RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
Hawaii can't afford to take Idaho lightly
Rainbows coach Wallace expects the struggling Vandals to be troublesome on their home court
Getting to Moscow, Idaho, can be a challenge, and the Hawaii basketball team learned last year that leaving town with a win isn't quite as simple as the numbers might indicate.
It took the Rainbow Warriors (10-7, 1-3 Western Athletic Conference) more than 12 hours to travel from Honolulu to Moscow on Monday in advance of tomorrow's game against a struggling Idaho team at Cowan Spectrum.
HAWAII AT IDAHO
When: Tomorrow, 5:05 p.m. Hawaii time
Where: Cowan Spectrum
Idaho has just two wins this season -- both against South Dakota State -- and is the only WAC member still without a league victory. The Vandals (2-14, 0-4) are last in the conference in scoring and rank in the bottom half of the WAC in nearly every other statistical category.
Yet, they can be pesky, particularly at home.
The last time the Rainbows played in Moscow, the Vandals jumped out to a 14-point lead and it took a blistering shooting performance in the second half for Hawaii to escape with a 70-66 win.
More recently, Idaho nearly upset WAC co-leader New Mexico State last week, leading by 13 before falling short by five points in their previous home game.
And in case Hawaii coach Riley Wallace needed an example of a struggling team coming up big at home, he can point to San Jose State picking up just its second win of the season with an upset of Fresno State last Saturday.
"They've all gotten some players eligible and healthy and they're at home," Wallace said, referring to some of the WAC members who took their lumps during travel-heavy nonconference schedules. "They're getting home games now during league and they'll find some confidence."
While Idaho has struggled in George Pfeifer's first year as head coach, Hawaii has concerns of its own after dropping three of its last four games, including a heartbreaking overtime loss at home against Nevada on Saturday.
After running the team through yesterday's practice, Wallace felt the Rainbows had gotten past the disappointment and focused on stopping some now familiar plays they're likely to see again tomorrow.
In scouting Idaho's favorite plays, Wallace said the Vandals' scheme is similar to several the Rainbows have already faced this season. Now the trick is getting better at stopping them.
Solving the pick-and-roll was a sore spot after the Rainbows' loss to Nevada. And with another high-scoring guard to defend against tomorrow, Wallace said the 'Bows highlighted the play during their workout.
"We're working hard on that pick-and-roll where they get penetration and create a lot of problems," Wallace said. "Everybody with those smaller, quicker athletic teams, that's how they hurt us.
"We've seen it all against other teams," Wallace said of the Vandals' offense. "Just defending it is what you've got to work on."
Tomorrow's game will feature two of the WAC's top-scoring guards.
Hawaii's Matt Lojeski ranks fourth in the conference at 17.6 points per game, with Idaho senior Keoni Watson just behind at 17.3.
Lojeski leads WAC guards in shooting at 56 percent and ranks second in the league in assists with 4.76 per game.
Watson, a 5-foot-10 senior, is coming off a 26-point performance in Idaho's 74-56 loss at Utah State on Monday. Despite his efforts, the Vandals average a league-low 58.9 points per game.
Vandals forward Darin Nagle was close to joining the Rainbows last year as he narrowed his choices to Hawaii and Idaho coming out of North Idaho College.
He elected to stay close to home and the junior has averaged 10 points and 5.7 rebounds since becoming eligible last month. He also assumed the team lead in blocked shots with 13 over the last seven games.