’Bows put December behind them
All that matters to Hawaii is the WAC season, with Nevada up next
The new year brings with it a fresh start for the Hawaii basketball team.
With a grueling nonconference stretch behind them, the Rainbow Warriors are eager to turn their focus toward making a run at the Western Athletic Conference title.
"We're starting a new season now," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "You're in league play and that's what counts."
UH is already 1-0 in the WAC thanks to a home win over Utah State on Dec. 17, and faces one of its biggest games of the conference schedule next week when nationally ranked Nevada visits the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Rainbows host the defending WAC regular-season champion Wolf Pack on Thursday.
UH enters the bulk of the WAC season at 7-4, coming off a close win over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday and a 58-55 loss to Penn on Thursday.
After playing six games in 13 days, the Rainbows welcome having a week off to recharge prior to the game against Nevada, led by WAC preseason player of the year Nick Fazekas.
"We get a little rest, get a lot of time to prepare, get our legs back a little bit," guard Matt Lojeski said.
Nevada ends a seven-game homestand for UH, which then heads to the mainland for its first conference road trip of the season against Louisiana Tech (Jan. 12) and New Mexico State (Jan. 14).
With 11 games down, Wallace said the Rainbows are about where he expected when he surveyed the schedule prior to the season.
What he couldn't have foreseen was how injuries would impact the UH rotation. Where depth was once a strength, the Rainbows are now lacking firepower off the bench.
Bobby Nash (shoulder) will seek a medical hardship and Matt Gibson (suspension, staph infection) has missed the last nine games, forcing Wallace to alter the rotation and shuffle positions.
Since Nash shut it down for the season to allow his aching shoulder to heal, freshman Hiram Thompson has been responsible for 23 of UH's 28 bench points over the last three games.
"That's a lot of pressure to put on (the starters)," Wallace said.
The Rainbows will also look to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them recently as they try to build upon their strong start in the WAC and hold serve at home against Nevada.
The Rainbows have tip-toed out of the gate and consequently have trailed at halftime in four of the last six games, going 4-2 in those matchups.
UH fell behind by nine in the opening moments against Penn and couldn't quite catch the Quakers the rest of the way.
"You have to come out and be pumped and ready to go," Wallace said. "We come out and we're going to feel them out.
"In practice for two days they got after the defense really intense, and they come out and it's let's feel them (out)."
With the last five games decided by an average of fewer than five points, UH's struggles from the free-throw line have been magnified. The Rainbows are shooting 59.7 percent from the line following an 11-for-22 performance against Penn. UH has left an average of more than 11 points at the line in its last five games.
Though disappointed following their second loss at home this season, the Rainbows know the critical portion of the campaign awaits them.
"We're still on a mission," senior guard Deonte Tatum said.
Correction: Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber scored 24 points in the Quakers' win on Thursday. An incorrect figure was reported in yesterday's edition.