JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii seniors Deonte Tatum, Julian Sensley, Matthew Gipson and Chris Botez will likely play at the Stan Sheriff Center for the last time today.
Seniors step up
The 'Bows got it together when the class of 2006 realized the end was near
THEY arrived in Manoa from disparate backgrounds, carrying lofty hopes and seeking a fresh start.
They'll leave the Stan Sheriff Center court tonight as leaders and friends, bonded by the experiences they shared in Hawaii uniforms.
Four Hawaii seniors close out their careers at the Stan Sheriff Center today with the Rainbow Warriors' Western Athletic Conference regular-season finale against Louisiana Tech.
Hawaii vs. Louisiana Tech
When: Today, 5:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Internet: Audio, Sportsradio1420.com; video, hawaiiantelmedia.com
Tickets: $22 (lower level-single seats only), $18 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Promotions: "White-out" game. Fans are encouraged to wear white shirts. ... Fans attending the game also receive free admission to the UH baseball game at 7 p.m. at Les Murakami Stadium
Center Chris Botez, forwards Matthew Gipson and Julian Sensley, and guard Deonte Tatum will be honored after playing their final home game, which tips off at 5:05 p.m.
"It might set in a week from now, a year, two years," Gipson said, staring down the end of his college career. "I'm definitely going to look back and be thankful for the time I had here, the relationships I formed and just the chance to play ball."
The Rainbows will try to extend several streaks in today's "white-out" game. UH has won four in a row overall and its last seven at home. UH has also won on senior night each of the last six years and is seeking its first undefeated WAC season at home since the 2001-02 season.
While Sensley is closing out a three-year run, Gipson, Tatum and Botez transferred to UH from junior colleges last season and finish out their two-year stays.
After scuffling to a 16-13 record, going 7-11 in the WAC, last season, the seniors formed the core of this year's team and have played critical roles in UH's late-season run. The Rainbows (17-9, 10-5 WAC) have won seven of their last eight games and enter today's matchup with LaTech in a three-way tie for second place in the WAC.
"The seniors have led the way, there's no question about that," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "There was a time during the year when we lost a couple games that they could have gotten down, but they never did that. They just went to work and really kept it going. It all starts at the top with the leadership."
While emotions tend to swell on senior night, the Rainbows know they can't afford to look forward to the postgame festivities too early. Not with LaTech (18-11, 10-5), led by forward Paul Millsap, in town and a high seed in next week's WAC tournament at stake.
"We can't get caught up in the emotion of it -- first and foremost we have to win," Gipson said. "We have to take this momentum that we have going right now into the WAC tournament and get to the NCAA."
Gipson and Tatum have started every game this season, while Sensley has been in the starting five for 83 of his 86 games at UH. Botez made the adjustment from being a starter last season to coming off the bench as the Rainbows' top reserve.
"Those three guys have stepped up," said Sensley, UH's leading scorer. "The year before (2003-04) you had five seniors and they helped the new guys coming in my first year here. Last year, everybody was trying to find their role. I think everybody put in the extra work in the offseason and came back with a positive attitude."
Tatum certainly made the most of his second season at UH.
"I'm definitely going to look back and be thankful for the time I had here."
After transferring from Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, he began last season as the starting point guard, but ended the season coming off the bench. The Rainbows signed a group of guards to compete for playing time in the backcourt, but the Milwaukee product emerged as the Rainbows' floor leader.
"Not a lot of people where I'm from get a chance to go to school, especially for free, or to play," Tatum said. "It's been a great experience for me. I've learned a lot from a lot of different people, especially out here in Hawaii. I got to see and experience a different culture, a lot different from what I'm used to."
Signing with UH offered Gipson a second chance at playing Division I basketball.
A heralded high school standout at Burkburnett (Texas) High, he played sparingly for Oklahoma's Elite Eight team in 2003 and transferred to North Idaho College for a year before finding his way to Hawaii.
"It's been a long, strange path, that's for sure," Gipson said. "There's been a lot of bumps and lot of curves."
He's been a fixture in the starting lineup this season and has been a part of UH's tall front line that has been a sizable obstacle for opponents.
Gipson has roomed with Botez for the past two years, but doesn't see the 7-footer from Oregon around the dorms much.
"He's full of life, doesn't like to be in that room too much," Gipson said. "He's always full of energy. I wish I had his energy."
