’Bows roll the dice in Nevada again
Hawaii is looking for The Biggest Little Win of the Season in Reno
After coming up empty on its first trip to Nevada this season, the Hawaii basketball team hopes its second visit to the state will yield a big payoff.
A little more than two months after falling flat in a loss to UNLV, the Rainbow Warriors find themselves in the northern part of the state this time to face Nevada today in a Western Athletic Conference matchup.
Both the Rainbows (10-6, 4-2 WAC) and Wolf Pack (14-5, 4-3) will be looking to ascend the conference standings when they meet at 5 p.m. Hawaii time at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
Fortune hasn't been kind to UH in its previous trips to Reno, where the Rainbows are 0-8 against the Wolf Pack, losing 58-55 last year.
That game was part of a string of close road losses for the Rainbows. Their frustration carried over into this season with a 67-61 loss at UNLV in November, and continued earlier this month with three-point defeats at Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
"We played well last year (at Nevada), but just didn't win," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "We had a chance in the second half."
Today's game is the front end of a high-stakes, two-game conference road trip for Hawaii. After playing Nevada, the Rainbows head east to face second-place Utah State in a nationally televised Big Monday showdown.
The trip is actually part of a grueling four-game stretch over the next week, which could go a long way in determining where the Rainbows will be seeded for the WAC tournament, to be held in Reno in early March. The 'Bows return to Honolulu on Tuesday and will have one day to prepare for a game against Idaho on Thursday. They then face San Jose State next Saturday.
In order to keep pace with the WAC leaders this weekend, the Rainbows will have to adjust to playing at the higher elevations of Reno (4,400 feet above sea level) and Logan, Utah (4,535 feet).
Prior to leaving Honolulu, Wallace ran the Rainbows through a couple of tough practices to improve their conditioning and work on fighting through fatigue.
"You have to be in shape, and you have to pay the price," said UH forward Ahmet Gueye, who became familiar with playing at altitude over two years at Salt Lake Community College in Utah.
"It's dry, and at high altitude you have to drink water all the time. You have to be mentally tough."
But after leaving the state, the Rainbows also left behind any mention of the possible impact altitude might have during the games.
"We won't talk about it and they'll just play through it, because the more you think about it, the worse it gets," Wallace said.
Both Hawaii and Nevada enter today's game coming off wins over Boise State. The Rainbows pulled away from the Broncos in the second half for a 72-61 win at the Stan Sheriff Center on Monday. Nevada picked up a win in Boise on Thursday, holding on for an 82-79 victory to halt a two-game skid.
The Wolf Pack, the defending WAC regular-season champions, will now try to avenge a 73-69 overtime loss to UH on Jan. 5 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Nevada forward Nick Fazekas scored a career-high 37 points that night, but the Rainbows were able to contain the rest of the Wolf Pack lineup and countered with a balanced attack to pull out the win.
Fazekas heads into the rematch leading the WAC in scoring at 20.9 points per game after posting 25 points and 11 rebounds at Boise State on Thursday.
Four UH big men took turns guarding Fazekas in the first meeting, with Gueye likely getting the first shot at trying to slow down the preseason WAC Player of the Year tonight.
"I have a big task inside," Gueye said. "He's a great player and it'll be a great challenge."
Following two solid defensive performances at home, the Rainbows lead the WAC in field-goal percentage allowed as opponents are shooting 39.8 percent against UH this season.
On the offensive end, Wallace said the 'Bows will have to continue to work on getting to the rim for high-percentage shots rather than settling for perimeter jumpers to sustain the momentum they generated with their last homestand.
With a short bench, the coaches will also need to monitor each player's minutes to keep them fresh late in the game.
"(Substituting is) our job. They need to play hard and we need to watch them," Wallace said.