JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Chris Botez has not started a game this year after starting 27 last year.
’Bows build bench
Christmas represents a time of unity for many, an appropriate theme for a Hawaii basketball team that had to pull together over the past few days.
The Rainbow Warriors took a day off to celebrate the holiday and regroup following a third-place finish in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic, and get back to work today to prepare for two more nonconference games this week.
Though the program's string of Classic championships ended with a semifinal loss to Colorado State, the week ended on a high note as a short-handed UH squad scraped out a win over Northwestern State to close the tournament on Friday.
"I think it brought us together, made us really grind it out," guard Matt Lojeski said of the adversity the team faced. "We had to tough it out and get the win."
The 'Bows next face North Carolina A&T on Tuesday and Pennsylvania on Thursday at the Stan Sheriff Center before resuming Western Athletic Conference play.
The Rainbows, 1-0 in WAC competition, dive into the conference schedule with a Jan. 5 meeting vs. conference favorite Nevada.
With Bobby Nash and Julian Sensley joining Matt Gibson on the bench in street clothes, the Rainbows were down to nine available players for Friday's game. But they got inspired performances from those who were able to take the floor.
"We know that if we lose some people down the road or we're not at full strength every night, we can still compete," Lojeski said. "You can still step up, have people fill the roles and win the game."
Freshman guard Hiram Thompson was the talk of the arena following a breakout performance against the Demons.
In his first significant action since leading Oak Ridge High School to its first California Interscholastic Federation state title last season, Thompson came off the bench to ignite UH with 15 points and four assists.
"You can't have nerves to play this game," Thompson said. "You just have to be confident all the time."
Displaying cool beyond his years, Thompson scored on drives to the basket and twice hit tough jumpers to beat the shot clock.
"That's why they won a state championship in California, because he sees the floor and goes," UH coach Riley Wallace said.
"Does that mean he can do that every night? Probably not, freshmen are inconsistent. But I told them as freshmen, 'when you get your chance you have to make do with your chance, then you'll get more of a chance.' Now you feel like he can come in and give you some minutes."
Lojeski and Deonte Tatum had six assists each for a UH offense that dished out 20 assists on its 30 field goals.
Having Thompson and fellow freshman Dominic Waters gain confidence figures to help a UH lineup missing several key veterans.
Nash is out for the season with a sprained shoulder and will seek a medical hardship. Forward Sensley, who leads UH with 16.5 points per game, sat out for the first time in his career with a strained Achilles'.
"Bobby's out for the year -- that's settled," Wallace said. "He's not even going to be around basketball. We're going to take him to rehab and get started on that shoulder to get it built up.
"Julian will be back when he's ready."
Wallace said Gibson, UH's leading scorer last season, "is probably a couple of weeks away, but he will be back."