 3-6, advanced to tomorrow's semifinals, where it will play Ohio at 7:30 p.m.
"It's tough. This hurts," Hawai'i senior guard Riley Luettgerodt said. "The season's not over, obviously. But it feels like it."
The 'Bows led for most of the game, but surrendered the lead with 6:15 remaining.
Hawai'i also blew several opportunities in the closing minute.
"I'm terribly disappointed we didn't get the job done tonight," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "I thought we had enough preparation for this game. I'm not going to make any excuses. We just didn't get the job done tonight."
The Ragin' Cajuns won despite shooting just 30.5 percent from the field. The key, according to ULL head coach Robert Lee, was defense.
"We've shot terrible all year," Lee said. "Our defense is what kept us in ball games all year, and it allowed us to win tonight."
As proof, Lee selected forward Elijah Millsap as his player of the game. Millsap — the younger brother of former Louisiana Tech star and current Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap — scored just five points on 0-of-11 shooting.
However, he grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and helped limit Hawai'i leading scorer Bobby Nash to a season-low 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
"I challenged Elijah before the game," Lee said. "I said he doesn't have to score a point, but he needs to play defense on Nash to give us a chance to win the game. Now, I didn't expect him to go 0 for 11, but I thought the way he played defense on Nash was the difference in the game."
Luettgerodt and Matt Gibson led the 'Bows with 15 points each, although they combined to shoot 2 for 10 from 3-point range. Gibson also committed seven of Hawai'i's 19 turnovers.
The 'Bows shot just 38.2 percent from the field, including 13.3 percent from 3-point range.
"It's frustrating to run good (offensive) sets, get good shots, and not make the shots," Bob Nash said. "I thought we got the shots we wanted to get ... we just didn't make them."
The theme of the night was set early.
The Cajuns opened the game by missing their first 11 shots. However, Hawai'i went 3 for 10 during that stretch and could only manage to build a 6-0 lead.
The game stayed close the rest of the half as the teams traded missed shots and miscues.
The 'Bows took a 24-22 lead at halftime despite shooting 34.4 percent from the field (11 of 32). ULL shot 25.8 percent from the field in the first half (8 of 31).
Hawai'i increased the lead to 49-42 with 8:15 remaining, but the Cajuns responded with an 11-0 surge to take a 53-49 advantage with 5:28 left.
The 'Bows tied it at 56 with 1:34 remaining on a free throw by Luettgerodt. He missed the second of two attempts that could have put Hawai'i ahead.
"There's so many possessions you can think back on ... that could totally change the outcome of the game," Luettgerodt said. "We just weren't ready to play."
On ULL's ensuing possession, Millsap made one of two free throws to give the Cajuns a 57-56 lead. In the scramble for the rebound after his missed free throw, Millsap dislocated a finger and had to be helped from the court.
He returned moments later and helped force a crucial Hawai'i turnover in the closing seconds.
"I can't say enough about him," Lee said. "He dislocates his finger and (the trainers) pop it back in. Then he tells me he wants to go back in to play defense on Nash and he gets the steal."
Hawai'i committed two turnovers with the game on the line in the final minute.
Trailing by one, the 'Bows dribbled the ball out of bounds with 40 seconds left. Trailing by three with less than 20 seconds remaining, they threw the ball away.
It was Hawai'i's first game since Dec. 9, but Bob Nash said that was no reason for the lackadaisical performance.
"We had 10 days off, we should have been well-rested," he said.
Randell Daigle led the Cajuns with 13 points. He was the only ULL player to reach double-figure points.
OHIO 71, ST. JOHN'S 69: Leon Williams scored 24 points, including the winning layup with 0.2 seconds remaining, to lead Ohio to a thrilling victory over St. John's in last night's opening game.
Williams' winning basket came moments after St. John's tied the score at 69 on a 3-pointer by Eugene Lawrence with 1.5 seconds remaining.
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.
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