'Bows need to bust skid
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
When the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team hosts Cal Poly tonight, it will almost be like looking into one of those fun house mirrors.
Same, but different.
It is a non-conference game — a byproduct of the ESPNU BracketBusters — so the only thing at stake is a chance to win a game.
And both teams could use a win.
The Rainbow Warriors are looking to break a seven-game losing streak; the Mustangs have lost six of their last seven.
The 'Bows are trying to climb out of the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference, but that chase will be put on hold today.
"We need to get as many wins as we can," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "We're treating this like we would any other game. We prepared this week with Cal Poly in mind. We're not looking back or ahead at what we need to do in the WAC. This game is our focus right now."
The Rainbow Warriors and Mustangs have many similarities — including identical 9-16 records. Nash said the teams even run similar offensive schemes.
"They like to run flex," he said. "As far as their sets, it's stuff we've seen before. They just get their points in different ways."
In particular, the Mustangs rely primarily on a perimeter game because of their lack of size.
Of the nine players in the Cal Poly rotation, 6-foot-8 reserve Ryan Darling is the tallest. The five starters are 6-6 and shorter.
In contrast, Hawai'i will start four players 6-7 and taller, with several other "bigs" in reserve.
"I counted six guys that Hawai'i has who are bigger than our biggest," Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said. "So the first thing we have to figure out is how to deal with that size."
The Mustangs are particular concerned about Roderick Flemings, who is 6-7 and has been playing as a guard in recent weeks due to injuries to other 'Bows. Flemings leads Hawai'i with 15.7 points per game, and is averaging 19.3 points in his last seven games.
Nash said: "On paper, it's an advantage. But our bigs still have to deliver. When we get the ball in the post, we either have to score or get fouled and make free throws."
At the same time, the 'Bows will have to deal with Cal Poly's perimeter quickness. Most notable, 6-2 point guard Lorenzo Keeler leads the Mustangs with 15.5 points per game and 48 3-pointers.
He had a season-high 38 points in Cal Poly's 95-81 win at UC Irvine last month. Hawai'i lost to that same UC Irvine team, 80-70, in December.
"The thing that's scary about a team like that is they shoot a lot of 3s," Nash said. "You hope they don't get hot on you."
Like Hawai'i, Cal Poly was predicted to finish last in its conference. Unlike the 'Bows, the Mustangs have been able to exceed expectations.
Cal Poly is currently tied for fifth place in the nine-team Big West at 6-7.
"We hit a rough stretch here lately, but we feel like we're competitive nightly," Callero said. "We're streaky as far as our shooting, so our success depends a lot on whether we're hitting or not, and I imagine that's going to be the key again (today)."
In any case, Callero said he was actually pleased that the Mustangs were selected to make the trip to Hawai'i.
In past years, coaches have expressed concern that a trip to Hawai'i is too taxing on a team in the midst of its conference season.
"Some say this is a distraction, that it's a meaningless game," Callero said. "Not us. We look at it as a special trip, and we want to make the most of it. I think something like this can actually help your team down the stretch."
Callero said he even wants his team to "get a little flavor of the island" during its two-day stay in Honolulu.
"We'd like to do at least one tourist attraction, if not more," he said. "Maybe the North Shore or Pearl Harbor."
As part of an agreement, Hawai'i will have to play a "return" game at Cal Poly within the next two seasons. Nash said he will likely schedule a road trip to Cal Poly during the 2011-12 season.