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Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, March 12, 2001

Akana proud to see
success of new ’Bows

FIGURE the odds. Seven years ago, Hawaii earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, its first in 22 seasons.

The Rainbows, the improbable Western Athletic Conference Tournament champs, were seeded 12th. They were paired up against fifth-seeded Syracuse in a first-round game at Weber State's dome in Ogden, Utah.

Yesterday, deja vu wore orange when the Midwest bracket popped up on TV screens across the country --No. 5 seed Syracuse going against No. 12 Hawaii in the first round.

All Jarinn Akana could say was: "What luck.''

Akana was the soul of that Rainbow team in 1994, a sweet Molokai boy who was equally tough on the court.

Visions of him rolling around the Delta Center floor with teammate Kalia McGee following the WAC title win over Brigham Young continuously played in my mind during a phone conversation with Akana yesterday.

"Syracuse again,'' said Akana, who works for the NBA's Dallas Mavericks as a player development specialist. "Same team, same seed. I think it's a good sign. It's time for a little revenge.

"We played them tough and it was a real good game (in 1994). We just lost it in the second half.''

It's true. Hawaii led at halftime, 44-41, and were in the game until the last six minutes.

Senior guard Trevor Ruffin was hot, hitting 7-of-13 3-pointers before fouling out. He exited to the "We're not worthy'' bows from Syracuse's All-American Lawrence Moten. Hawaii exited from the tournament via a 92-78 defeat.

"That year was special for me personally because it was my first time to take a team (to the NCAAs),'' Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said yesterday. "This time, it's for the team. It's not necessarily a better feeling ... it's special in its own way. This team is special.

"I did a few radio shows (yesterday morning) and I was told that no one wanted to play Hawaii right now.''

AKANA was impressed when watching the WAC championship game in Dallas. He had tried to get to Tulsa Saturday, but missed one flight and had another delayed by weather.

"I saw them when they were here (in Dallas) to play SMU and TCU,'' he said of Hawaii's two losses in the Lone Star State. "They are a totally different team now.

"They move the ball well, their spacing is great and they're hard to defend. Teams can't key on one guy. If we can keep making shots against the zone ... "

It's still "we'' for Akana. And being a Rainbow who cut down a championship net is still special.

"There's been some very good teams since I left, good teams that didn't make the (NCAA) Tournament,'' he said. "What that shows is how hard it is to get in.

"You can say what you want about how good some of those teams were, but it's nothing like saying you cut down a net.''

Being able to do it after beating BYU made it even sweeter. The Rainbows were down by as many as 14 against the Cougars in the WAC title game but won going away, 73-66.

Playing in Weber State's dome was a thrill in 1994, but it didn't compare to the feeling Akana had when he returned to the Delta Center this year when the Mavericks played the Utah Jazz.

"We were one player short for some practice drills and they told me to go in,'' said Akana. "The guys didn't know I had won on that court. My team thought they were going to lose.

"Just like '94, I felt pretty good out there. My team won. It brought back some very good memories.''

Cindy Luis is Star-Bulletin sports editor.
Her column appears periodically.
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