UH out to uphold tradition
The 'Bows are after their fifth straight Rainbow Classic title
The last time Alika Smith participated in a Rainbow Classic, he was busy helping Hawaii post a landmark win in the history of the UH program.
Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Evening games on KFVE Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
Internet: Audio on Sportsradio1420.com, video on hawaiiantelmedia.com
Tickets: Packages, $90 (lower level), $70 (upper). Individual games, $25 (lower), $20 (upper).
» Colorado State vs. Western Michigan, 5 p.m.
» Hawaii vs. Loyola Marymount, 7:30 p.m.
» Northwestern State vs. Oregon State, 5 p.m.
» Iowa State vs. South Florida, 7:30 p.m.
» Colorado State/ Western Michigan loser vs. Hawaii/Loyola Marymount loser, 11 a.m.
» Northwestern State/ Oregon State loser vs. Iowa State/South Florida loser, 1:30 p.m.
» Northwestern State/ Oregon State winner vs. Iowa State/South Florida winner, 5 p.m.
» Colorado State/ Western Michigan winner vs. Hawaii/ Loyola Marymount winner, 7:30 p.m.
Seventh-place game » Consolation losers, 11 a.m.
» Consolation winners, 1:30 p.m.
» Semifinal losers, 5 p.m.
» Semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m.
Eight years after scoring 22 points to lead the Rainbows to a win over second-ranked Kansas for the Classic championship on a magical December evening in 1997, Smith will again be part of the annual holiday basketball-fest.
This time he'll be on the bench as a UH assistant coach, focused on helping the current Rainbows carve out their own place in the history of the event.
"I have a picture of A.C. (Smith's guard mate Anthony Carter) and I, and whenever you look at it you always think about it," said Smith, who joined the UH staff this season.
"We played as well as we could possibly play and it was enough to beat the No. 2-ranked team in the country at the time. That whole year was special, but that was really special because that's probably the biggest win in UH history."
That victory began a run of six Rainbow Classic titles over an eight-year period for the host team, including the last four straight.
The Rainbows will try to maintain their hold on the crown this week when the 42nd annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic tips off at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"I guess we started the streak; hopefully (this year's Rainbows) can continue it," Smith said. "If you can't get up for that, you don't belong in college basketball."
Hawaii begins its quest for a fifth consecutive championship in the eight-team event tomorrow with a first-round game against Loyola Marymount at 7:30 p.m. Colorado State and Western Michigan meet in the tournament opener at 5.
The first round continues Wednesday with Northwestern State facing Oregon State at 5 p.m. and Iowa State playing South Florida at 7:30.
The consolation and semifinal rounds are Thursday with the finals on Friday.
This year's field doesn't feature a team with the clout Kansas brought with it in 1997, and UH head coach Riley Wallace expects a balanced field to contend for the championship.
Although UH has claimed the trophy the last four years and enjoys the home-court edge, Wallace isn't ready to label his team the favorite.
"You're the home team, so they have to be worried about you, but I don't know if we'd be favored or not," Wallace said. "Last year has nothing to do with this year."
Iowa State reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, and is the only Rainbow Classic participant to receive votes in last week's national polls. Colorado State is also off to a strong start at 7-1.
The tournament welcomes four first-time participants in Oregon State, Western Michigan, Northwestern State and South Florida.
Although Loyola Marymount comes to town with a 3-6 record, the Lions will have the Rainbows' full attention tomorrow night as they look to avoid falling into the consolation bracket and playing in the dreaded afternoon rounds. UH hasn't lost a first-round game since 1995.
"We understand it's a huge tournament and there's been a lot of tradition in it," UH senior Julian Sensley said. "We're taking it a game at a time. We don't want to play in the afternoon games, so we can't take this Loyola team lightly."
With three games over four days, the tournament represents an endurance test for the teams, and the Rainbows got some advice on preparing for the grind from Honolulu Marathon winner Jimmy Muindi following their win over Utah State on Saturday.
