Matchup of mirror teams
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Hawaii and Fresno State have followed a few similar storylines to arrive at tonight's Western Athletic Conference basketball matchup at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Fresno State (9-9, 1-3 WAC) at Hawaii (6-10, 1-2)
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE Ch. 5
Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
» The Rainbow Warriors and Bulldogs enter the game at 2-2 in the WAC and have had injuries cut into their rotations.
» Both start all-senior lineups with their fortunes tied largely to their jump shooting.
» And both feature productive point guards running their respective offenses: Hawaii' has Matt Gibson and Fresno State has Kevin Bell.
"It's shaping up to be a heck of a battle," UH coach Bob Nash said of the 35th meeting between the schools.
One difference is the outcome in their previous games. Fresno State (9-9) arrived here yesterday following a 69-65 loss at San Jose State on Thursday. Hawaii (6-10) hasn't played since edging those same Spartans 65-64 on Monday.
Where Hawaii lost center Stephen Verwers to an injury last month, Fresno State has had its numbers depleted recently. It was announced Thursday that guard Bryan Harvey (10.6 points per game) would miss the rest of the season due a violation of athletic department policy. Guard Dwight O'Neil has been out since November with an injury.
Still, Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland remains upbeat entering tonight's game.
"I could probably be a basket case right now, just kind of like, 'What else can go wrong?' " he said. "But I like our guys, I love coming to practice."
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Before he first pulled on a Fresno State jersey as a freshman, Kevin Bell already had quite a history playing in Hawaii.
As the floor general for Los Angeles power Fairfax High School, Bell led the Lions to back-to-back Iolani Prep Classic titles, engaging in a few notable point guard matchups along the way. He won two duels with Iolani's Derrick Low, now a Washington State standout, and went head-to-head with Aaron Brooks, now a Houston Rockets rookie, in winning MVP honors in the 2002 tournament.
"Those were some of the biggest highlights I've had in my playing career," Bell recalled last night following Fresno State's practice at the Stan Sheriff Center. "(Low) is a great player and I played against some of the best coming over here."
Signing with Fresno State out of high school has meant continuing his annual trips to the islands, and the senior makes his fourth collegiate appearance at the Sheriff Center tonight when Hawaii (6-10) hosts the Bulldogs (9-9) in a Western Athletic Conference matchup.
Both teams are 2-2 in the WAC and are led by productive point guards. Hawaii's Matt Gibson has moved into the team scoring lead with 16.2 points per game and averages 4.7 assists. In four WAC games, those figures jump to 19.8 points and 5.3 assists.
Bell has been among the conference's top assist men in his career, but has picked up his scoring output as a senior with a team-high 17.2 ppg to go along with 5.8 assists.
But the backcourt battle will just be a part of the larger picture, as both teams look to overcome setbacks that thinned their rotations and keep pace early in the WAC race.
"I'm going to have to play hard this game, like I play every game," Gibson said. "That's my main focus. I don't really look at who the guy I'm going against is, it doesn't really matter to me to much. I think about the things I can control, and that's playing hard. That's all you can control."
Defending on the perimeter will be a key for the Rainbows as they face a Fresno State team that hoists more than 25 3-pointers per game. Bell's running mate in the backcourt, senior Eddie Miller, is the WAC's most prolific outside shooter with 61 treys in 146 attempts. Forward Hector Hernandez is also a long-range threat.
As for Bell, he's taken just 39 3-pointers this season, doing more of his damage with the dribble.
"He's a guy that can get anywhere on the floor he wants with the dribble," UH coach Bob Nash said. "The 3-pointer may not be his thing, but he can get three points the old fashioned way, by getting to the basket and creating a foul situation."
Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland said Bell's role has changed this season with the losses of Quinton Hosley and Dominic McGuire off last year's team and with projected starters Dwight O'Neil, Bryan Harvey and Rekalin Sims out of action due to injuries and off-court issues.
"He's had to assume more of an offensive role, his assists have gone down a little bit and he has to take more shots," Cleveland said. "If those guys are all here, it's a little different. He can distribute the ball a little bit more and not take as many shots. But he's been pressed into a situation that he's really never been in at Fresno State."
"It's not so much looking for my shots," Bell said. "I'm just looking to create more offensive opportunities for my teammates and myself."
Gibson described his role for the Rainbows in similar terms, as he's been given the freedom to create off the dribble if the offense stalls and either draw defenders to free up a perimeter shooter or finish at the basket. He's had at least a share of the team scoring lead in each of the last four games, and delivered the game-winning basket in Monday's 65-64 win over San Jose State.
Although the Bulldogs tend to spread defenses out with their outside shooting, Nash said the game isn't about one-on-one matchups.
"Our defensive principle is we play team defense. We don't rely on one guy to have to stop one other guy," Nash said. "We rely on team defense to be our savior."
Bell's backup at point guard at Fairfax was Jason Ferguson, who went on to play slotback for the UH football team before a knee injury curtailed his playing career. Bell said he and Ferguson have known each other since childhood and continue to keep in touch.
"I always look forward to seeing him," Bell said. "He's a great football player, probably one of the best to play at Fairfax."
Hawaii's WAC champion football, women's volleyball and soccer teams will be honored at halftime of tonight's game, with commissioner Karl Benson presenting members of each team their league championship trophies.
Each fan in attendance will also receive a poster commemorating the 2007 football season.
UH Alumni Association members can receive two tickets for the price of one, with a maximum of six tickets.
No balloons at SSC
Balloons will no longer be distributed to fans, starting with tonight's game. Under the WAC's sportsmanship initiative, the league addressed chants performed by New Mexico State and Utah State fans and also determined that the balloons, which could be used to produce squeaking noises, fell into the category of artificial noisemakers. Under NCAA rules, the use of noisemakers can result in a technical foul for the home team.