Botez has channeled that energy into learning a new role for the Rainbow Warriors this season. He's given the Rainbows solid minutes in the post and energized the team in 30 minutes of action in Thursday's win over New Mexico State.
He averages just four points this season, but contributes in other ways, such as his four assists on Thursday.
"He's an offensive player in the sense he sets other people up in the offense," Wallace said earlier this season. "He's not a scoring offensive player with high numbers. ... If you move without the ball, he'll find you."
Botez ranks second on the team in blocked shots with 33 and has at least one block in 41 of his 54 career games.
"I'm just taking one game at a time," Botez said. "We have one more time being at home and running out of that tunnel."
While the Rainbows are serious about finishing out their season strong, they're also having some serious fun in their final few games playing college basketball.
"That's most important," Tatum said. "That's pretty much the key to how well we've been playing down the stretch. We got back to just enjoying the game and just playing. ... We're all just having fun and that's what allowed us to work hard and just take every day like it's our last."
50 CHRIS BOTEZ
Center / 7-0, 220 / Portland, Ore.
Last school: Chemeketa (Ore.) CC
Key stats: Started 27 games last year. Now averages 17.8 minutes off the bench as UH's top reserve. ... Second on the team, fifth in the WAC in blocked shots.
Night to remember: Nov. 23, 2004, scored 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds in his UH debut to lead the 'Bows to a 71-58 rout of Mississippi Valley State. Runner-up, 12 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes vs. Boise State on Jan. 23.
Points: 15 vs. Mississippi Valley State, Nov. 23, 2004
Rebounds: 16 vs. Mississippi Valley State, Nov. 23, 2004
Assists: 5 vs. Rice, Feb. 27, 2005
Blocks: 4 vs. Fresno State, March 4, 2005
Steals: 3 vs. USC, Dec. 23, 2004
25 DEONTE TATUM
Guard / 6-3, 170 / Miwaukee, Wis.
Last school: Indian Hills (Iowa) C.C.
Key stats: Is fourth in the WAC in assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play this season at 2.0 ... Has scored in double figures in seven of the last nine games. ... Shooting 70 percent (28-for-40) from the free-throw line in WAC games.
Night to remember: Feb. 22, 2006, scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting and dished out five assists in a 70-66 win at Idaho. Runner-up, 12 points, eight assists vs. Santa Clara on Feb. 18.
Points: 17 at Idaho, Feb. 22, 2006
Rebounds: 9 vs. San Jose State, March 8, 2005
Assists: 8 vs. Saint Louis, Nov. 26, 2005
Blocks: 2 vs. UNLV, Dec. 6, 2005
Steals: 3 vs. Nevada, Jan. 28, 2006
41 JULIAN SENSLEY
Forward / 6-9, 235 / Kailua, Hawaii
Last school: Los Angeles City College
Key stats: Leads UH in scoring, ranks sixth in the WAC ... Has missed just one game in his career. Has played at least 40 minutes in 24 games, including each of the last three ... Has topped 20 points in 10 games this season ... Fourth UH player with at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
Night to remember: Dec. 30, 2003, drained the game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime to give UH a 50-49 win over Fairfield and the Rainbow Classic championship. Finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Runner-up, 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting vs. UNLV on Dec. 6, 2005.
Points: 32 at New Mexico State, Jan. 14, 2006
Rebounds: 13 at Tulsa, Jan. 31, 2004
Assists: 8 vs. Coastal Carolina, Nov. 26, 2004
Blocks: 3 vs. Nevada, March 4, 2004
Steals: 4, vs. Nevada, March 3, 2005
4 MATTHEW GIPSON
Forward / 6-9, 225 / Burkburnett, Texas
Last school: North Idaho College
Key stats: Has started every game this season. Ranks ninth in the WAC in rebounding, 10th in blocked shots.
Night to remember: Dec. 22, 2004, Scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a dramatic 55-54 win over Oral Roberts in the semifinals of the 2004 Rainbow Classic. Runner-up, 16 points, 12 rebounds at UNLV on Nov. 22.
Points: 19 vs. Oral Roberts, Dec. 22, 2004
Rebounds: 13 vs. North Carolina A&T, Dec. 27, 2005
Assists: 4 vs. San Jose State, Feb. 4, 2006
Blocks: 5 vs. Nevada, Jan. 5, 2006
Steals: 5 vs. SMU, Jan. 13, 2005