Where will the Rainbow end?
That question will be answered over 27 games, starting tomorrow against Michigan State
This is the last in a five-part series looking at some of the questions facing the UH basketball team as it heads toward tomorrow's season opener against No. 4 Michigan State.
Riley Wallace leaned back in his office chair, took a long breath, and paused a moment to contemplate how to finish the following sentence:
Who: Hawaii vs. No. 4 Michigan State
When: Tomorrow, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, KKEA (1420-AM)
Tickets: $3-$25. At the close of business yesterday, there were about 2,000 tickets left.
Promotions: "White-out" game. First 8,000 fans receive free megaphone
"Hawaii will be back in the postseason if ..."
After a moment of reflection, he started down a mental checklist of keys to the Rainbow Warriors' season.
"If they stay together like they are now and remain aggressive," Wallace began.
"We talked about keeping the opponents off the foul line and we have to do a better job of rebounding. If we do that then we're going to win those close games we lost a year ago; by staying together and working harder on the not-so-glamorous things such as rebounding and playing defense."
The question of whether this year's Rainbows can earn the program's 10th postseason berth during Wallace's tenure will be answered over the next 27 games, starting with tomorrow's matchup with No. 4 Michigan State at the Stan Sheriff Center. Tip-off is set for 1:05 p.m.
UH posted a school-record sixth consecutive winning season in 2004-05, but several tight losses contributed to a 16-13 mark that left the 'Bows without an invitation for the first time since 2000.
As Wallace pinpointed areas vital to the Rainbows' hopes of a return this year, there are probably a few more "ifs" that will need to be satisfied for the 'Bows to extend their season beyond the Western Athletic Conference tournament in March. Among them:
» If they stay healthy.
» If they can weather the rigors of the road.
» If they handle an upgraded nonconference schedule.
The 'Bows spent the last five weeks blending the talents of seven returnees with five newcomers and emerged from the preseason confident and eager to test themselves against elite competition tomorrow.
And their effort in practice has energized their head coach, who enters his 19th season one win short of 300 at the school.
"It's fun to come to practice every day because they work their butts off and we're getting more response than we've had in years," Wallace said after a recent workout. "When you've got weapons and you've got competition, you can do things. You can coach, you can get after it and you feel like you're getting better."
Wallace said the prospect of retirement following the 2006-07 season hasn't created a greater sense of urgency for him ... but the Rainbows' schedule has.
After facing Michigan State, UH plays at UNLV next Tuesday in the front end of a home-and-home series. The 'Bows return to the Sheriff Center to face Saint Louis next Saturday. They also have a trip to Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an early-season WAC home game against Utah State prior to the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic in December.
"We've got to be ready right off, there's no building up to it," Wallace said. "It's very important that we get out there and compete with someone at (Michigan State's) level at our place. ... I think that'll be a good indicator of where we are at this stage of the season."
UH was tied with Utah State for second in the preseason WAC coaches poll and Wallace expects the addition of the Aggies, who have averaged 25 wins over the last six seasons, to boost the conference's profile this season. No. 22 Nevada is the favorite to win the league title after going 25-7 overall and 16-2 in the WAC last year.
UH coaches and players credited the NCAA's new rule allowing teams to work together prior to the start of practice and the competition for starting jobs for accelerating the 'Bows' progress leading up to the season.
"It's a fight every day to get spots," senior forward Matthew Gipson said. "We could have a new starting lineup every game. It's going to be a constant battle and that's what pushes us in practice, just the competition."
UH passed its first quiz by blowing out UH-Hilo in an exhibition game last week, and the 'Bows are anxious to start the campaign and find out where the new season will lead.
"We want to win for the guys that are here and the seniors that are here," Wallace said. "Put everything on the line, and try to win as many games as we can because we want to get to the (NCAA) Tournament and advance. That's got to be our goal."