Rainbows leave problems on the road
UH will only get four more opportunities to make hay at the Stan Sheriff Center this season
The Hawaii basketball team's opportunities to play in front of its home fans have dwindled to a precious few.
With a month still remaining in the regular season, the Rainbow Warriors have just four more games at the Stan Sheriff Center left on the schedule, starting with tonight's meeting with San Jose State.
Hawaii Vs. San Jose State
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
So the 'Bows are savoring their chances to play in an arena where they're undefeated in Western Athletic Conference play this season.
"That's what I told our seniors," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "It's closing in."
Tip-off for tonight's game between the Rainbows (11-8, 5-4 WAC) and Spartans (5-15, 1-6) is set for 7:05 p.m.
UH has road trips sandwiched around a nonconference home game against Santa Clara on Feb. 18, the 'Bows' last appearance at the SSC this month. They'll close the regular season with WAC games against New Mexico State (March 2) and Louisiana Tech (March 4).
"Our guys come out and play with a lot of energy when we're at home and we find ways to feed off the crowd," UH guard Deonte Tatum said.
The Rainbows -- 5-0 in WAC home games and 0-4 on the road -- enter tonight's game fifth in the WAC standings, two games behind first-place Louisiana Tech. With the teams above them squaring off over the next couple of weeks, UH is looking to make up some ground.
"You can't lose any more and have a chance at (first place)," Wallace said. "Four (losses) is going to tie for it I think."
After starting a stretch of four games in eight days with a pair of road losses, UH got back on track on Thursday by posting their best shooting performance of the season in an 81-61 win over Idaho.
Hawaii shot 63 percent in the game, led by forward Julian Sensley's 22 points (10-for-14 from the field) and guard Matt Lojeski's 21 (8-for-12, five 3-point goals).
The Rainbows' depth took a hit against the Vandals when freshman Hiram Thompson suffered a concussion in the second half and will miss tonight's game. With Thompson joining redshirt guards Matt Gibson and Bobby Nash on the bench, freshman Dominic Waters and junior John Wilder could see more action tonight.
Waters and Wilder enjoyed their best games with the 'Bows on Thursday, combining for 18 points and hitting four 3-pointers between them.
"We're a very resilient bunch," Tatum said. "We've got a lot of guys hurt, but we're not looking to make excuses. The biggest thing for us is to play with energy and play with passion."
The Rainbows will try to maintain their momentum against a San Jose State team that has lost 10 of its last 11 games, and is looking to play the role of spoiler in the conference race.
The Spartans lost a home game to Boise State 77-75 on Wednesday before making the trip to the islands on Thursday for their first meeting with UH this season.
"They play great here, as a good program should," first-year SJSU coach George Nessman said. "You should be hell at home and they are. So we're concerned about that."
The Spartans, who lost to UH three times last season by an average of 20.3 points, have implemented an up-tempo attack Nessman describes as "a polar opposite" to the slow-down game previous Spartans teams often used.
With a smaller lineup, Nessman hopes the open-floor game can help the Spartans counter UH's height advantage.
"If we get into a halfcourt battle it's going to be a problem for us," Nessman said. "You can rebound more effectively against a bigger team when you shoot quicker because they're not as set and they're not as close to the basket, so you can get a lot more offensive rebounds that way.
"We try to run on everybody we play. It's what we want to do and establish as part of the ethic in our program, and I think it does help us against big teams."
Despite picking up the pace on offense, the Spartans' 41 percent shooting has limited their point output. Senior forward Alex Elam leads the Spartans with 13.5 points per game and has made a team-high 30 3-pointers.
Although the new style hasn't resulted in many more wins for the Spartans this season, Nessman is encouraged by the progress of his team.
"We've been in almost every game. We've lost an unbelievable number of close games, and it's part of the building process," he said. "You need to be able to compete before you can succeed. Our program is just learning how to compete. ... The next step is we have to learn how to win."