Bottom line is: 'Bows must win
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Before it can even think about the top, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team will have to figure out how to stay out of the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference.
It starts today, when the Rainbow Warriors host San Jose State in a WAC game at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"All the long-term goals are still there, but we can't even look at any of those right now," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "We have one goal right now, and that's to beat San Jose State. If we can get that, we'll move on to the next goal, which will be winning our next game."
Hawai'i is 8-9 overall and in seventh place in the nine-team WAC at 1-3. The Spartans are 9-7 overall and 2-2 in the WAC.
From a bottom-up viewpoint, today's game is crucial for the 'Bows. A victory could put Hawai'i in a tie for sixth place.
More important, the 'Bows would be two wins ahead of last-place Boise State. At the end of the regular season, the ninth-place team in the standings will not be invited to the WAC Tournament at Reno, Nev.
"This game is huge," senior forward Petras Balocka said. "I think this game can decide which way we're going in the WAC — up or down. If we win this game, we're right there in the middle and we can start chipping away to get back up."
In keeping with an unwanted season-long trend, the 'Bows could again be without a key player today.
Junior guard Dwain Williams was unable to practice yesterday after he found out that one of his cousins died. His status for today's game is unknown.
"It's a difficult thing to deal with when you lose a close family member," Nash said. "Dwain is taking it hard, so we'll see how it goes (today)."
Williams is second on the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, and leads the team with 31 3-pointers.
Only three players — Brandon Adams, Jeremy Lay and Adhar Mayen — have been able to play in all 17 games this season for Hawai'i. No player has started every game.
With or without Williams, Nash said he plans to extend the use of his reserve players today.
"Coming out of the Diamond Head Classic (in late-December) and then going straight into WAC, I think it might have worn some of our guys down," Nash said. "I want to get more guys in the rotation so we're not as leg-weary. The good thing about the Utah State game is I got to put a lot of guys in the rotation and see how they responded in that situation."
It was probably the only good thing to come out of that game.
The 98-54 loss at Utah State on Monday was Hawai'i's worst WAC loss in 31 seasons as a conference member.
Balocka did not play in that game due to a shoulder injury, but is expected to play today.
"It was horrible, terrible," Balocka said. "I didn't play, but it was still very embarrassing for the whole team. The only reason I want to remember it is because we get to play (Utah State) again and it's a chance to show we're a much better team than that."
The 'Bows had a full week to recover and prepare for San Jose State. Part of the preparation included three closed-door practices.
"I like the way our guys worked this week," Nash said. "I think we got our focus, and now it's a matter of putting it to use in the game."
San Jose State features a dangerous lineup led by 6-foot-4 guard Adrian Oliver and 6-10 forward Chris Oakes.
Oliver is second in the WAC in scoring with 20.9 points per game, and has reached 30 points in four games this season. Oakes is averaging 10.7 points per game, and leads the WAC in rebounding with 10.2 per game.
"They have guys who have been in that program for a while, so they're experienced," Nash said. "We just have to come out and play for each other. Our pride will be tested in this one."