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Wednesday, March 26, 2003


[ UH BASKETBALL ]



UH



Road woes kept
UH from 20 wins

But 'fantastic bunch'
went 15-1 at home in a
respectable 19-12 season


By Jason Kaneshiro
jkaneshiro@starbulletin.com

MINNEAPOLIS >> The Hawaii basketball team didn't end a season on Monday night so much as a four-month odyssey.

The Rainbow Warriors closed a travel-intensive campaign with an 84-70 loss to Minnesota in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament and finished with a 19-12 record.

Although their struggles away from home kept the Rainbows from reaching some of their goals this season, the wear of life on the road couldn't overshadow the positives for UH coach Riley Wallace.

"Absolutely a fantastic bunch, best I've probably been around in almost 40 years of coaching," Wallace said of his team after Monday's game.

"They're all students ... They're in college for all the right reasons. They go to class, they study on the road, they study on the airplanes. It's like I died and gone to heaven or something. They're great kids."

Travel is always a major obstacle for Hawaii teams, but this year's squad was tested by two regular-season journeys that spanned more than 10 days. The season ended with a hectic 16-day stretch that began in Tulsa for the Western Athletic Conference tournament and took them through Las Vegas and Minneapolis.

After falling to host Tulsa in the WAC semifinals, the Rainbows returned home thinking they might host an NIT game. But they were sent to Las Vegas for a first-round contest at UNLV and boarded a plane less than 24 hours after landing in Honolulu.

The team dispatched UNLV with an 85-68 win on March 19, and moved on to Minnesota, where the fuel tank finally dried up.

"I don't think we had the legs," UH guard Carl English said after Monday's loss. "The road takes a toll on you after a while."

The Rainbows finished 4-11 away from home overall, and went 1-8 in WAC road games.

The bounces that helped last year's team post a 27-6 mark seemed to go against the Rainbows this season as a third-straight WAC championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament eluded the 2002-03 squad.

The Rainbows were masterful at the Stan Sheriff Center, where they went 15-1 and held the nation's fourth-longest home winning streak at one point.

UH rolled to an 8-1 start, highlighted by a rousing 81-78 overtime victory over Butler in the Rainbow Classic championship game in late December. But the team lost six of eight games in a midseason stretch in the WAC, three of those losses coming by one point.

"You look back and you think you can change some things, but we were three or four games away from probably being the best team ever at UH," English said. "But the guys played with a lot of heart and battled through injuries and played hard."

Along the way, the season was marked by several significant accomplishments.

Hawaii won its seventh Rainbow Classic title and owned a 24-game home winning streak, two wins short of the school record. The Rainbows also participated in the inaugural Bracket Busters event, picking up a 79-78 win at Kent State on Feb. 22.

English averaged 19.6 points and set the UH record for 3-point goals in a season with 89 and moved into second-place on the career list with 162. He scored 30 points in a game three times this season and became only the 10th member of UH's 1,000-point club.

He also earned All-WAC first-team honors and was a third-team Verizon Academic All-American. He is set to graduate this semester and is contemplating whether to return for his senior season or turn professional.

Senior point guard Mark Campbell completed his career as one of the school's top assist men. He finished with 192 assists this season and was named to the All-WAC defensive team. He ended his two-year UH career with 343 assists.

Junior forward Phil Martin elevated his play the last month of the season, averaging 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds over the final 11 games. His mid-range jump shot became one of the team's most dependable weapons.

Junior guard Michael Kuebler was named to the WAC All-Newcomer team and finished second in scoring with 12.2 points per game.

"It by far exceeded my expectations," Kuebler said. "From being told you're going to be a walk-on to this, I had a great time. At the same time it's going to be more motivation to work hard in the offseason."

Sophomore center Nkeruwem Akpan emerged as a key contributor inside when Haim Shimonovich suffered an ankle injury and gave the team greater depth in the post. Guard Jason Carter and Vaidotas Peciukas also provided energy off the bench late in the season.

The team has signed three recruits -- forwards Jeff Blackett and Bobby Nash and guard Logan Lee -- for next season. If English returns, the Rainbows figure to have the firepower and experience to contend for another WAC title. If English leaves, the team will need someone to step forward as a go-to scorer.

As they turn their attention to next season, the Rainbows can find motivation in how close they were to greatness this year.

"We lost five games by three or four points early in our league, playing the way we are now we would have won those games and it would be a big difference," Wallace said. "But with 27 wins last year and 19 this year, these kids have done their job."



UH Athletics



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