Rally shows ’Bows’ growth
It was the kind of game that might have slipped away from Hawaii back in the fall.
Several times in a 4-8 nonconference slate, the Rainbow Warriors clawed back from early deficits only to fall short in the final minutes.
Those memories made Saturday's comeback win over Utah State all the sweeter.
"That shows that we've learned from that," UH senior swingman Riley Luettgerodt said after the Rainbows rallied from a 14-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left to score a 71-66 win that kept them in the thick of the Western Athletic Conference race.
"We've been in those situations, and there's a lot of games we didn't come through in the beginning of the year. But we're battle tested, we've been there, done that."
The Rainbows didn't have much time to celebrate after knocking Utah State out of first place, though. They hopped an early-morning flight yesterday to begin a week-long stay in California.
They play at Fresno State on Wednesday in a WAC contest. UH will then take a break from league play with a nonconference game at UC Riverside of the Big West on Saturday.
The Rainbows (11-12, 7-4 WAC) have a chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time this season and keep the pressure on the leaders in the WAC race when they visit Fresno's Save Mart Center.
Hawaii begins the week two games behind Boise State (10-3). Also in a five-team logjam are New Mexico State (9-3), Utah State (8-3) and Nevada (9-4).
UH will face a Fresno State team that has lost three straight, and the Bulldogs (11-15, 4-8) were swept on a road trip to Idaho and Boise State last week. The Rainbows beat the Bulldogs 75-62 in Honolulu on Jan. 20.
"They're going to be really a handful to beat at their place, but I expect our guys to come out and give a great effort," UH coach Bob Nash said.
"We can't afford to give any of them back. Obviously, going on the road it's going to be a little more difficult, but if you do it on the defensive end night in and night out you put yourself in a position where you can be successful."
It was on defense that the Rainbows found the spark that ignited their rally Saturday night, when they appeared destined to drop back in the standings.
Utah State shot its way to a double-digit lead, paced by All-WAC guard Jaycee Carroll's best game in Honolulu, and finished the game at 53.3 percent from the field.
But getting shots proved more difficult in the second half for the Aggies, who gave the ball away 12 times after the break. The Rainbows extended their defense and harried USU point guard Kris Clark into nine turnovers, six in the second half.
Luettgerodt finished with six steals -- a career high and the most for a UH player this season -- while Jared Dillinger and Matt Gibson had three each, and UH scored 24 points off of turnovers.
Nash said the Rainbows' defensive effort during the rally, "was as good as it's been all year."
"(The pressure) gave us an opportunity to get some steals, some run-outs and some easy baskets and got us right back in there," he said.
The Rainbows' rotation could be bolstered this week by the return of forward P.J. Owsley. The senior missed his third straight game while resting his injured right knee on Saturday. But he made the trip yesterday and might be available against Fresno State.