’Bows hit the road with some momentum
Anyone who's crawled along the H-1 on a Friday afternoon can relate to the Hawaii basketball team's stop-and-go season so far.
Just when the Rainbow Warriors appear to get rolling with a couple of wins, the brake lights flash as they come to an abrupt stop.
Now with the Western Athletic Conference leaders just ahead, the 'Bows are hoping to pick up some speed heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
Hawaii has yet to string together more than two consecutive wins in a 12-8 season, often following up successful homestands with losses on the road.
The 'Bows will again try to get past another roadblock in their pursuit of the league lead when they travel to Boise State and Fresno State in the coming week.
After dispatching Idaho and San Jose State by lopsided margins at the Stan Sheriff Center last week, the Rainbows (6-4 in the WAC) enter the trip one game behind the three teams tied for first place in the conference.
"We know everything is in our hands now," UH forward Ahmet Gueye said after UH's 83-68 win over San Jose State on Saturday. "We have to take care of business at home and we have to get those games on the road."
Louisiana Tech, which has led the league all season, dropped back to the pack with losses at home to Nevada and Utah State last week. All three teams are now 7-3 in league play.
After a slow start, Nevada has moved back into contention with four straight wins, three coming on the road. Utah State and Hawaii are the only WAC teams yet to lose a conference game at home.
New Mexico State, which lost a home game to Nevada on Saturday, is a half-game behind UH at 5-4. The Aggies have road games at Nevada and Utah State this week.
Although a couple of new names are part of the race this season, the time-tested strategy for winning the WAC regular-season title and earning the top seed in the conference tournament remains.
"I said it at the start of the season, if you win them all at home, split on the road, you're going to be there," UH coach Riley Wallace said
The Rainbows fly to Boise on Wednesday morning and play the Broncos, winners of their last three games, Saturday afternoon. They leave town that night in advance of Monday's game at Fresno State.
The Rainbows are coming off one of their best weeks shooting the ball in beating the bottom two teams in the conference by a combined 35 points.
UH shot 55 percent (59-for-107) from the field, including 58 percent (18-for-31) from 3-point range, against Idaho and SJSU. The 'Bows are also threatening to move out of the WAC cellar in free-throw shooting after making 28 of 33 attempts from the line to raise their season mark to 64.1 percent (LaTech is eighth at 64.3 percent).
After the Rainbows made 19 of 20 free throws against SJSU, Wallace noted that UH's near-record night came without guard Matt Lojeski, who began the night as the WAC's top free-throw shooter, attempting a shot from the line.
"We've spent more time this year than we ever have on free-throw shooting because this team needed it," Wallace said. "The concentration's better, and they want to do it."
Said forward Julian Sensley: "I think the big thing is guys are coming in on their own before practice getting shots up. You just have to believe in yourself."
Hawaii was down to nine players for Saturday's game and nearly lost another when Lojeski suffered a cut on his left leg Friday night that became infected.
The junior didn't participate in the pregame shootaround, but with help from the training staff, he was able to play against the Spartans and contribute 10 points and six assists.
Wallace said freshman Hiram Thompson will be available for the road trip after sitting out Saturday's game with a concussion.
"We got through it -- good thing we were at home," the coach said.
Swat team: Hawaii's 11 blocks on Saturday raised the team's total to 119 this season, nine blocks shy of the school's single-season record. The record of 128 was set by the 1993-94 team, led by Tony Maroney's UH-record 103. Gueye leads this year's Rainbows with 47 blocks, followed by Chris Botez with 26. Matthew Gipson has 21.