RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
Lojo carries the load
The senior guard's importance to Hawaii is reflected in his and the team's statistics
Riley Wallace was in a reflective mood as he recalled the work ethic of some of the standout guards who passed through the Hawaii basketball program over his two-decade career.
"(Predrag) Savovic gave you more than he had. (Carl) English gave you more than he had, Mark Campbell," Wallace said. "(Michael) Kuebler, you loved. Trevor (Ruffin) always played hard. AC (Carter) was 110 percent. Alika (Smith), the same way."
HAWAII VS. IDAHO
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE, Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Promotions: All UH Alumni Association members receive two tickets for the price of one (maximum of six). The new members of the UH Sports Circle of Honor will be inducted at halftime.
Note: Saturday's home finale against Boise State starts at 5:05 p.m.
And Matt Lojeski?
"He's on that list."
Name a statistic, and chances are Lojeski ranks at or near the top for the Rainbow Warriors.
The 6-foot-6 guard from Racine, Wis., was expected to carry a heavy load for the Rainbows as a senior and enters UH's meeting with Idaho tonight leading the team in scoring, field-goal percentage, assists, steals and minutes. He also ranks second in rebounding, 3-pointers made, free throws made and blocked shots.
He's also been called upon often this season to defend some of the premier scorers Western Athletic Conference.
"It's not all about scoring," Lojeski said. "It's just nice I don't have to look at it as just being a scorer anymore."
Lojeski and forward Ahmet Gueye begin the final regular-season homestand of their careers tonight when the 'Bows (16-12, 6-8 WAC) host the Vandals (3-24, 1-13) at the Stan Sheriff Center. The two will be honored following Saturday's home finale against Boise State as Wallace also coaches his final home game on the UH bench.
"You don't realize how fast it goes," Lojeski said, recalling his debut against Michigan State in November 2005. "It seems like yesterday, the gym was packed, I was nervous for the first game, and all of a sudden now it's just a couple more games."
Both seniors joined the program last year as junior-college transfers and will leave as co-captains and the team's top producers.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Guard Matt Lojeski has not missed a start in two seasons with the Rainbow Warriors. CLICK FOR LARGE
LOJO BY THE NUMBERS
Matt Lojeski ranks first or second on the Rainbow Warriors in almost every statistic this season, including these:
||No. (Team rank)
|Points per game
|Minutes per game
After two years at Eastern Wyoming College, Lojeski hasn't missed a start in 56 games at UH, and has scored in double figures in 45.
He began his UH career by hitting six 3-pointers to spark UH's upset of fourth-ranked Michigan State last season. He also owns the Rainbows' top scoring performance of the season with his 33-point effort against Creighton in the Rainbow Classic championship game, when he made 12 of 15 shots, including five from 3-point range.
He enters tonight's game coming off his first career double-double -- 15 points and 11 boards against San Jose State last Saturday.
Regarded primarily as a perimeter threat as a junior, Lojeski has attacked the basket more often this season, increasing his scoring output to 16 points per game even though his production beyond the 3-point arc has dipped.
And there have been several times when his greatest impact came without having the ball in his hands. In two meetings with Utah State this season, Lojeski limited Aggies guard Jaycee Carroll, the WAC's leading scorer at 21 points per game, to a combined 24.
"When you sic him on somebody defensively he really concentrates on it," Wallace said. "Other guys will do it for a while and then they break down or whatever. He's relentless about it.
"If he doesn't make the (WAC's) All-Defensive team, then they don't know about him or they just haven't looked at their film, because he's one of the better defensive players in the league."
Like many seniors approaching the conclusion of their careers, Lojeski is quick to express how grateful he is for the opportunities he's been given. When Lojeski talks about all he's thankful for, there's a lifetime of perspective behind his words.
Lojeski's work ethic is rooted in a family life that taught him responsibility at an early age as he helped his parents, Tom and Debbie, care for his sister, Amanda.
"They've had to stick together as a close family his whole life," Wallace said. "You can tell they're very close. Really, really good family and you can tell why he is the way he is."
Amanda, 15, suffers from a rare neurological disorder in which she has limited feeling in her extremities. It keeps her in a wheelchair much of the time.
But her spirit is a source of pride and inspiration for her brother through the trials and triumphs of his college career.
"Throughout my childhood, I was always responsible for doing stuff with her and helping her out with things and helping my parents handle the situation," Matt Lojeski said. "I think we have a special bond that I have with her, and my brother and her. That's something not a lot of brothers and sisters share.
"She's getting a lot better and she's learning how to do a lot of things and take care of herself a lot more than she could before. Just watching her and the way she's striving and the person she's becoming is great. Her attitude through all of this is great.
"She's a huge basketball fan; she'll call me after games and tell me what I did wrong and what I can do differently. She's a big part of my life and I'm just glad she's there."
Idaho hasn't had many highlights in George Pfeifer's first year as coach. But one came at Hawaii's expense.
The Vandals' lone WAC win this season was a 76-75 victory over the Rainbows on Jan. 18. UH led throughout until Clyde Johnson hit a 3-pointer with less than a second left. Idaho has lost its 10 games since and will play eighth-place San Jose State in the WAC tournament play-in game next Tuesday.
"For a while, we were starting two freshmen in the WAC -- this isn't a conference you want to do that very often," Pfeifer said. "I do know that when we play hard we stay right with people. But our biggest problem all year has putting 40 minutes of basketball together where we play hard and we play smart all the time. We'll maybe do one or the other, but won't do both for a 40-minute period of time."