Rainbows shotblockers jam opponents under the basket
A height advantage and a penchant for looking out for each other has added up to a record season for the Hawaii basketball team under the basket.
Hawaii vs. Santa Clara
When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Internet: Audio, Sportsradio1420.com
Tickets: $25 (lower level-single seats only), $20 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
With five games left in the regular season, the Rainbow Warriors already own the school record for blocked shots in a season with 129. UH passed the previous record of 128 -- set in 1994 -- in Monday's loss at Fresno State, thanks to junior Ahmet Gueye's five swats.
But just as he's stunned opposing shooters by soaring for a block, the Rainbows' place in the record book caught the team's biggest contributor by surprise.
"I didn't know about that, but I'm pretty happy," Gueye said when he was asked about the record.
The Rainbows set the school record for blocks in a game with 13 against Nevada on Jan. 5, and their average of 5.86 per game ranks first in the Western Athletic Conference and 15th in the country.
"We're bigger than most teams, so we do get our hands on a lot of balls," said UH associate coach Bob Nash, who works with the UH big men. "Ahmet Gueye has probably a 7-foot wing span and great timing on blocking shots. Matt Gipson comes over and blocks some shots and then you've got Julian (Sensley) and (Chris) Botez. So they do put up an imposing presence on defense."
The Rainbows' next opportunity to add to their total comes tomorrow in a nonconference game against Santa Clara at the Stan Sheriff Center. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
UH's interior defense has contributed to the 'Bows limiting opponents to a WAC-low 40.6 percent shooting from the field.
Gueye (6-foot-7) leads the Rainbows with 55 blocked shots in his first season at UH. He is the fifth UH player since the 1979-80 season to amass more than 50 blocks in a season. His current tally is the highest since Haim Shimonovich's 62 in 2001-02.
"He's probably the most natural guy I've seen here at the University of Hawaii," said Nash, who also recalled Tony Maroney, Troy Ostler and Erin Galloway as some of the best to come through the program. "Ahmet blocks shots, but keeps in play. He gets the ball and we can still go on a fast break with it as opposed to swatting it out of bounds."
Where Maroney, UH's career leader with 173, accounted for all but 25 of UH's blocks in the 1993-94 season with 103, this year's record-setting performance has been a team effort.
Botez (7-foot), who led the 'Bows with 41 blocks last season, is second on the team with 26 while coming off the bench. Gipson (6-9) has 21, followed by guard Matt Lojeski's (6-6) 11 and Sensley's (6-7) 10.
"That's what we're there for -- three big men in the key down low -- to block shots and rebound," Botez said.
Having the big men clogging the middle can also provide a calming effect for the Rainbows guards.
"It's a good feeling knowing even if you do get beat and make a mistake they've got your back," Lojeski said.
UH should have a chance to be one of the WAC's top shot-blocking teams again next year when redshirt Stephen Verwers (6-10) becomes eligible and junior-college transfer Alex Veit (6-9) joins the team. The staff is also working on recruiting more big men for next season.
"Stephen is a big, big player, so he makes me work really hard," Gueye said. "Every time he blocks my shot, then I don't want him to score on me. So he gives me that mentality to play hard every time."
Hello, goodbye: Tomorrow's game caps a brief stay at home for the Rainbows.
After splitting their latest road trip, the Rainbows returned home Tuesday afternoon and took Wednesday off to catch up on school work. After playing the Broncos tomorrow, they get back on a plane Sunday for their final regular-season trip. They play at Idaho on Wednesday and San Jose State next Saturday.
No-name game: Although the UH-Santa Clara game came about through their inclusion in the BracketBusters pool, it doesn't fall under that title.
Only the 13 contests selected to be televised by ESPN and its affilates are considered BracketBusters games. The matchups involving teams not selected -- such as Hawaii and Santa Clara -- are simply considered nonconference games.
Four WAC teams were picked for the package out of 100 schools in the original pool.
RPI watch: UH's split on the mainland resulted in a jump in the Rating Percentage Index released by the NCAA this week. The Rainbows are 83rd this week, up from 88.
Nevada is the highest ranked WAC team at 31st. Utah State is 56th and Louisiana Tech 81st. Six of UH's nonconference opponents are in the top 100 -- Michigan State (10), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (41), Northwestern State (71), UNLV (90), Saint Louis (94) and Penn (100).