Utah State's head coach Stew Morrill takes one of the WAC's best offensive teams into the Stan Sheriff Center tonight.
’Bows look to close gap on Utah State
Along with most of the fans inside the Stan Sheriff Center, there figures to be a bunch of folks around the Western Athletic Conference pulling for Hawaii tonight.
The Rainbow Warriors can close ground on the league frontrunner and further tighten an already congested race if they can find a way to knock off first place Utah State and pull the Aggies back to the pack.
"We can get right back in it if we can win a couple of these games coming up," senior swingman Jared Dillinger said. "This is another big game."
The Rainbows (10-12, 6-4 WAC) enter the game in fifth place, but just two games behind the Aggies (18-7, 8-2), who are in the virtual tie for first with Boise State and New Mexico State. And tonight's 7:05 p.m., game could be pivotal in determining whether Hawaii remains in the mix as the regular season winds down.
"Everybody keeps knocking off each other and it'll come down to the last week to see who wins this thing," UH coach Bob Nash said.
"We're just trying to do what we can do, hold our home court, try to steal something on the road. If we continue to do that I think we'll be in the battle at the end of the season. ... We're right there. We have to control our own destiny."
Both the Rainbows and Aggies are coming off losses at Nevada. Hawaii hasn't played since suffering an 88-68 loss in Reno a week ago today. Utah State lost to the Wolf Pack 85-80 on Monday.
Hawaii has won its last four home games and will try to maintain its hot shooting at the Sheriff Center with one of the WAC's top scoring teams coming to town.
Guard Matt Gibson continues to lead Hawaii at 16.9 points per game and the 'Bows have shot 49 percent from the field during their home streak. They used the week off to sharpen their sets heading toward the stretch drive.
"We shored up some things offensively, added a couple of new wrinkles," Nash said.
The Aggies counter with guard Jaycee Carroll, the WAC's leading scorer and the favorite for Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-2 senior is averaging 21.8 points per game while shooting close to 53 percent from the field. He began the week fifth nationally in 3-point shooting (51 percent) and free-throw shooting (he's missed eight of 105 attempts this season) and is also the team's second-leading rebounder.
Dillinger will likely draw the man-to-man assignment on Carroll, who scored 26 points in Utah State's 86-80 win over UH on Jan. 3 in Logan, but the Rainbows may also mix up their looks to try to contain one of the WAC's top shooting teams overall.
"All I know is it's five guys against five guys," UH forward Bobby Nash said. "(Carroll's) a great player, but we're just going to play principled team defense."
Four Utah State starters shoot at least 52 percent from the field, and the Aggies took advantage of their size advantage inside in the first meeting with Hawaii with freshman forward Tai Wesley -- whose parents work at BYU-Hawaii and who has a sister attending Kahuku -- scoring a season-best 27 points. Forward Gary Wilkinson is Utah State's second-leading scorer (13.2 ppg) and top rebounder (6.4 rpg).
"What they do is they pass the ball extremely well," Bob Nash said of the Aggie offense. "They do a good job of finding the open and making the extra pass. If you break down somewhere, they find that shooter and they'll make that shot."
Whether the Rainbows will have senior forward P.J. Owsley available will be a game-time decision. Owsley missed the last two games since suffering a knee injury and has seen limited action in practice this week.
"We'll see how he feels (today), and if he's ready to go he'll go, if not we'll go with nine (players)," Bob Nash said.