TONY AVELAR / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Riley Wallace coaches Hawaii in his final regular-season game at the Stan Sheriff Center on Saturday.
’Bows know they have emotional week ahead
Wallace, Gueye and Lojeski may play their final home games
Whether they've been in the program two years or 20, this figures to be an emotional week for the Hawaii basketball team's outgoing members.
Senior co-captains Ahmet Gueye and Matt Lojeski are preparing to play their final home games this week as the Rainbow Warriors close the regular season against Idaho on Thursday and Boise State on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Saturday's game will also be head coach Riley Wallace's final regular-season appearance at the Sheriff Center as he approaches the end of a storied 20-year tenure spent building the UH program.
Prior to the Rainbows' game at Long Beach State on Feb. 17, the trio got together to discuss the stretch runs in their careers in Manoa.
"We talked to each other -- me, Ahmet and Coach -- about how we don't have many left and we have to start winning some," Lojeski said. "Coach is realizing it's coming to an end, and we're cherishing this time and making sure we put everything into it. We want to go out with a bang, we want to make sure we play our best toward the end."
"I took them aside and said we just have to win," said Wallace, as the Rainbows look to remain in contention for a 10th postseason appearance under his command.
The Rainbows have won their last two games, both on the road, to enter this week's homestand at 16-12 overall and 6-8 in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Rainbows need two wins this week to break even in WAC play after beating San Jose State for the ninth straight meeting last Saturday. Hawaii, seventh in the WAC standings, secured the program's record eighth straight winning season with a 67-55 win over the eighth-place Spartans and will try to continue their roll at home.
Despite the looming end of their UH careers, the seniors are staying focused on closing the regular season on a high note and moving up the standings heading into next week's WAC tournament in Las Cruces, N.M.
"We try not to think about it too much, but it's getting more emotional every single day," Gueye said.
"It's gone pretty quick. I thought about this the first day I came to visit and here I am right now. It's been great, I'm really thankful for being around good people, and getting recruited by these coaches."
Lojeski and Gueye joined UH as transfers last season, quickly earning starting jobs, and continue to pace the Rainbows statistically. Lojeski enters the week averaging a team-best 16 points and 4.6 assists and is second to Gueye in rebounding at 5.6 per game. Gueye snags 8.3 boards per game and has scored in double figures in four straight games to raise his average to 12.3 points. He also has 58 blocks.
Both seniors did their part to extend UH's streak of winning seasons to eight with double-double performances. Gueye had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks against the Spartans, and Lojeski finished with 15 points and 11 boards.
Hawaii held SJSU to 29.7 percent shooting from the field as the Spartans went 7-for-30 in the second half. Opponents are shooting 39 percent from the field against UH, the second lowest mark in the conference.
The Rainbows will try to earn splits of the season series with both Idaho and Boise State. UH lost at Idaho 76-75 on Jan. 18 on a last-second 3-pointer, giving the Vandals their lone WAC win of the season. UH then fell at Boise State 73-62 two days later as part of a 1-5 start to the WAC season.
Thursday's rematch with Idaho tips off at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday's home finale is set for 5:05.
Accurate at the line: The Rainbows' proficiency at the free-throw line proved pivotal in their last two wins.
UH went 18-for-20 from the line against San Jose State to follow a 31-for-33 performance in the win at Long Beach State. The 92 percent stretch over the last two games raised the 'Bows' season mark to 73 percent, good for third in the WAC.
The 'Bows have been particularly sharp in the second halves of those games. They were 27-for-28 after the break at Long Beach State and 14-for-16 at San Jose State.