’Bows fell short too many times
Close calls result in Hawaii's first losing record since 1999
LAS CRUCES, N.M. » Hawaii's season seemed to follow the three-part pattern that defined several close-but-not-quite efforts for the Rainbow Warriors.
A slow start. A stirring rally. And, finally, a disappointing conclusion.
From the season opener against San Diego to senior night against Boise State and a few times in between, there were instances where the Rainbows clawed their way back from an early deficit to get back into contention only to fall short down the stretch.
Likewise, a UH team rich in hustle but hampered by injuries, recovered from a 4-8 nonconference slate to stick with the Western Athletic Conference's leaders midway through the league schedule. But the season ended with seven straight losses to close an 11-19 campaign, the program's first losing season in nine years.
Along the way, there were learning opportunities aplenty for the Rainbows and their first-year coach.
"Life is never going to just deal you a royal flush -- you're going to get some bad hands," Bob Nash said two days after a season-ending loss to Boise State in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament, "and it's how you play those bad hands that reveals your character."
After two decades as associate coach, Nash's first season at the controls was a constant stream of adjustments. The Rainbows went the first four games without point guard Matt Gibson due to a knee injury, lost starting center Stephen Verwers to a broken leg on Christmas Day, and forward P.J. Owsley played much of the year with a sore calf.
Gibson returned to lead the Rainbows in scoring, assists and steals on his way to second-team All-WAC honors, though the knee continued to bother him late in the season. Verwers' absence left the Rainbows undersized in the post and the team endured numerous scrambles when delays and cancellations altered their travel plans.
"Things happen and all I can say is my coaches over the years, Coach Nash this year and Coach (Riley) Wallace the years before, really taught us how to fight through adversities," Gibson said. "The way we travel and this year with injuries, that's what it's been, how much we can fight through, how strong we can be and how we can stay together."
Among the Rainbows' road adventures was the time their flight to San Jose, Calif., was rocked by turbulence and had to be diverted to Fresno. Weather delays turned a trip home from Idaho into a 20-hour odyssey. And finally, a canceled flight led to the team arriving in Las Cruces, N.M., less than 5 hours before tip-off of the regular-season finale against New Mexico State.
"Hopefully it's only going to make me a better coach that I know how to handle situations because I've gone through a lot of them," Nash said. "I think I'm in a better space having gone through all this my first year.
"You're just constantly on the defensive, having to fight to get things right. This guy's hurt so you have to mix this guy in. I've never had to play a game on 4 hours' rest. ... I've seen a lot of different things."
The Rainbows adjusted their style after a nonconference slate in which they were swept in home-and-home series with San Diego and New Mexico and went 0-3 in the Rainbow Classic for the first time since 1995.
After trying to play up-tempo early in the season, the Rainbows slowed the pace and put together a 6-2 stretch in the WAC. The run was highlighted by a 94-71 win over New Mexico State and a comeback from a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Utah State 71-66 to move to 11-12 overall and 7-4 in WAC play.
But the Feb. 16 victory would be the Rainbows' last, with the tipping point coming in the last 3 minutes at Fresno State on Feb. 20, when a seven-point lead dissolved into a 70-65 loss.
"We lost a game we should have won and could have kept us in the hunt and after that point I think our energy level dropped off," Nash said. "We gave some great efforts, but it was never the same."
Senior Bobby Nash played every position this season, starting at point guard when Gibson was out and ending the year in the post to finish second on the team with 13.7 points per game. Riley Luettgerodt provided grit and consistency with 12.8 points and a team-high 4.9 rebounds per game. Jared Dillinger, who appeared in just six games as a junior, emerged as the team's top 3-point shooter at 38 percent.
Sophomore forward Bill Amis led the class of newcomers, breaking into the starting lineup and leading the team with 40 blocked shots.
With seven seniors, four starters among them, leaving the program, the Rainbows will have a decidedly different look when they return to the court next fall.
"It's what every coach looks for, that challenge to be able to put a team together," Nash said. "I'll be looking to put our team together so we can give ourselves the best opportunity to be successful."
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Seniors Matt Gibson, left, and Bobby Nash led Hawaii in six of 10 statistical categories this season. Nash set a school mark for free-throw percentage.
2007-08 Hawaii basketball leaders
Matt Gibson, 17 ppg
» Rebounding: Riley Luettgerodt, 4.9 rpg
» Assists: Gibson, 121
» Steals: Gibson, 47
» Blocks: Bill Amis, 40
» FG pct.: Amis, .557
» Free throws made: Gibson, 112
» FT pct.: Bobby Nash, .879*
» 3-pointers made: Nash, 59
» 3-pt. pct: Jared Dillinger, .383