RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
Early road tests for Hawaii Rainbows
Three-plus weeks of practice have been quite an education for the Hawaii basketball team.
The Rainbow Warriors will learn even more about themselves during an early-season schedule that puts them on the road for five of their first seven games, starting with tomorrow's opener at UNLV.
"We'll find out early," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "We'd better strap it up and be ready to go."
The Rainbows will open the season on the road for the first time since 1993, embarking on the 2006-07 campaign at UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center, just off of the famed Las Vegas Strip. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. Hawaii time.
Tomorrow's game is the front end of a nonconference series between the schools and highlights a hectic weekend for the Rainbows.
HAWAII AT UNLV
When: Tomorrow, 5 p.m. Hawaii time
Where: Thomas and Mack Center
Radio: KKEA (1420-AM)
The team left for Las Vegas yesterday afternoon and will have its final full practice today prior to opening the season against the Runnin' Rebels.
With their home opener against Coppin State looming on Monday, Wallace is planning to hold a short practice Saturday night after returning to Honolulu that afternoon. They'll have one more workout Sunday before making their regular-season debut at the Stan Sheriff Center.
"We have to adjust to the road quick and no matter win, lose or draw we have to get back here and get ready for another one," junior guard Matt Gibson said. "The season's starting, it's here and we're excited about it."
Hawaii and UNLV, which visits the Sheriff Center on Dec. 5, played a home-and-home series last season, with each team winning in their home arena. UNLV pulled out a 67-61 win over a cold-shooting UH team in Las Vegas. UH later returned the favor with a 78-72 win in Honolulu.
And as with most season openers, there will be a bit of guesswork involved in preparing a game plan on both sides.
"You kind of can go back to last year and you know Coach Wallace's teams are going to be well-prepared and they're going to play extremely hard and get after you hard on the defensive end," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "But like every first game, it's hard to know specifics."
If last year's games are any indication, the Rainbows can expect to face an aggressive UNLV defense that generates points off of turnovers.
The Rainbows gave away the ball a total of 39 times in the two meetings with UNLV, with the Rebels coming away with 11 steals in each game. Although they committed just three turnovers in the first half and 12 total in their exhibition rout over UH-Hilo last Saturday, the 'Bows are counting on having a tougher time getting into their sets tomorrow.
"I was watching the film of (the game) here last year and they put on some tremendous pressure," Wallace said. "Our guys won't just come down and set up. We'll have to have our press offense ready."
The responsibility for breaking the press will fall on the UH guards, who will have to keep their cool while being hounded up the court.
"Just relax and calm down," guard Matt Lojeski said of the key to handling pressure. "You don't have to rush it -- you can slow down, take care of the ball, make the easy pass. We don't have to do anything spectacular, just get us into the offense and we're fine. They want you to get pressured into trying to go too fast and get out of control."
UNLV features five seniors and was picked sixth in the Mountain West Conference's preseason media poll coming off last season's 17-13 finish.
The Rebels had 15 steals in their 70-37 win over Dixie State Tuesday, an exhibition game in which they started a lineup of four guards and center Joel Anthony. Sophomore Wink Adams, who averaged 10.9 points and was second in the MWC in steals last season, led the Rebels with 14 points on Tuesday.
"That's kind of the strength of our club, our depth on the perimeter," Kruger said. "So obviously we'll be outmatched size-wise and that'll put pressure on us rebounding the basketball and trying to keep them from the boards."
The Rebels added a proven shooter in senior guard Kevin Kruger, the son of the head coach, to the lineup. Kruger, a transfer from Arizona State, took advantage of the new NCAA rule allowing fifth-year players who have earned their undergraduate degree to transfer without having to sit out a year.
The 6-foot-2 guard left ASU ranked fifth in the program's history with 181 career 3-pointers and was an honorable-mention All-Pac 10 selection last season.
"It's great from a parent's standpoint to have the opportunity to work with him every day as opposed to maybe seeing four or five games in person if he was at Arizona State," Lon Kruger said.