Rainbow Warriors lose frontcourt depth as Zivanovic leaves
Having survived an opening-round scare in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic, the Hawaii basketball team will have a shorter bench when it faces Colorado State in a semifinal game tonight.
The Rainbow Warriors (5-2) and Rams (8-1) meet in tonight's feature game at 7:30 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center, with the winner earning a spot in tomorrow's championship game.
UH lost some of its frontcourt depth, as UH coach Riley Wallace said fifth-year senior center Milos Zivanovic has left the team, opting to return home.
The 6-foot-11 center from Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, saw limited playing time in his UH career and was sidelined much of the fall due to a broken bone in his left thumb. He returned to play 3 minutes in UH's win over Utah State last Saturday.
Zivanovic graduated from UH on Sunday and informed Wallace of his decision to return home before yesterday's practice, leaving UH with 11 players for the workout.
"He would have played (this season)," Wallace said. "In the fall he was looking pretty good and was playing hard when he broke his thumb. I told him I'd get him more time, he comes back and he's not in shape. He got in the other night. But he wants to go home and play pro ball."
UH starts three forwards in Julian Sensley, Ahmet Gueye and Matthew Gipson, and 7-foot center Chris Botez has been the first big man off the bench.
"Barring any more injuries, we'll be fine," Wallace said.
UH reached the Rainbow Classic semifinal round by edging Loyola Marymount 66-63 on Tuesday and spent yesterday preparing for a Colorado State team led by a tall and talented front line.
For UH to advance to the Classic final for the seventh straight year and have a chance to win its fifth consecutive title, the 'Bows will have to contain CSU's post duo of 7-foot Jason Smith and 6-9 Michael Harrison.
Harrison scored a career-high 24 points and Smith added 14 in CSU's 87-69 win over Western Michigan on Tuesday. The Rams entered the tournament leading the nation in blocked shots per game, averaging 8.4, and had seven more against WMU.
"Size-wise we're equal with them," Wallace said after the 'Bows survived their opening-round game. "I think we'll match up well with them, better than we did with (LMU).
"(The Lions) were not only smaller and quicker, but they were thick and very strong and able to actually manhandle us at times."
The Rainbows also spent yesterday's practice gearing up to face a three-guard CSU attack that can cause problems with full-court pressure.
After struggling to avoid falling into the consolation bracket on Tuesday, Wallace said he didn't have to say much to get the team focused on tonight's game.
"They were getting on each other to be ready," Wallace said.
"We have to play hard from the tip to the buzzer, and right now we're just putting spurts together instead of two halves," Gipson said following his eight-point, 11-rebound performance against LMU. "To be a championship team we have to put two halves together. ... We'll get it going, we've got five games here, we've got this crowd behind us. We're having fun and it's exciting to come to work every day."
Notes: UH guard Matt Gibson is still out of action and hasn't practiced since having minor surgery last week. Redshirt forwards Stephen Verwers and Jared Dillinger aren't with the team during the holiday break. ... The series between UH and CSU, a former Western Athletic Conference member, is tied at 21-21.