Rainbows look for a big win in Nevada
Hawaii has not beaten the Wolf Pack in nine visits to Reno
The Hawaii basketball team's bus ride from Fresno to Reno yesterday was much smoother than the last time the Rainbow Warriors took the land route through the Sierra Nevada range.
Hawaii at no. 15 Nevada
When: Today, 3 p.m. Hawaii time
Where: Lawlor Events Center
Leaving the "Biggest Little City in the World" with a win has been the far greater challenge over the years.
Hawaii (13-9 overall, 4-5 Western Athletic Conference) has never beaten Nevada at the Lawlor Events Center in nine meetings there and faces the 15th-ranked Wolf Pack (20-2, 8-1) today at 3 p.m. Hawaii time. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 as Hawaii coach Riley Wallace takes his last shot at winning in Reno.
The Rainbows' 5-hour trip on their chartered bus yesterday went without a hitch, unlike two years ago, when a snowstorm turned the trek into a 15-hour ordeal.
Following a 1-5 start to league play, the Rainbows have reeled off three straight wins, earning their first road win of the season with a 54-42 victory over Fresno State on Thursday. They enter today's game tied with Fresno State and Louisiana Tech for fifth place in the WAC.
Nevada, the three-time defending WAC regular-season champion, won at LaTech on Wednesday and returned home tied for the conference lead with New Mexico State, the only team to beat the Wolf Pack in league play.
"The thing we don't want to happen is because it's a nationally televised game we change our personality from what we've been doing the last three games," UH associate coach Bob Nash said. "We want to keep that same personality of relying on each other and let the ball find you offensively."
Everything seemed aligned for the Rainbows to hang a loss on the Wolf Pack when Nevada visited the Stan Sheriff Center on Jan. 13. But with Nick Fazekas out with a sprained ankle, the Wolf Pack relied on guards Ramon Sessions and Kyle Shiloh to carry them to a 68-66 overtime win.
Fazekas has since returned as the centerpiece of a potent Nevada lineup, bringing averages of 20.2 points and 11.6 rebounds into today's game. He posted 20 points and nine rebounds in Nevada's 79-71 win at LaTech on Wednesday, which secured the program's fourth straight 20-win season.
Hawaii will look to continue to keep up the defensive pressure that has spurred the modest win streak. UH's last three opponents have shot 28 percent (48-for-170) from the field against the Rainbows. Overall UH is holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting, good for second in the WAC and 20th in the country. Two games after surrendering just 15 first-half points to San Jose State, UH gave up 12 to Fresno State on Thursday.
"They've got shooters at every spot," Nash said. "We will play them a little bit differently than we played them in Hawaii. We got beat on penetration way too easy by their guards, so we've changed some things so that when those guards drive they won't have a clear shot to the basket.
"Fazekas is a big body, and when he gets the ball on the block he's almost automatic. We're going to give whoever's guarding him some help. We'll mix stuff up to try to disrupt their normal offensive flow. ... We want to be the ones who are dictating on defense by being very aggressive and pushing them into areas where they're uncomfortable."
Hawaii can't count on Nevada being as accommodating a host as Fresno State was on Thursday. The Bulldogs shot 23.6 percent from the field, including 1-for-24 from 3-point range, and the Rainbows won despite matching a season high with 23 turnovers and posting their lowest point total of the year.
"On those kind of nights you're going to have to rely on your defense and that's what we did," Nash said. "We relied on our defense to be our savior."
Hawaii's streak has coincided with guard Matt Gibson's resurgence. After scoring 20 points off the bench against Utah State on Monday, the junior regained his starting job on Thursday and led the Rainbows with 19 points and nine rebounds. He is averaging 17 points during UH's streak.
The Rainbows won on Thursday despite getting 12 points combined out of leading scorer Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye. Lojeski has been fighting the flu and Gueye was in foul trouble most of the game.
Note: Senior guard John Wilder will remain ineligible for the rest of the season. Wilder played sparingly for the Rainbows in his career. He appeared in six games this season and scored five points.