No longer home sweet home
By Ferd Lewis
Time was when the first thing out of an opposing basketball coach's mouth after a game at the Stan Sheriff Center was something bemoaning the hardships of travel and rigors of the road.
No longer, it seems.
These days, increasingly, they leave with a smile — and a victory.
Last night it was long-suffering Fresno State, which departed with a 61-51 Western Athletic Conference victory over the University of Hawai'i.
The Bulldogs left with a spring in their step and a breakthrough win in their bags after their first triumph here in six years.
One that keeps UH, at 9-14 overall and 2-8 in the WAC, tied for last place and, now, a fading longshot to even make the conference tournament March 11-13 in Reno, Nev.
For the 'Bows, who have lost five games in row overall, home is where the heartburn is as a crowd of 3,202 can attest. They are 9-9 on the home floor this season and one more loss in their three remaining games in Mānoa will mean their worst home record in 11 years.
The loss to the Bulldogs, who have been practically "owned" here, underlines the depth of the struggles to win in their backyard.
Until last night the 'Bows had won 8 of the last 9 games played here against the Bulldogs crossing over the reigns of four FSU coaches. One of whom, Jerry Tarkanian, used to chomp his towel in pain and refer to games here bitterly as "ambushes in paradise."
Maybe this would have been another one of those had the 'Bows been better able to make their free throws and handle the ball. Instead, they made but 53.8 percent of their free throw (7-of-13) attempts, including a critical miss of the front end of a one-and-one situation with 1 minute, 34 seconds left.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs made 15 of 18, including 11 of 12 in the telltale second half.
"We're usually not a good free throw-shooting team," noted Bulldog coach Steve Cleveland.
But, then, the 'Bows struggled mightily to hang onto the ball, committing 19 turnovers, which the Bulldogs recycled into 24 points.
It did not help, of course, that UH played without Dwain Williams for a sixth consecutive game, this one due to an indefinite suspension for violation of team rules regarding academics. Or that point guard Hiram Thompson was visibly bothered by a dislocated shoulder.
The Bulldogs were without their leading scorer, rebounder and top all-around player, Paul George, due to an ankle injury.
But, then, such is the state of the 'Bows these days that foes need not bring a full armada to pull out wins here anymore.