UH shifts focus from the injured Verwers to the New Mexico game
» Alford lays foundation for Lobos' fast start
A day after Hawaii center Stephen Verwers suffered a gruesome injury on the court, the Rainbow Warriors tried to turn their focus back to tonight's game against New Mexico.
New Mexico (11-2) at Hawaii (3-7)p>
» Today, 7:05 p.m.
» Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: Oceanic PPV Ch. 255
» Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
The Rainbows (3-7), now down to 10 players, returned to practice yesterday afternoon and face the Lobos (11-2) at the Stan Sheriff Center at 7:05 p.m.
"We've been making adjustments all season long, so I think our guys are used to manning up and doing what we have to do," UH coach Bob Nash said.
"I liked the energy level we had today and the attention to detail. Now we just have to play the game."
Verwers broke two bones in his left leg during practice on Christmas Day and had successful surgery that night. He was set to be released from The Queen's Medical Center yesterday.
"Obviously, he's got a lot of emotions going through his head," said senior Riley Luettgerodt, Verwers' roommate. "It's a tough way to end his basketball career here. But it sounds like he's doing all right.
"I told him I'll be his runner. If he needs something to eat or whatever it is, I'm here for him."
With Verwers out for the rest of the season, the Rainbows are down to four post players, with swingman Bobby Nash also able to contribute minutes in the paint. Senior P.J. Owsley was a starter last season and figures to play a more prominent role in the rotation. He had been coming off the bench this season while working a calf injury back into shape.
"It's not bothering me near as much as it did before," Owsley said. "I'm definitely back to where I need to be."
Alford lays foundation for Lobos’ new start
On the eve of his team's first game in Hawaii since 1999, Steve Alford credited a visit to another tropical destination for laying the foundation for New Mexico's hot start.
Shortly after Alford -- the former Indiana star and Iowa coach -- was introduced as the Lobos' new head coach last spring, the team took a trip to the Bahamas to play a series of exhibition games.
The week gave Alford a head start in putting his system in place and a chance to establish some ground rules with his new club.
"What we tried to do as a staff was to not compromise," Alford said yesterday. "We were going to stay with what we believe in and you're either going to buy in or you're not going to play."
For the better part of 16 years spent coaching at three schools, Alford's system produced winning seasons and 11 postseason appearances. Judging by the results 13 games into his tenure in Albuquerque, it seems to be working there, too.
New Mexico enters tonight's game with Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center at 11-2 and on a four-game winning streak. They rank third among Mountain West Conference teams in scoring offense at 74.5 points per game and second in scoring defense at 57.5.
"I don't think you could ask for a better adjustment period," Alford said.
Perhaps fitting for a team led by a coach who remains the all-time leading scorer at Indiana, New Mexico rates among the nation's top 3-point shooting teams at 44 percent, hitting a league-high 115 coming into tonight's game.
All 10 active players average more than 12 minutes per game, led by senior guard J.R. Giddens who paces the Lobos at 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.
"A lot's been said about the 3-pointers they shoot. When I look at them I think they play very good defense, they're well-coached, they execute, they get the ball to their shooters in rhythm," said Hawaii head coach Bob Nash, whose team absorbed an 89-60 loss to the Lobos on Nov. 21 in Albuquerque.
"That doesn't just happen by luck. They have a good system in place and they make things happen for each other."
Still just 43, Alford is in his 17th year as a college head coach, and moved west to The Land of Enchantment after a storied playing and coaching career cultivated in the Midwest.
Alford was a legendary high school player in Indiana, winning the state's Mr. Basketball award in 1983 after averaging 37 points as a senior at New Castle Chrysler High. He went on to win a gold medal with the 1984 Olympic team and helped lead Indiana to the national championship in 1987.
He broke into college coaching at age 27, when Division III Manchester (Ind.) College gave him his first shot. Then came a successful four-year stint at Southwest Missouri State followed by eight years at Iowa.
He compiled a record of 152-106 in Iowa City, leading the Hawkeyes to two Big Ten tournament titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances, but decided to make a change following the Hawkeyes' 17-14 campaign last season.
In New Mexico, he found a veteran team and a program looking to take a step up in the MWC.
The school completed its $4.2 million basketball practice facility last year and a $60 million renovation project at The Pit -- the school's venerable arena -- could start next summer.
"(Moving to New Mexico) hasn't fired me up any more, I've always been passionate about the game," said Alford, who picked up a win over Texas Tech and Bobby Knight, his mentor at Indiana, on Dec. 15.
"I think the thing is we've gotten everything in place. There's a major commitment to basketball at New Mexico."
With Alford on board, New Mexico might become a more regular visitor to the islands.
Alford and Nash said they hope to extend the series between the former Western Athletic Conference rivals, who will meet for the 57th time tonight.
"I think it's a great rivalry," Nash said. "To be able to play them on a regular basis, I think there's a lot of interest in that, so we'd certainly like to continue it as well."