By Paul Arnett

Friday, December 26, 1997

Classic gives UH
chance to show it’s legit

ONLY a handful of basketball junkies in the continental United States know the University of Hawaii has a high-caliber program.

That's what happens when you schedule all your nonconference games at home after everyone in North America is already fast asleep.

Fortunately for head coach Riley Wallace, he has the opportunity to get the word out to the rest of the nation in the upcoming Rainbow Classic.

Not only does the quality of opponent improve -- at this point, Hawaii's schedule ranks about 200th in the country in difficulty -- the semifinals and final will be broadcast on ESPN.

Folks around town are penciling in Hawaii and second-ranked Kansas for the Dec. 30 finale, but looking too far into the future could get both teams in trouble.

For one, the Jayhawks seem to enjoy living on the edge. They won several games with second-half comebacks and last-second heroics before Maryland caught them napping in an 86-83 upset nearly three weeks ago.

Kansas even had a hard time securing a 74-69 win over Southern California earlier this week, so it's not as if the Jayhawks are some invincible juggernaut.

As for Hawaii, the Rainbows open with Western Athletic Conference rival Brigham Young University tomorrow night at the Special Events Arena.

GRANTED, the Cougars resemble an old toothless cat snoozing in a corner cage at the zoo, but they're rapidly improving from last year's 1-25 disaster.

And Hawaii has had trouble making it to the final of the Rainbow Classic this decade. The last time that happened was in 1993, when Louisville held on for an 85-79 win at Blaisdell Arena.

You have to go back to the Ray Reed era to find the last time Hawaii won the Rainbow Classic. That December night in 1990, Reed scored 35 points as UH stunned No. 11 Pittsburgh, 84-82. It was the first time Hawaii had won the eight-team tournament since 1973.

For the Rainbows to win it a third time in 24 years, oft-injured guards Anthony Carter and Alika Smith will have to handle the grind of playing three games in four days.

That might not be too difficult for Carter, who seems to have adjusted to his shoulder and knee injuries. But Smith is another matter. You don't need a degree in medicine to know his sprained big toe hampered the senior off-guard in wins over Texas Southern and Santa Clara last weekend.

He shot 46 percent from the field in the first five games of the season. That percentage dropped to 40 percent (10-for-25) in the last two, with most of those field goals coming from close range.

SMITH'S jump shots kept falling short last weekend, a sure sign that the big toe is far from healed. But give the senior credit. His 32 points allowed him to become one of only seven Rainbows to crack the 1,000-point barrier in career scoring.

Hawaii's banged up backcourt must continue to produce, but if the post men don't deliver down low, the Rainbows can mail it in should they face the Jayhawks.

Kansas forwards Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz are the real deal. Hawaii's Eric Ambrozich, Michael Robinson and Erin Galloway haven't faced anyone with the quickness and power of this tandem. They combined for 34 points in the win over USC.

The last time Kansas was here (1992), the Jayhawks drilled the Rainbows, 94-66, before losing to Michigan in the final, 86-74.

They have a more difficult road than the Rainbows. Kansas has to play three games in three days, opens with Ohio State and would have to face the winner of the Vanderbilt-New Mexico State game just to qualify for the final.

Of course, this is Wallace's show, so he can stack the bracket. But should the two meet in the final, the chances of Hawaii beating Kansas are slim and none. And slim just left town.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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