Strong finish would salvage senior season
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
It hasn't exactly been a fabulous season for the five seniors on the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team, but they can still think of a way to make it a fabulous ending.
"Utah State is the No. 1 team in our conference, so if we can beat them, that would be a big thing for us," senior forward Roderick Flemings said. "That could be the kind of win that could turn everything around for us, hopefully."
The Rainbow Warriors need some turning around. They are on an eight-game losing streak, with records of 9-17 overall and 2-10 in the Western Athletic Conference.
The 'Bows will play their final two home games of the season this week — today against first-place Utah State, then Saturday against third-place Nevada.
"We know it's going to be a hard test because Utah State and Nevada are two of the best teams in our league," senior center Paul Campbell said. "But we know we're capable of winning these games, and this being my last games in the Stan Sheriff Center, I really want us to show something to everybody."
In truth, it would take a fairy-tale-like performance from the 'Bows to upset Utah State.
The Aggies are on a 12-game winning streak, with records of 22-6 overall and 11-2 in the WAC. The winning streak started on Jan. 11 with a 98-54 thumping of Hawai'i in Logan, Utah.
"It's definitely time for payback," Flemings said. "They just blasted us up there."
If the 'Bows are to pull off the upset, much will depend on the five seniors.
The 6-foot-7 forward started the season on the bench, but has emerged as the team's most consistent low-post threat in the second half of the season.
In Hawai'i's 12 WAC games, Adams is averaging 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and has a .576 field goal percentage.
"Playing college basketball was always a dream of mine," he said. "These last few games mean a lot because I won't be able to play college basketball any more after this, so I just want to go out and win these games."
Adams is the only married player on the team. In effect, he and his wife Jessica have postponed honeymoon plans for two years so he could focus on basketball.
"The wins aren't what we wanted," he said. "But it's still been great for me here. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The 6-foot-8 forward has battled injuries all season, but still put together one of the best rebounding seasons by a 'Bow in recent memory.
Balocka has had 15 or more rebounds in three games this season, including 20 against Lamar in December.
The last Hawai'i player to have even two games in a season with 15 or more rebounds was Troy Ostler in 1999-2000.
"We have to win games to get to the WAC Tournament, that's all I care about," Balocka said. "We get to the tournament, anything can happen. That's what I'm thinking about right now."
Balocka, who is originally from Lithuania, is the only graduate student on the team. He completed his degree in sociology in December.
The 6-foot-10 center was part of head coach Bob Nash's initial recruiting class in 2007.
He transformed from seldom-used reserve as a sophomore to a starter for most of this season.
"It's gone by pretty fast," said Campbell, who is originally from Canada. "The one thing we haven't done since I been here is win a WAC Tournament game, so that's what I really want to do."
Nash has described Campbell as a team player who "knows his limitations and plays to his strengths."
For example, Campbell leads the team with a .591 field goal percentage, but ranks eighth on the team with just 88 field-goal attempts.
The 6-foot-7 forward was one of the most hyped recruits in Hawai'i basketball history, and has recently put up numbers to back it.
During his two seasons as a 'Bow, Flemings produced the two best individual scoring performances by a Hawai'i player in the history of the Sheriff Center. As a junior last season, he scored 37 against Eastern Washington.
Last week, he scored 39 in a loss to Cal Poly.
In a season filled with lowlights for the 'Bows, Flemings has provided most of the highlights — including 24 dunks.
"It's kind of sad and exciting at the same time," he said. "I guess it's time to get out into the real world and look at other basketball dreams."
Flemings, who chose Hawai'i over Kentucky in 2008, is on pace to break into Hawai'i's all-time top 20 list of scorers this week. Only eight other two-year players are currently on that list.
The 6-foot-8 forward has filled a versatile role for the 'Bows, especially during this injury-filled season.
He is one of only two players to appear in all 26 games this season, and has played various positions in place of injured teammates.
Like Campbell, Mayen emerged as a seldom-used sophomore to a starter for most of this season.
"I've known some of these guys for three years," Mayen said. "We got close. We're going to be friends after this, we're going to stay in touch. That means a lot to me."
Nash noted that Balocka has already graduated, and the other four seniors are on pace to graduate before the end of 2010.
"We may not have had all the wins that we wanted, but as long as we win in the classroom and graduate, that speaks volumes for their character," Nash said.
Win or lose, the five seniors will be honored after Saturday's game against Nevada.
The 'Bows will close the regular season with road games at Boise State and Idaho next week.