Nash: "We beat ourselves"
THIS one got away. That's the bad news. Maybe that's the good news, too.
The 'Bows took the blame for this one. Said they played terribly. They felt like they blew it, like they should have won.
"We just lost focus, you know," Hawaii's Matt Lojeski said. "We let the pressure get to us."
"Coach Wallace said it perfectly," Bobby Nash said. "We beat ourselves."
"We just weren't mentally into it," Riley Wallace would say.
Yes, Hawaii was in it, down to the final second, down to the final shot, up to the last bounce off the rim. It was 71-68, against a New Mexico State team that's now 19-6, a big, athletic bunch that can run you into the ground.
But it turns out that that wasn't it.
"It's not difficult," Nash said. "We just beat ourselves."
That's bad. But it's good.
This Hawaii team is angry because it knows how good it is, now. And these guys are right. The Rainbows not only could have won this game, but probably should have.
In the first half the Rainbows were killing them on both ends. Steals leading to drill-like dunks. Tough rebounding. Running the offense like clockwork. Smothering defense that ate the Aggies whole. Wow. This was a team that was dangerous. A team that could beat anybody. The conference tournament couldn't start fast enough.
But then, Matt Gibson got two cheap fouls, and so did Stephen Verwers, who looked so tired in his 2-minute stint you almost felt relieved for him that he could sit down and take a break.
And then Hawaii took bad shots and missed good ones. Let great passes get by them, couldn't quite stretch that last inch on second-effort plays. A Riley Luettgerodt desperation 3 tied it, whew, the Rainbows needed that. Needed it, it awakened them, then they got a P.J. Owsley dunk off a great Dominic Waters bounce pass. But then chaos again, another New Mexico State surge. At the break the 'Bows were down two points. More than anything, it seemed they needed the break halftime would bring.
Ahmet Gueye, who had played all 20 rugged minutes, already looked like the walking dead.
The Rainbows had given everything they had in a breakneck first half. That was the problem. You wondered how much they had left in the tank.
"I think the big game made us forget about what we wanted to do," Lojeski would say. "I think we just got lost in the moment."
But then a Nash 3 in the corner, coming out of the break. And then Gibson back in, doing that voodoo that he do. Making trouble on defense, driving to the hoop. Verwers, a nice pass for an assist. Then another cheap foul, but getting angry this time, swatting the next shot into the stands, Gibson chasing it into the Aggies bench. Verwers, then fouled going for a dunk, making both. A guy who in the first half had looked like he was looking for a breather was playing like a man possessed. By the time he'd gotten his fourth foul -- another cheap one -- he'd earned a standing O.
And Gueye, rebounds and putbacks. UH was fighting. It had found its legs in the locker room, its heart.
Verwers, a three-point play. He pounded his chest.
Wow, these guys have some fight in them.
They've got fight. They've got heart.
But when the game got crazy they lost their heads.
"That's what won (the Aggies) the game," Lojeski said, "was turnovers and points off turnovers.
"When we got the ball into our offense we got what we wanted."
For much of the game Hawaii actually looked like the better team. But then there was the chaos at the end of both halves.
"Overall it was just not a good decision-making night for us," Wallace said.
That's bad. But it's good. Because these guys know how good they are now. They know they can beat anyone. They know they should.
"Every loss from here on out is going to hurt," Lojeski said. "Because we expect to win every game from here on out."