Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, March 10, 1998

One and out was UH's fate in Las Vegas

NIT, not the NCAA. While not NIT-picking, it's disappointing. But there's no looking back for the University of Hawaii men's basketball team.

Coach Riley Wallace was disappointed that his Rainbows weren't an at-large selection in the 64-team NCAA Tournament. But only for 24 hours. "It's over with. Now you set your goal for New York City," he said.

Still, Wallace needed some comic relief to get over the disappointment. So, for laughs, he watched a video, "How Big a Boy Are you?", which some friends had sent him. The dialogue filled with down-home twang helped ease some of the pain.

He'll also view game tapes of Arizona State, Hawaii's first-round National Invitation Tournament opponent tomorrow night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

"Tough opponent," Wallace said. But aren't they all in the postseason when it's one-and-out time.

One and out. That's what it was for the Rainbows - both the men and women - in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament last week in Las Vegas.

Interestingly, both lost to teams that went on to win the tournament championship to earn outright bids to the NCAAs.

Wallace's Rainbows were victims of a first-round knockout by Nevada-Las Vegas, while Vince Goo's Wahine were ousted by New Mexico. Obviously, the only green of interest in Las Vegas is the color of money, not the school color of the Rainbows.

Actually, UNLV proved to be a double whammy for Hawaii.

LOSING to the no-longer Runnin' Rebels (they've resorted to a half-court game) cost Hawaii a 20th victory, which would have made it a likely NCAA at-large choice. Then, to rub salt in Hawaii's wounded pride, UNLV won the whole shooting match to join fellow WAC members Utah, Texas Christian and New Mexico in the NCAA field.

Utah, TCU and New Mexico were shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament, no matter how they fared in Las Vegas. Had UNLV not won the tournament, the NCAA selection committee might have chosen Hawaii as its fourth team from the WAC. Now, we'll never know.

"We just got the unlucky seed to get the home team in the tournament," said Wallace. "Vegas wouldn't have won if they weren't the home team."

Playing at home is a huge advantage as Wallace well knows. That's why UH does so well in the Rainbow Classic.

So with a decent ball club, UNLV has a built-in advantage thanks to the WAC making Las Vegas its championship city. But I wouldn't want it any other way. The WAC Tournament in Las Vegas sure beats holding it anywhere else.

Wallace is all for conference tournament play, even if UNLV proved to be the a double-down spoiler this year.

"The WAC Tournament's a money maker. And it's been good to us," he said. "We might have been one-and-out the last two years, but we've won it one time (in 1994) and went to the championship game twice."

THE WAC Tournament has been a real crap shoot. A roll of the dice. In the last 11 years, the top-seeded team or regular-season champion has won only twice - Utah in 1995 and BYU in 1992.

Meanwhile, the Wahine did get an invite to the Big Dance. But I imagine Goo is saying thanks, but no thanks as he looked at the dance card. If they beat Arkansas in the first round Saturday, the Wahine will play the winner of the Stanford-Harvard game the following Monday.

They're playing at Stanford. Guess who'll have the home-court advantage?

As with the Rainbow men, Las Vegas also did in the Wahine. Their loss to New Mexico hurt their chances of hosting a sub-regional. Too bad.

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

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