FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii center Ahmet Gueye had 20 points and seven rebounds against San Francisco on Wednesday night.
Semifinal pits UH’s Wallace against former WAC foe
There shouldn't be many surprises when Hawaii and Nebraska meet tonight for a spot in the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic final.
The Rainbow Warriors and Cornhuskers haven't met since a National Invitation Tournament shootout in 2004, but the coaches are certainly familiar with each other from their days as Western Athletic Conference rivals.
"I know what he's going to do, he knows what I'm going to do before we ever play," said first-year Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, who matched up with UH's Riley Wallace as an assistant and head coach at UTEP.
Hawaii and Nebraska meet at 7:30 p.m. in the second semifinal game. The winner advances to tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. championship game, with the loser playing for third place at 5.
Though it's been a couple of years since they last met and Sadler is now with a new team, both coaches expect to see some recognizable sets tonight.
"He's running some of the things he's always run," Wallace said. "His guys are going to execute and do what he wants them to do. He's a discipline-type coach, and he's got a lot with the man in the middle."
In a tournament rich in guard talent, the matchup in the post will be a primary attraction of tonight's feature game.
Both teams won their first-round games largely on the strength of balanced inside-outside attacks revolving around their centers.
The Rainbows will have to contend with 6-foot-11 Cornhusker center Aleks Maric. The junior, rated as the 28th-best player in the country and the third-best center by CBS Sportsline.com, led Nebraska into the semifinals with 22 points and nine rebounds against Wyoming on Wednesday.
Both UH's Ahmet Gueye (knee) and Maric (hip) are managing nagging injuries, but remain focal points for their teams.
"I love things like that -- it's definitely a challenge," the 6-8 Gueye said of the matchup in the paint. "It reminds me of last year. I was guarding a guy who was 300 pounds or something like that and 6-11, it was such a big challenge for me, but it made me better. So things like this are an opportunity to get better."
Maric's interior presence helped open up Cornhusker guards Charles Richardson Jr. and Jay-R Strowbridge to combine for 27 points and 14 assists in the first-round win.
"Because of him it allows the perimeter guys maybe to get more open shots than they'd normally get if you didn't have to be concerned about him," Sadler said. "Our first priority is to get him the basketball. But that's the first priority Riley's going to have, to keep him from getting it."
Gueye had 20 points and seven rebounds against San Francisco. Guard Matt Lojeski -- rated No. 50 on the overall list and No. 24 among guards by Sportsline -- made nine of 13 shots from the field for 24 points as UH scored 89 points for the second straight game after not breaking 60 in its previous two outings.
"We're putting up more points," Wallace said. "Now we have to work on our defense and keep from giving up more points."
Just two players remain from the teams' showdown in the second round of the 2004 NIT, Hawaii's Bobby Nash and Nebraska's Richardson. Both were true freshmen that year and didn't score in their limited minutes as UH pulled out an 84-83 win before a deafening "white out" crowd at the Sheriff Center.
"I pretty much remember the whole game," Richardson said. "We started off kind of slow, we were down 17 at halftime, and before the first media timeout in the second half we were down one.
"The crowd was so into it. We were used to playing away from home, but their fans gave them a lot of support and I think that was the main factor in them playing so well."