SB FILE / DECEMBER 2006
Hawaii won the Rainbow Classic last year, defeating Creighton in the championship game.
Nash, Gibson are out to make Classic history
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The holiday season aside, the Rainbow Classic has been a festive time for Matt Gibson and Bobby Nash in their Hawaii basketball careers.
Nash, in his fifth year in the program, has played for three teams to emerge from the four-day tournament with the championship. Gibson has two titles and a Most Outstanding Player award in his Rainbow Classic history.
The seniors will try to add to those totals this week when the Rainbow Warriors (3-4) open defense of the Classic crown at the Stan Sheriff Center. The tournament opens Wednesday with UH taking on Louisiana-Lafayette in the first round.
Hawaii has won five of the last six Rainbow Classics and defeated Creighton in last year's championship game.
"It's an important time," Gibson said. "We need to have a good showing in the Rainbow and that'll give us a good momentum swing into the (Western Athletic Conference) season. Every game is important."
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Bobby Nash and Matt Gibson already own places in Rainbow Classic lore and will be chasing more tournament history this week.
44th Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic
All games at the Stan Sheriff Center
» Ohio vs. St. John's, 5 p.m. (KFVE)
» Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Hawaii, 7:30 p.m. (KFVE)
» Tulane vs. Saint Mary's, 5 p.m. (KFVE)
» East Tennessee State vs. Georgia, 7:30 p.m. (KFVE)
» Ohio/St. John's loser vs. Louisiana-Lafayette/Hawaii loser, 11 a.m.
» Tulane/Saint Mary's loser vs. East Tennessee State/Georgia loser, 1:30 p.m.
» Tulane/Saint Mary's winner vs. East Tennessee State/Georgia winner, 5 p.m. (KFVE)
» Ohio/St. John's winner vs. Louisiana-Lafayette/Hawaii winner, 7:30 p.m. (KFVE)
» Seventh place -- consolation losers, 11 a.m.
» Fifth place -- consolation winners, 1:30 p.m.
» Third place -- semifinal losers, 5 p.m. (PPV)
» Championship -- semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m. (PPV)
Nash has been a part of three Classic championships and would be the first player to contribute to four titles if the Rainbow Warriors can successfully defend their tournament crown. That would also put Gibson among a handful of players with three titles.
"I don't really think about those kinds of things," Nash said when asked about the possibility. "We just have to go out there and do our job."
The 44th annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic opens Wednesday at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Rainbows (3-4) face Louisiana-Lafayette in their first-round game. Repeating as tournament champion will be a challenge in an eight-team field that also features Saint Mary's -- ranked 24th in last week's national polls -- East Tennessee State, Georgia, Ohio, St. John's and Tulane.
"This is the big tournament of the year," Nash said. "You have Ohio that went into Maryland and won (last week). Georgia is always tough. Saint Mary's is ranked. That's what you look for.
"You don't have final (exams), you don't have anything to worry about, maybe some Christmas shopping here and there. But when it's Christmas time, it's basketball time. It's the best feeling."
Nash played sparingly in the Classic his freshman season, when Julian Sensley's late 3-pointer lifted UH over Fairfield in the 2003 final. The following year he turned in a buzzer-beater of his own, hitting a desperation trey in a semifinal win over Oral Roberts for one of the biggest shots in the tournament's history. The Rainbows then edged USC for the title.
Nash played in one Rainbow Classic game in 2005 before a shoulder injury led to a medical hardship season. He returned last year to average 12.7 points in UH's run to its fifth championship in six years as the Rainbows topped Creighton in the final.
Gibson will be looking to join a group of five UH players to have contributed to three Rainbow Classic titles -- Nash, Phil Martin (2001-03), Haim Shimonovic (2001-03), Vaidotas Peciukas (2002-04) and Milos Zivanovic (2002-04).
Gibson was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2004 tournament and has yet to experience a loss in six tournament games.
"Knock on wood, I don't want to jinx it," he said. "I'm always excited for the Rainbow. Family gets to come out, it's a good time of year."
Like Nash, Gibson missed the 2005 Classic during his medical hardship season. He averaged 8.7 points and six assists last year, and perhaps made his greatest impact in the final by getting in Matt Lojeski's mug after the senior passed up an open look. Lojeski went on to pour in 33 points that night.
"Lojo won that game single-handedly -- that was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. ... All he needed was a little push," Gibson said with a grin.
Setting the pace
After UH's win over Long Beach State last week, UH coach Bob Nash made a point to credit Gibson for keeping the Rainbow offense under control and organized when plays appeared to break down. Where Gibson might have bolted for the rim in that situation, he pulled the ball out to make sure the Rainbows got into an offensive set.
"I'm my toughest critic and I realize my responsibilities as a leader on the floor go way beyond scoring, stats, things like that," Gibson said. "The leadership ability is the most important thing we need right now.
"I know (in UH's loss at San Diego) a lot of it was my fault, because things went bad and I didn't change it. We didn't let the game come to us and that starts with me. The next game I really tried to focus on keeping my team under control."
Gibson acknowledged that taking a patient approach might go against some of his scorer's instincts, but "instinct isn't the same as wisdom," he said.
Guard Riley Luettgerodt sat out yesterday's practice due to a thigh bruise but expects to return when the team resumes practice tomorrow.