Saturday, January 2, 1999

R A I N B O W _ B A S K E T B A L L

Rainbows start
WAC season
on the road

Inexperience at guard and
a lack of consistent outside
shooting have hurt

By Cindy Luis


Road Warriors or road kill? They'll soon find out.

The University of Hawaii men's basketball team hits the WAC travel trail Tuesday for the first time this season. After a 3-9 start at home, the Rainbows can only hope that the trail doesn't hit back.

It will be tough. Hawaii, historically a poor travel team, ventures out for games at Texas-El Paso (8-5) Thursday and No. 15 New Mexico (11-1) next Saturday.

The Rainbows are a combined 3-16 under coach Riley Wallace when hosted by the Miners and Lobos. They have never swept this particular road swing since joining the WAC in the 1979-80 season.

Only one player on this year's squad has played at either place: senior Mike Robinson had four points and five rebounds in his debut at The Pit in Albuquerque in 1997, a 89-69 loss to the Lobos. That year, due to a quirk of the expanded WAC schedule that had New Mexico as Hawaii's divisional cross-over game, the Rainbows did not play at El Paso, where they are 2-7 in the newly renamed Don Haskins Center under Wallace.

"With all of our new guys, we've been talking a lot about getting off the island," said junior point guard Johnny White, one of seven newcomers on the roster. "We haven't left in five months and we're looking forward to it. But we're not going to places to have fun. We've got to go in with a winning attitude.

"I think we're all ready to start the new year and put 1998 past us. It's '99 that will count. We've got to play strong in conference. This is the season that will determine whether we'll be in the NCAA or NIT."

Right now, Hawaii has to be concerned about being in the WAC Tournament in March. The Rainbows currently reside in seventh place in the eight-team Pacific Division; only the top six teams advance to Las Vegas for the conference tourney three months from now.

"I'll be interested to see how this team does on the road," said Wallace, off to his worst start since the 1995-96 team that opened 3-5. "It's a tough trip. It's always been a tough trip regardless of how good of a team we've had.

"We've just got to stay together, keep working hard and hope that it's one of those nights when everyone is hot. For us to win on the road, we're going to have to play the perfect game, cut down the turnovers, have a good rebounding night, hit some of those open shots that we've been missing.

"Of course, it's disappointing (being 3-9) but I'm not disappointed in the effort. We've been trying to put it together but there's limits on what we can do at certain positions."

Five of Hawaii's losses have come after leading at halftime. But even if the Rainbows had won those five, an 8-4 record wouldn't have been able to hide some glaring weaknesses.

The guards are young and inexperienced. There are no consistent outside shooting threats.

With no outside game, Hawaii has had a hard time getting the inside to open up. Many realize now how important guards Anthony Carter and Alika Smith were to the performances of the big men, particularly senior Erin Galloway, a preseason all-WAC pick who has all but disappeared offensively.

A knee injury to Casey Cartwright hasn't helped. The senior swingman, one of the team's best outside shooters and leading scorers, hasn't been at 100 percent since suffering a knee joint irritation on Dec. 2.

"There's no one big concern," said Wallace. "There's a lot of concerns that are equally important. They know what they're supposed to be doing, they're not doing it. We're getting them in position to get the baskets and we're not making them.

"We probably missed 5-6 open shots against Texas (the Rainbow Classic third-place game Dec. 30). We make some of those, it's a different ballgame. We're playing harder, I don't know if we're playing better."

"I hope it is a happy new year," freshman Philipp Czernin said. "We need it to be."

Yesterday's first practice of 1999 was long, as had been promised. The Rainbows were in Gym II -- and not the air-conditioned arena -- looking to literally sweat the big and small stuff.

Wallace rode them hard for more than two hours, then played mini shooting games. White and freshman guard Mike McIntyre prevailed in a game called "21."

"That was the first time we've played games at the end of practice and it was good," White said. "I think we're all frustrated but we have to keep trying. There is a lack of communication and when that happens, it's hard to put it together during the pressure times like the last 10 minutes of the game.

"We just need to go out there and play, get everybody on the same court. We just want to win. We've been told it's a tough road trip and that everyone has got to step up their game. We're going to El Paso to win and, after that, we'll worry about New Mexico."

Hawaii's only wins at UTEP under Wallace came in 1990 and 1994. Both those years included postseason appearances (NIT in '90, NCAA in '94).

The Rainbows' lone win in the past 12 years at New Mexico was in 1989, the year they went to the NIT for the first time since 1971.

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