Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, February 5, 1998

Numb ’Bows need
to get ‘feeling’ back

WHAT is this? Montezuma's revenge or something?

First, Hawaii couldn't beat San Diego State in football. Well, at least not since 1989.

Now the Aztecs have done in the Rainbows in basketball. I know, I know. The Wahine basketball team shellacked the Lady Aztecs by a total of 87 points in two meetings this season.

But we're talking about the men. AC, Alika and the Boys. The guys who beat Indiana and Kansas to start the season, soared to No. 21 in the nation and made basketball fans throughout the country look up and take notice.

You know what happened next.

The Rainbows went to San Diego State three weeks ago, giddy about being ranked for the first time in 24 years. The Aztecs pulled off an 81-72 shocker, and things haven't been the same for the Rainbows since.

That's where they began their slide. With last night's 76-67 loss to San Diego State, the Rainbows have lost five of their last eight games to drop to 14-6. With only six regular-season games to go, a 20-win season is starting to look out of reach.

The first loss to the Aztecs wasn't that painful. The Rainbows were still 11-2 and managed to remain in the Top 25. The game also was at their place and it's tough to win on the road in the Western Athletic Conference.

But last night's defeat, if not fatal, was a severe jolt. It came at home where you're not supposed to blow a 10-point lead in the second half. It came two nights after Hawaii's worst loss of the season, also at home, against Fresno State. And it dealt a severe blow to any hopes of getting an NCAA postseason bid.

NOW Hawaii's best -- and perhaps only -- chance is winning the WAC Tournament next month in Las Vegas. It can be done, you know. Coach Riley Wallace's Rainbows did it in 1994 despite losing five of their last eight regular-season games. They wound up winning three straight in the WAC Tournament.

That was a magical time for UH basketball.

This year's Rainbows had some of that magic to start the season. But now they've lost some of that winning feeling, according to Wallace.

They regained it momentarily in the second half of last night's game, coming back from a 10-point deficit to take a 10-point lead.

"That was the feeling we were looking for," Wallace said of the feeling the Rainbows had to start the season. Well, they lost that loving feeling, at least last night.

"We just didn't finish the game. We can't put people away," Wallace said. "It looked like we forgot how to win a game. The things that got us there, the real alert, together defense just kind of dropped at that point."

THE Rainbows played hard, especially Anthony Carter and Alika Smith, who combined for 45 points. But they played too tentative at times. They're starting to doubt themselves.

"They've got to remember how it was and get that feeling back," Wallace said

He thinks his players can. They've got a week off to think about things before leaving for a crucial two-game swing at Texas Christian and Southern Methodist. But all of the remaining games are crucial.

"They wanted to win and gave it a good effort," Wallace said. "But they're hurting right now. You've got to feel for this team because they're really hurting right now."

Wallace wasn't referring to the shoulder injuries of Carter and Eric Ambrozich. Or Micah Kroeger's damaged knee. Or Smith's sprained toe.

He was talking about the real hurt. The kind you can't see. The kind that eats at you deep inside.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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