UH's gritty effort falls short, 80-74
|Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. Boise State|
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A season of what ifs and almosts came to a fittingly frustrating end yesterday for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
Boise State defeated the Rainbow Warriors, 80-74, in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at the Pan American Center.
"Kind of the story of the year," Hawai'i senior guard Riley Luettgerodt said. "We're right there, but we come up a little short."
As they have all season, the undersized and undermanned 'Bows battled from start to finish. As they have so many other times all season, they also faltered in the closing minutes.
As a result, Hawai'i finished with an 11-19 record, including a seven-game losing streak to end the year. It was also the fifth consecutive year that the 'Bows were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the WAC Tournament.
The Broncos improved to 23-8 with their third victory of the season over Hawai'i. They will play Utah State in a semifinal game today.
"I'm real pleased with the way my guys fought," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "They never gave up all year for me. Unfortunately, seasons do come to an end, and ours has come to an end."
Hawai'i led by as many as nine points in the first half, and was on pace to limit Boise State to a season-low point total.
However, the Broncos shot a net-scorching 78.9 percent from the field in the second half. They went 15 of 19 on field goals, including 5 of 6 (83.3 percent) from 3-point range.
"We were off at the foul line, we were only 75 (percent)," Boise State head coach Greg Graham said with a laugh.
Hawai'i senior point guard Matt Gibson turned in his usual warrior effort. He had 17 points and five rebounds while recovering from what he said was a case of food poisoning on Tuesday night.
"Considering the loss, it doesn't feel too good either," he said.
Luettgerodt also scored 17 points, and contributed six rebounds and four assists while playing the entire 40 minutes.
Jared Dillinger added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and Bill Amis scored 10 on 5-of-7 shooting.
Hawai'i's pregame plan was to slow the pace of the high-scoring Broncos. In the first half, it worked.
The 'Bows used a 15-5 run to take a 19-13 lead with 8:02 remaining in the first half. Hawai'i increased it to 26-17 on a steal and layup by Luettgerodt.
"We had them rattled," Luettgerodt said. "After every play, our bench was going crazy. Things were going our way."
The 'Bows eventually took a 35-27 lead at intermission. It tied the lowest first-half total for Boise State this season.
The Broncos also committed 15 turnovers in the first half, and it led directly to 16 points for Hawai'i.
"I just think everybody was trying to do a little too much to start the game," Boise State's Graham said. "Once we settled in, we played much better in the second half."
The Broncos opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take a 39-37 lead. Boise State's inside duo of 6-9 Matt Nelson and 6-6 Reggie Larry combined to score nine of the 12 points.
"That's their strength," Nash said. "I thought that was the adjustment they made in the second half — they made a conscious effort to go inside to Larry and Nelson."
The game stayed close throughout the second half, and it was tied at 60 with 5:51 remaining after Dillinger drained a 3-pointer.
But the 'Bows went 3 for 10 from the field after that, and the Broncos converted 16 of 18 free throws in the final four minutes to secure the win.
"They made a good adjustment," Dillinger said. "They looked inside a lot more. We were doing a good job stopping their transition, and so after that, they set their offense and pounded it inside. It was kind of hard to stop when we're undersized."
Larry, a first-team All-WAC forward, finished with game-highs of 26 points and nine rebounds. He scored 16 in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting.
"I didn't want this to be my last game," he said. "I was going to do everything I can to stay in this tournament."
Tyler Tiedeman added 14 points, including 8 of 8 on free throws, and Nelson contributed 10 points.
After their erratic first half, the Broncos scored 53 in the second half and committed just seven turnovers. They entered the game first in the WAC in scoring at 81.0 points per game, and second in the nation in field-goal percentage at .509.
Boise State finished with a .568 shooting percentage, and out-rebounded Hawai'i, 37-27. The Broncos also went 29 of 38 on free throws, while the 'Bows went 18 of 22.
"Second half, we just kind of wore down, and we had no answer for them in the post," Luettgerodt said. "But we kept fighting. We gave them a good run."
The 19 losses this season for Hawai'i are the most since the 1998-99 team went 6-20. Still, Nash's voice cracked with emotion at the postgame press conference when he talked about the effort his team gave this season.
"I don't think there's any team in the country that has had as many adverse situations as we have with travel, injuries, being undersized," he said. "But these guys never quit on me all year long, and that's what I'm going to take away from this group."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.