FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Julian Sensley has been key to Hawaii's recent success, scoring 36 points after halftime of the Rainbows' last two games, wins over Santa Clara and Idaho.
Rainbows hope that early bird gets wins
Moving up practices and taking extra shooting has paid off for Hawaii recently
The Hawaii basketball team has taken to early practices during recent road trips.
Now the Rainbow Warriors are working on getting off to faster starts in their games.
The Rainbows have fallen behind by double-digit margins in each of their last four games and battled back in the second half to win three of those contests.
Although the comebacks make for an exciting night at the arena, UH coach Riley Wallace could do with a little less drama.
"If you have to have one or the other you'd take the second half, as long as you don't get too far behind," Wallace said. "It was a little scary, because it was pretty ugly when they were up 14."
Wallace was referring to Wednesday's Western Athletic Conference win at Idaho, when the Rainbows trailed the last-place Vandals 31-17 in the first half and were down 10 at the break. It took a 71 percent shooting performance in the second half to erase the deficit and hold on in the final minute for the 70-66 win.
After avoiding a potentially damaging fall and securing their seventh straight winning season, the Rainbows (15-9, 8-5 WAC) look to continue a late-season surge against San Jose State (6-21, 2-11) today at The Event Center to complete their regular-season road schedule.
Tip-off is 1 p.m. Hawaii time.
UH is 5-1 in February and enters today's game fifth in the WAC, a half-game behind third-place Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.
With three games left, the 'Bows trail conference leader Nevada (10-3) by two games and second-place Utah State (9-4), which hosts the Wolf Pack today, by a full game.
Wednesday's shaky start continued a trend in which UH trailed by 13 at Boise State on Feb. 11 and by 12 a week ago against Santa Clara before rallying for wins. The 'Bows couldn't climb out of a 14-point hole against Fresno State on Feb. 13 and lost by six.
"It's a big concern because it's all defense," Wallace said. "I expect people are going to play us pretty tough defensively, especially at their home, and we have to get into our offense. But (the Vandals) were taking us off the dribble pretty easily, and that's a concern (today), too.
"They've got to show the energy, bend their knees and get down and play defense, especially on the perimeter."
The halftime break has energized the Rainbows in their last four games, as they've limited their opponents to 38 percent shooting in the second half while hitting 57 percent of their shots.
UH forward Julian Sensley has sparked the Rainbows' second-half heroics lately, scoring 36 points after halftime in the last two games. Guard Deonte Tatum is coming off a career-high 17 points against Idaho.
San Jose State was on the other end of a comeback in its loss to Fresno State on Thursday. The Spartans jumped out to a 12-0 lead, but eventually lost 87-80 for their fifth straight defeat.
In its meeting against UH at the Stan Sheriff Center on Feb. 4, SJSU erased an 11-point deficit to go into halftime tied at 33. The Rainbows then sprinted away after the break to cruise to an 83-68 win.
The Rainbows, who practice in the afternoon at home, opted for morning workouts in the days leading up to their road games at Boise State and Idaho and practiced at 11 a.m. again yesterday. They later return to the gym for an evening shootaround that includes some good-natured competition.
"We have shooting games, bigs (big men) against the guards, and they really battle each other and they talk a lot of trash," Wallace said. "So they're concentrating on their shooting and they want to win."
The extra shooting seems to be working. UH shot 53 percent in its two wins in Idaho, and Wallace said the team may try to keep the routine at the WAC tournament in Reno next month.