"I told him, 'We start our marathon now with (Saturday's) game, any suggestions?' " Wallace said. "He said, 'Eat well and sleep well.' We'll prepare them and get after them, but I think they have to take care of themselves because it is a marathon run."
BACK TO TOP
Following is a look at the teams aiming for the Rainbow Classic title this week.
Colorado State (7-1)
Conference: Mountain West
Coach: Dale Layer (sixth year)
Outlook: A win in the tournament's opening game would give the Rams their sixth 8-1 start in school history. Seven-foot forward Jason Smith anchors the Rams with 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He also leads a stingy defense with 23 blocked shots. CSU leads the nation with 8.4 blocks per game and holds opponents to 36 percent shooting to rank sixth in the country. Hawaii redshirt forward Stephen Verwers played for CSU last season.
Conference: Western Athletic
Coach: Riley Wallace (19th year)
Outlook: The Rainbows are in the middle of a seven-game homestand and have been sharp at the Stan Sheriff Center this season. They're shooting 49.6 percent at home and are led by senior forward Julian Sensley's 17 points per game. Junior guard Matt Lojeski (14.7 ppg) and forward Ahmet Gueye (14.3 ppg) have added scoring outside and inside in their first seasons in Manoa. Wallace hasn't been shy about going to the bench, as UH's top eight players average at least 14 minutes per game.
Iowa State (6-3)
Conference: Big 12
Coach: Wayne Morgan (third year)
Outlook: The Cyclones return three starters from last year's team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina. Junior guard Curtis Stinson leads the Cyclones with 19.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Stinson and guard Will Blalock have been rated as one of the top backcourt tandems in the country. Iowa State heads to Hawaii coming off a 70-67 loss to nationally ranked Ohio State on Saturday.
Loyola Marymount (3-6)
Conference: West Coast
Coach: Rodney Tention (first year)
Outlook: UH's first-round opponent began the season with a win at BYU, then dropped six of its next seven before beating Northern Colorado on Saturday. Tention takes over a program that has two winning seasons in the last 13 years. Forward Matthew Knight, a junior from Australia, is averaging a double-double with 17.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. He had a high of 32 points in a loss at Long Beach State.
Northwestern State (6-2)
Coach: Mike McConathy (seventh year)
Outlook: The defending conference champion Demons from Natchitoches, La., enter the tournament on a three-game winning streak and have road wins over Mississippi State and Oklahoma State this season. NSU starts three guards and features a balanced attack, with senior forward Clifton Lee the only player scoring in double figures (16.1 ppg). Guards Jermaine Wallace (9.5 ppg) and Luke Rogers (9.4 ppg) are the Demons' outside threats.
Oregon State (4-3)
Coach: Jay John (fourth year)
Outlook: The Beavers make their first appearance in the tournament co-founded by OSU alum and former UH coach Red Rocha. They return three starters from a team that went 17-15 last season, the program's first winning campaign since 1990. Like Hawaii, OSU has played well at home (3-0), but has struggled away from Corvallis. Guard Chris Stephens leads the Beavers with 14 ppg and scored 25 points in a 64-60 win over Georgia on Saturday.
South Florida (5-3)
Conference: Big East
Coach: Robert McCullum (third year)
Outlook: The Bulls, formerly of Conference USA, enter their first season in the Big East with just one returning starter from last year's 14-16 squad. Senior guard James Holmes leads USF with 19.1 ppg and has 20 steals in eight games. Sophomore center Solomon Jones, the lone returning starter, had 17 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots in a 62-44 win over Florida Atlantic last Thursday.
Western Michigan (2-4)
Coach: Steve Hawkins (third year)
Outlook: Hawkins is looking to lead a young WMU team to its fourth straight postseason appearance after reaching the second round of the NIT last season. The Broncos have 10 freshmen or sophomores on the roster. Four starters average double-figure scoring, led by sophomore center Joe Reitz's 14.2 ppg. The Broncos are in the midst of a six-game road trip that began with a 77-62 loss at USC on Friday.