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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 25, 2009

UH hits jackpot with move to Vegas

by Ferd Lewis

Of all the schools in the far-flung Western Athletic Conference, the University of Hawai'i has the most reason to applaud yesterday's announced move of the basketball tournaments to Las Vegas for 2011 and 2012.

In fact, the only sore point would be that the Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine have to wait that long.

One more year 2010 is on Nevada's floor in Reno and they play on the so-called "ninth island" and in front of what is likely to be a decent gathering of Hawai'i faithful at the Orleans Hotel Arena.

Even at 2,762 miles from Manoa, it is the closest either of UH's teams is going to get to a home floor for the tournament, no small consideration when a berth in the NCAA Tournament is the grand prize.

In the quarter century of the event, 11 schools have hosted the WAC Tournament, some multiple times. But never UH. Nor was that likely to change unless the oceanic plate moved.

In the 1980s and '90s when UH and state officials put a determined pencil to the possibility of bringing the tournament here, they were scared away by what was judged to be too huge of a financial gamble transporting 16 to 18 teams.

Understandable, of course, given the pile of moolah UH would have been on the hook for if its teams had been unable to lure near-capacity crowds at increased ticket prices.

But also too bad, because we'll always wonder what the Alika Smith-Anthony Carter teams, not to mention the Nani Cockett-led Rainbow Wahine, might have been capable of at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Instead, UH frequently found itself playing the host team on the road. Four out of five years, at one point, the UH men went head-to-head with the home team.

Ex-UH coach Riley Wallace, to this day, can cite chapter and verse on UH's 64-59 loss at Nevada-Las Vegas in 1998 and at Fresno State in 2000, both eventual tourney winners. The 103-101 double overtime loss to the Bulldogs was made all the more galling by Fresno later vacating the championship due to ineligible players.

Which are reasons Wallace likes the move to Las Vegas. Another would be that he is an executive host for the Boyd Group, whose properties include the Orleans.

The three WAC tournaments UH has won the Wahine have not taken a WAC tournament have come the hard way. In 1994, the 'Bows beat Brigham Young at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, ostensibly a "neutral" floor but located a 3-point shot away from the Temple Square.

That the 'Bows also claimed back-to-back titles (2001 and '02) at Tulsa rates among the most remarkable feats in UH hoops history.

The kind of odds they might not be required to leap for a while to win the WAC.