'Bows face tough task at Utah State


POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Hawaii men's basketball team finds out tomorrow if some early preparation pays off in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

Hawaii wasted no time in getting ready for its contest at Utah State this week, beginning to sort through the Aggies' myriad plays on Monday. The team departed on a red-eye flight last night for Salt Lake City, where it will bus to Logan, Utah.

While a victory in Logan would be a huge boost for the sixth-place Rainbows—both in morale and in the Western Athletic Conference standings—Utah State also has much to play for.

The Aggies (25-3, 12-1) have already claimed a share of the conference regular-season title and can win it outright for the first time with a victory over UH (13-13, 5-8).

Then there's the matter of protecting a 32-game home winning streak, the second-longest in the country behind the 39 of Kansas. USU boasts a 157-12 record at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum under coach Stew Morrill (92.9 percent).

Besides shock value to the rest of the league, a Hawaii victory would mean making up ground in the WAC standings in a place no conference opponent has won since the 2006-07 season.

The task isn't impossible; Hawaii dealt the Aggies their first home loss of the 2004 season in the opening round of the NIT. Utah State runs dozens of set plays signaled by assistants from a combination of flash cards on the sideline, so Nash is emphasizing sticking to defensive principles to keep his team in the game.

“;We're not trying to memorize their playbook. It's all about recognizing things,”; Nash said. “;We don't even know our stuff. So for us to memorize all the things they do, that would take too much. We're trying to recognize some of the things they do out of their sets, and try to limit it as much as possible.”;

USU has shown vulnerability on the road, where it has lost its last two. But in the Aggies' building, tuning out the crowd will be a must. The Spectrum boasts one of the more raucous atmospheres in the WAC.

“;They've got a crazy student section, and it's basically college basketball (at its finest),”; UH forward Bill Amis said. “;It's what you see on TV—crazy student section, lot of fans.”;

Amis will likely be matched up against USU forward Gary Wilkinson again, as he was in the Aggies' 67-51 victory in Honolulu on Jan. 24. Wilkinson is third in WAC scoring at 16.8 points per game and grabs 7.4 rebounds per game. He and postmate Tai Wesley are third and second in WAC field-goal percentage at 58.5 and 60.8, respectively.

“;He's a good player,”; Amis said. “;Right now he's one of the front runners for WAC player of the year and it's a good challenge for me to go up there and go against a player of his caliber. He's shooting (nearly) 60 percent from the field, so he doesn't force a whole lot.”;

After taking two losses in its last three games, Utah State has dropped to fourth in the country in field-goal percentage (49.7 percent) after leading the nation in that category for most of the year. USU still leads the WAC in scoring defense, however, yielding just 60.3 ppg.

Hawaii forward Roderick Flemings remains in second in WAC scoring at 17 ppg.