'Bows go for sweep at Fresno


POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A national platform could give the Hawaii men's basketball team a chance to showcase its much-improved defense tomorrow.

Or UH's game on ESPN2 at Fresno State could be a decisive blow to the Rainbow Warriors' late-season push up the Western Athletic Conference standings. Tipoff is 6 p.m. at the Save Mart Center.

Winning on the road has been a dicey proposition all season for the sixth-place Rainbows (12-12, 4-8 WAC), but they proved victory away from the Stan Sheriff Center possible with a one-point win at Louisiana Tech on Jan. 31.

Getting another one on the road—especially in front of a national audience—would be a big boost in morale following a one-point loss to Nevada at home last week. Then, UH hustles home for its BracketBusters game against UC Irvine on Saturday.

Hawaii has already bested last-place Fresno (10-16, 2-9) once, 69-43 in Honolulu on Feb. 5. The Rainbows held the Bulldogs to a wince-inducing 10-point first half, beginning a three-game streak of UH holding its opponent under 50 points in each contest.

“;They have a lot of pride on that Fresno team,”; Hawaii coach Bob Nash said. “;For us to hold them to 10 points in a half, I'm sure that's going to be bulletin board material for them to fire them up. I think they're going to come out ... young guys, and they're going to come out fighting. I wouldn't expect anything else from them. So we have to be ready to embrace that challenge.”;

In spite of its spot in the WAC basement, FSU has proven it can be a dangerous team at home; the Bulldogs took first-place Utah State to overtime on a three-quarter court shot before falling to the Aggies by six. In their next game at the Save Mart Center, the Bulldogs knocked off Boise State, one of the conference's better teams, 88-82 last week.

Fresno scored 45 in the first half against the Broncos after the 10-point half at Hawaii. The Bulldogs were competitive on the road recently, losing their last game in overtime at New Mexico State.

“;I expect a totally different team than what we saw here,”; Hawaii point guard Kareem Nitoto said. “;They went out and put 45 up in their first half of their next game. So, we expect them to play a whole lot better than they played here.

“;Maybe it was Hawaii, maybe they got overtook by the beach and that type of stuff. We totally expect them to play 10 times better than how they played here and we're going to play even better.”;

The Rainbows will likely need to do it again with defense, as they did in Honolulu in jumping out to a 24-4 lead. Fresno shot 26.9 percent and Hawaii also won the battle of the boards handily, 49-22.

Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland said in Monday's WAC coaches teleconference that his team has had trouble against more physical opponents such as Hawaii and Louisiana Tech.

“;We're just going to have to be way better rebounding the ball and we just struggled scoring against them,”; Cleveland said. “;So hopefully we'll get off to a bit better start but that's a huge challenge for us, and hopefully we'll play a lot better than we did over there.”;

The Bulldogs have shortened their rotation since the indefinite suspension of point guard Dwight O'Neil last month, leaning heavily on their new starting five of Paul George, Sylvester Seay, Michael Ladd, Bryce Cartwright and Nedeljko Golubovic.

George leads the Bulldogs with 15.4 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game, while Seay adds 14.7 ppg.

Roderick Flemings leads Hawaii with 17 ppg (third in the WAC) and 5.8 rpg. Forward Petras Balocka (9.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), who practiced yesterday, is questionable with a groin injury.