RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Matt Lojeski ranks second in the Western Athletic Conference in free-throw percentage at 85.2 percent.
'Bows reborn at the line
An area of frustration earlier this season has turned into a source of pride for the Hawaii basketball team.
The Rainbow Warriors' struggles from the free-throw line proved costly in several losses and their shooting percentage as a team dipped under 60 percent a couple of weeks ago.
But with some extra effort in the practice gym and a few tweaks in technique, the 'Bows have pushed that figure north with recent performances.
UH's percentage from the line has jumped more than four points since falling to 59.6 percent after a win over Fresno State on Jan. 21. The Rainbows began the ascent two nights later by making 17 of 18 free throws against Boise State. In their last outing, the 'Bows made 18 straight on their way to a 19-for-20 performance against San Jose State last Saturday.
UH still ranks last in the Western Athletic Conference overall at 64.1 percent heading into a road trip that takes them to Boise State on Saturday and Fresno State on Monday. But the 'Bows (12-8, 6-4) aren't far from climbing out of the hole after shooting 83 percent over the last five games.
"A lot of guys come in early, stay late and I think that just helps," guard Deonte Tatum said.
"A lot of guys who were shooting poorly, including myself, we just took it upon ourselves. Even if you're a good shooter sometimes you get caught up in the moment, so you have to just go up there and knock it down the same way you do in practice."
Tatum has been one of the contributors to UH's improvement as a team. A 55-percent free-throw shooter in his career, he's shot 16-for-20 (80 percent) in 10 WAC games this season.
The senior said just taking a little more time before each shot has proven beneficial.
"I think a lot of our guys have slowed down," he said. "We go to the line and just slow down and be more patient instead of getting in a rush. Just slow down and really focus a little more."
Guard Matt Lojeski ranks second in the WAC at 85.2 percent, but hasn't attempted a free throw in the last three games.
Forward Ahmet Gueye (62 percent) has made 17 of his last 20, including all nine of his attempts on Saturday. Rather than tinker with his release, Gueye said an adjustment with his feet has helped his consistency at the line.
Gueye said associate coach Bob Nash noticed he'd set up for a free throw with one foot slightly ahead of the other and suggested that Gueye even his stance before shooting.
"It's like building a house, you have to have a good foundation," Gueye said. "You have to stay straight, have good balance. I've been trying that and I've been feeling really good. It was uncomfortable at first, but I trusted him."
The Rainbows missed at least 10 free throws in five games earlier this season, including a season-high 18 against Loyola Marymount. Gueye said UH's 6-for-18 night in a 67-61 loss at UNLV still haunts him and provides motivation to keep practicing his shot.
"I knew if we would have been making all those free throws we would have won that game," he said. "I still have that pain in my heart, so I keep working on it to get better at it."
Waiting game: Thanks to the WAC schedule makers, the Rainbows will have more time in Boise leading up to Saturday's game than the host Broncos.
The team was to leave for Boise this morning and arrive this evening. Meanwhile, BSU plays at Louisiana Tech tonight before flying back home from Ruston for Saturday's game. The Rainbows will have two full days in Boise leading up to the 11 a.m. (Hawaii time) tip-off.
The travel situation is a reversal from last week when Idaho arrived in Honolulu before the 'Bows, who were returning from Utah State. The early arrival didn't help the Vandals much as they lost 81-61.
With the early start on Saturday, UH will leave for Fresno right after the game and have a full day to recharge for Monday's game against FSU at the Save Mart Center.
WAC bites: Boise State puts a three-game winning streak on the line at first-place LaTech tonight. ... New Mexico State, which split with Utah State and Nevada last week, plays the same two teams on the road Thursday and Saturday. ... Idaho picked up its first WAC win with a 72-61 victory over Fresno State on Monday. ... Utah State set a WAC record by making 20 3-point shots against NMSU last week. Jaycee Carroll's 10 treys tied the league record set by UH's Trevor Ruffin against Louisville in the 1993 Rainbow Classic.