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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 4, 2007

UH says aloha to Wallace with 92-75 win

 Photo gallery UH vs. Boise State photo gallery
Video: Riley Wallace interview

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Riley Wallace had a ball last night in his final home game as University of Hawai'i head coach. "It was a perfect night," said Wallace, who coached the Rainbows for 20 seasons.

Photos by JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawai'i's Matt Lojeski, who finished with a career-high 35 points, shoots over Boise State's Anthony Thomas.

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On a Senior Night made all the more poignant by the impending departure of the team's most senior figure, Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye made the most of their final home game as the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team routed Boise State, 92-75, last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The win assured the Rainbows of a No. 5 seeding in this week's Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

Lojeski played what might have been his best game as a Rainbow, shooting 11-for-14 from the field, including 7-for-7 from 3-point range, and made all six of his free-throw attempts for a career-best 35 points. Gueye shot 6-for-10 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line, finishing with 17 points and game highs in rebounds (9) and blocks (3).

But it was head coach Riley Wallace who drew the loudest applause from the turnstile crowd of 6,958. With the victory, Wallace tied former UH women's basketball coach Vince Goo for the most collegiate victories in the state with 334 wins against 264 losses.

"It's been a great run for me and my teams," Wallace said. "I promised that we'd play hard and I think for 20 years they did, and I'm proud of every one of them.

"It was a perfect night the way we won, the way the seniors stepped up and the way the fans came out. I really appreciated everything."

UH led through most of the first half behind a balanced attack of Gueye inside, Lojeski outside, and junior Bobby Nash crashing the board for putbacks.

Gueye scored eight first-half points, shooting 3-for-6 from the field on a variety of post moves and hook shots. Forced to double-team Gueye, the Broncos were left vulnerable to the outside shooting of Lojeski and the barrelling drives to the hoop by junior guard Matt Gibson.

With the Rainbows leading 31-29, Gueye spun across the lane and connected on a hook shot. On the next UH possession, he split the double-team and found Lojeski open on the wing for a 3-pointer. Following a Boise State turnover and a timeout, Nash scored on a layup off a pretty up-and-under move on the baseline to give UH a 38-29 lead with three minutes left.

The Broncos cut the deficit to four on Coby Karl's third 3-pointer of the half and a dunk by Reggie Larry, but Nash answered with a putback off a missed jump shot by Gibson and was fouled. The Broncos' Seth Robinson was then called for a technical. Lojeski converted the two ensuing free throws and Nash completed his three-point play to put UH back up, 45-36.

The teams traded baskets until midway through the second half when Lojeski and Gueye heated up again, leading UH on a decisive 18-6 run. Gueye scored consecutive baskets and blocked a shot to spark the run, and Lojeski dropped the hammer with three 3-pointers and four free throws to give UH a 83-64 advantage.

"Lojeski had a big night and (Gueye) did a good job in the paint," said Broncos head coach Greg Graham. "I think our starters got tired in the second half. They kind of ran out of gas."

The Broncos pressed in the final minutes but UH kept its collective cool. After a brief run by Boise State, Nash found Gueye above the rim for a soft alley-oop layin and Lojeski hit Nash for an easy layup on the next possession to bring the score to 89-71.

Lojeski and Gueye left the game to a huge ovation with 1:04 left.

Wallace continued barking instructions as the clock ran down, even as the crowd took up chanting his name.

"Damn clock wouldn't run," Wallace said. "We can't relax because they play hard and they do things but we made some mistakes down the stretch that worried me. Lojeski said 'we ain't losing this game,' and the rest of them jumped on his back and followed him.

"I just wanted to get this one in the bag. I never thought about anything after the game. I might go home and think about things when I'm by myself because I was concerned about my emotions."

"Thank God we won the game," Gueye said. "We knew that this was our last (home) game and Coach Wallace's last (home) game, but we also knew we had to push that to the back to win the game.

"I don't know how to thank (Wallace) enough," Gueye added. "He was the one who got me from (junior college in) Utah, gave me a scholarship, made me a starter from the first day. He's helped me to be a better man and a better student. I don't know what the future will be for me, but I know how much he has helped me. He's a great man."

The crowd remained intact after the game to honor the two seniors and to celebrate Wallace's 20 years as head coach. Among the featured presenters was WAC commissioner Karl Benson, who hailed Wallace as one of the WAC's all-time starting five of coaches, along with Don Haskins, Rick Majerus, Jerry Tarkanian and Billy Tubbs.

"You're our respected statesman," Benson told Wallace. "When we have a Hall of Fame, you'll be one of our first inductees."

During the video presentation, New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus said Wallace was bigger than "Magnum P.I." and "Hawaii Five-0."

The parade of well-wishers included Goo, representatives from the team's booster club and Wallace's Kappa Sigma fraternity, and a host of former players spanning Wallace's two decades at UH, including Brad Pineau, Tess Whitlock, and Micah Kroeger.

Joined by his wife, Joan, and his family, Wallace addressed the crowd with his usual mix of ego-popping humor and warmth.

"We did a good job with these guys," Wallace said, turning to the assembly of filled-out former student-athletes who had come to honor him. "But nobody ever told them how to push away from the table."

He spent much of the rest of his speech honoring the coaches, athletic directors and players who shared his years at UH, including current athletic director Herman Frazier, who earlier had been booed by the crowd.

Singer Danny Kaleikini, a close friend of Wallace, closed the evening with a rendition of "Hawaii Aloha," but was hurried off the mic when he started to lead the crowd in a chant of "We want Nash," a sentiment echoed throughout the game by fans calling for associate head coach Bob Nash to be named as Wallace's replacement.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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