Hawaii closes with 78-69 loss at Idaho
By DALE GRUMMERT
Special to The Advertiser
MOSCOW, Idaho — Technically, its postseason fate was decided before tipoff. For the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team, however, the bad news still came in a familiar way — with a loss.
The Rainbow Warriors had no defensive answer for Steffan Johnson, who drilled eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points to lead Idaho to a 78-69 win over Hawai'i in the regular-season finale last night at Cowan Spectrum.
Even if the 'Bows had won — and Roderick Flemings poured in 29 points trying — their season would have ended, thanks to what happened elsewhere.
Shortly before the game started, Boise State wrapped up an 85-56 rout of San Jose State to eliminate Hawai'i from the race for the eighth and final spot for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament this week at Reno, Nev.
Not aware of that outcome, the 'Bows assumed they had a chance at the berth with a win. But Johnson popped three long-range shots in three minutes as Idaho pulled away with about six minutes left.
"We had a lot of unfortunate situations — injuries and stuff like that — and it was kind of a bummer to go out the way we did tonight," Hawai'i sophomore guard Leroy Lutu Jr. said.
Hawai'i completed its season with a 10-20 overall record. It is the first 20-loss season by a Hawai'i team since the 1998-99 team finished 6-20.
The 'Bows also finished last in the WAC at 3-13. The last time a Hawai'i team finished last in the WAC was 1988.
"I know as a staff we kind of tried to keep track of the scores before we went out to warm up," said Hawai'i assistant coach Larry Farmer, who still wasn't aware of the outcome at Boise after the game. "But after that, I had no idea what happened."
Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash declined to speak to reporters afterward, and players said he made no allusion to his job status, which has drawn recent speculation.
"He said he loves this team — he wears it on his sleeve," Lutu said. "He's a great guy and whatever happens next year, I like coach Nash, and so I hope he comes back. We don't really know. He didn't really tell us much."
Flemings, recovered from the flu-like symptoms that bothered him two nights earlier in a loss at Boise State, shot 13 for 26 and dealt five assists in a tireless 40-minute effort in his final appearance in a Hawai'i uniform.
"Whatever happened (elsewhere), we were still going to try to win this game," Flemings said. "We really weren't worried about the Boise game. We wanted San Jose to win, but we just wanted to come out and play our last game as hard as we could."
Idaho led 60-57 with 5:33 remaining before Johnson sparked a decisive 10-2 run, with his transition dunk making it 70-59 with 3:26 left. His eight 3-pointers were the most by an opposing player against Hawai'i.
The 'Bows tried a variety of defensive tactics after going with a zone early on.
"I was chasing him around all the second half, all game pretty much, in the zone or whatever," Lutu said. "He's a good shooter, so you've got to give him credit. He was hitting his shots. When they're making shots, they're going to be a tough team to beat in the WAC. We wish them the best and go from there."
Johnson shot 8 for 14 from 3-point range as Idaho improved to 15-15 overall and 6-10 in WAC play. Mac Hopson chipped in 15 points and 11 assists for the Vandals, who defeated Hawai'i twice this season.
"We've got some momentum, confidence," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "We felt like lately, the last two games especially, we've played well, shot the ball well."
Petras Balocka collected 14 points and 10 rebounds for Hawai'i, which fell to 0-9 in road games.
Lutu, a walk-on, added 12 points while making the first start of his career. He started in place of senior Adhar Mayen, who sat out with an illness.
Flemings scored 12 points in the first half, leading the 'Bows to a 27-22 lead with four minutes left before intermission.
But Johnson hit three 3-pointers in a 1:41 stretch as the Vandals rallied to a 35-32 lead by halftime.
Idaho played without starting guard Kashif Watson, who was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the program."