Rainbow Warriors welcome time in the spotlight
Winning only twice in December didn't really bother anyone at the time.
The football team was spinning magic with its Heisman Trophy candidate and its eventual invitation to the elite BCS party. Colt Brennan and June Jones were front and center everywhere you looked. Folks were spending their life savings on an unexpected trip to The Big Easy.
They weren't packing the Stan Sheriff Center, that's for sure.
So when the men's basketball team lost all three at the Rainbow Classic, most Hawaii fans weren't paying much attention. But now that January has come and gone and the Sugar Bowl is but a fading memory, first-year coach Bob Nash and his patchwork quilt of a basketball team are starting to get noticed.
Granted, fans weren't hanging from the rafters at last night's win over struggling Louisiana Tech. Most of the time you could hear the combatants shouting instructions and plays to one another, no problem. But with the 71-57 victory over the bad Bulldogs, suddenly the Rainbows are tied for third in league play with New Mexico State, a team they blew out of the building Thursday night.
Heading into this week's one-game road trip to Nevada, the Rainbows trail Utah State by two games in the loss column - and the Aggies will play here in two weeks in what could go a long way in determining whether Nash's crew can make a real run at a conference crown.
The fact Hawaii is even entertaining such a notion after losing the opening two of the season and five of seven in December brings nothing but good thoughts for Nash. Sure, his team didn't look last night like the same squad that sent New Mexico State back to the mainland with a 23-point spanking on Thursday.
Too many times the Rainbows gave up easy baskets inside - LaTech had 34 points in the paint- and they still live and die from downtown. But Matt Gibson has matured into a good point guard who seems to understand when to dish and when to shoot. Bobby Nash, Jared Dillinger and Riley Luettgerodt provided some solid minutes at key points in the game. And even with all the injuries, the Rainbows are right in the thick of it as the second half of league play begins on a positive note.
The real problem is the league itself. With no proven star of the WAC show, it's likely only one team from the conference will get an NCAA Tournament bid. So even if Hawaii does win the regular-season league championship, it won't mean as much. What the Rainbows have to do to spin a little magic of their own is win the WAC tournament at Las Cruces, N.M., next month.
And that's a tall order, no matter how much improvement the team has made since those dismal days in December.
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at email@example.com