RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
'Bows' hopes are on the line
Hawaii believes it needs to win today to have a shot at the postseason
RENO, Nev. » As the Hawaii basketball team worked on the court to prepare for the Western Athletic Conference tournament, UH athletic director Herman Frazier has been working the phones to help the Rainbow Warriors extend their season.
The Rainbows (17-10) face New Mexico State (15-13) tonight in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament, and UH's postseason hopes could hinge on the outcome.
"This is it," UH coach Riley Wallace said earlier this week. "We have to win some more games if we want to keep playing."
UH plays the Aggies in the final game of the quarterfinal round, with tip-off scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Hawaii time.
Three wins in the tournament will send the team to the NCAA Tournament with the WAC's automatic bid. Short of that, Frazier has been in contact with officials from the National Invitation Tournament to present UH's case for a spot in the 40-team field.
Frazier said the school has submitted the paperwork for Hawaii's men's and women's programs to be considered for the NIT and WNIT, and put in a bid to host a game.
"This is the time of the year when the ADs have to lobby as much as you can," Frazier said yesterday. "I
have had conversations with the WAC and also with the commissioner. At this point, though, you won't hear anything until after the NCAA makes their selections."
The Rainbow Warriors enter tonight's game at the Lawlor Events Center at 17-10 and ranked No. 88 in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index. In Wallace's previous 18 years, Hawaii won at least 17 games 10 times and earned a bid to either the NCAA Tournament or NIT in all but one of those seasons (1999-2000).
UH last played in the NIT in 2004 and hosted Nebraska in the second round.
While UH may need another win to enhance their résumé, Frazier won't try to guess about the Rainbows' prospects.
"I'm not even going to get into that speculation that everybody else does," he said. "At this point we just have to play games and we'll have to see what happens."
The NCAA's field of 65 will be announced Sunday, with the NIT's brackets revealed later in the day.
UH had a four-year streak of postseason appearances snapped with last year's 16-13 campaign. The Rainbows have won seven of their last nine games this season to put themselves in position to make a push for an invitation.
"We want to focus game by game and definitely go as far as we can," UH junior Matt Lojeski said. "Hopefully, we'll be playing the postseason somewhere, either in March Madness or the NIT. We're just going to grind every game out and see how far it can take us."
The Rainbows can give Frazier more to sell with a strong showing this week.
With forward Ahmet Gueye out of the lineup with a knee injury, Wallace said he's considering shaking up the starting five, perhaps going with a smaller lineup against a guard-oriented NMSU team.
Regardless of who starts, he'll have to monitor the rotation and minutes to keep the players fresh playing at Reno's altitude (4,400 feet above sea level).
"They fatigue here quicker, so we have to rotate them out of there and I'll have to use my timeouts probably earlier than I normally would," Wallace said.
With a short bench, UH's starters have already endured the grind of playing heavy minutes during the season and will need to summon the energy for a few more in order to advance tonight.
Forward Julian Sensley led the WAC with 37 minutes per game and has gone to the bench for just one minute over the last six games. He's played all 40 in each of the last four.
Lojeski is right behind Sensley at 34 minutes per game and guard Deonte Tatum had played 40 minutes in the last two games.
"You have to expect to play 40 minutes," Lojeski said. "It's something we're used to, it's not that bad. With the timeouts it's not bad conditioning-wise."
Despite the long minutes, Wallace was pleased with the players' energy at practice yesterday and the 'Bows have already earned his admiration for battling through adversity.
"They've been very good," he said. "They've really been tough kids this year to get through everything that they have."
The annual UH basketball awards banquet will be held April 20 at the Hawaii Prince Hotel. Tickets are $45 per person and $450 for a table. For more information, call the UH basketball office at 956-6501 or Ken Takeuye at 782-1650.