FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii point guard Matt Gibson scored 16 points and had five assists in Saturday's win over Louisiana Tech.
Gibson getting with the program
The junior guard has learned to control his emotions
Life on the court is a balancing act for Matt Gibson.
Hawaii vs. NMSU
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Tickets: $3-$26 Parking: $3
Promotion: "White Out" night. Fans are encouraged to wear white shirts.
Whether he's seeking the right mix of passing and shooting, or maintaining his intensity without letting his emotions blur his focus, the Hawaii junior's task is "all about finding that happy medium with everything," he said.
"I guess that's what growing up is."
A shooter by nature, Gibson has spent much of this season growing into the point-guard role for the Rainbow Warriors (14-10, 5-6 Western Athletic Conference).
Gibson enters tonight's WAC game against New Mexico State riding an upswing in a roller-coaster season. He totaled 18 points in a five-game stretch early in the WAC season, but has averaged 15.6 during the Rainbows' 4-1 stretch since.
"It's a long season, there's a lot of ups and downs, a lot of lefts and rights. The main thing is we're winning now," he said.
"He was trying to prove himself as a point guard and not the shooting guard and letting it fly all the time," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "Now he's more comfortable running the offense and he's looking for his shot, too."
Gibson earned WAC Player of the Week honors last week and is shooting 59 percent (13-for-22) from 3-point range over the last four games, raising his team-high total to 38 by draining five from long distance in UH's 74-50 rout of Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
"I knew I had to hit them -- I had six turnovers," Gibson said after the game. "I had to find a way to contribute."
He enters tonight's game averaging 10.3 points per game and is second on the team with 83 assists. He also ranks among the WAC leaders with 39 steals, though his adjustment to point guard has contributed to a team-high 75 turnovers.
Gibson increased his scoring output in recent games after getting a nudge from the UH coaches to look to the basket more.
A prolific junior college scorer prior to transferring to Hawaii, Gibson hardly needed any reminders to look for his opportunities when he led the Rainbows in scoring as a sophomore in the 2004-05 season with 13 points per game.
He played in just two games last season when a suspension and a medical hardship abbreviated his year. When he returned for his second shot at a junior season, he was given the chance to run the point, requiring a shift in focus.
"They told me I needed to pass more than look for the shot, so I tried to change my mentality," Gibson said. "And it got to the point where I was passing up some shots I was normally taking.
"It's hard to try to change from a position of shooting to passing ... and the coaches have been real patient with me and I appreciate that a lot."
Gibson had to earn the starting job in the preseason in a tight competition with sophomore Dominic Waters and the two continue to share the role. Gibson averages 26.8 minutes per game, while Waters plays 18.2.
With Matt Lojeski nursing a sore foot on Saturday, Gibson and Waters were on the court at the same time for extended stretches against LaTech and they both ended with 16 points, combining to make nine of 10 from 3-point range against the Bulldogs.
"It makes the game fun," Waters said. "Competition's always good to have. It makes you better, it makes you improve your game as long as you both go hard."
Waters got his only start of the season against Utah State after Gibson had an unexcused absence from practice. Waters played well against the Aggies and Gibson sparked the 'Bows with 18 second-half points in a 69-61 win.
"I had made an error, I had slept through a practice and got a punishment," Gibson said. "That's all it is, you make a mistake, you get your punishment and you go on about it."
It wasn't the first time Gibson was the subject of disciplinary measures taken by Wallace during his two-plus seasons in Manoa. Through it all, Wallace now sees a far different person than the one who arrived on campus.
"He's grown a lot, no question about it," Wallace said. "He was wilder and crazier when he came here and now he's settled down. He knows what we want, he knows what we'll put up with and what we won't put up with, and he's tried to work himself into it. It's all about growing up and maturing."
Gibson said being away from the game last season has heightened his appreciation of the game and the value of his experiences extend beyond the court.
"I'll be grateful for the rest of my life," Gibson said. "That man (Wallace) has altered my future. He had a big chance to make it either way with me and he gave me a chance. I appreciate it, I'm grateful for it and I'm not going to take it for granted."
Road weary: Both Hawaii and New Mexico State are in the midst of a quirky stretch in their schedules.
The Rainbows will go straight from the Sheriff Center to the airport after tonight's game to catch the red-eye to Salt Lake City. They'll then have a day to prepare for Wednesday's game at Utah State before heading to California for Saturday's game at Long Beach State.
New Mexico State closes a stretch of three straight road games tonight. The Aggies arrived here yesterday afternoon following a loss at Fresno State on Saturday. The Aggies started the week with a loss at Utah State a week ago.
They'll then have four consecutive home games before ending the regular season at Nevada. More significantly, they host the WAC tournament in March.
Second-year head coach Reggie Theus has the Aggies (18-6, 8-3) in second place in the conference. They're in contention for a spot in the postseason two years after posting just six wins.
"I'm very happy about what we've done as a program and what my staff has done," Theus said. "To have 18 wins right now ... and a chance to get into the 20s, and potentially even be in a situation where we could get an at-large bid to the NCAAs is, I think, a great accomplishment."