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Seasiders hope turnout is large at D-II regional


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POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

It doesn't matter how many opponents have been blown clear out of Laie this season.

Doesn't matter that Brigham Young-Hawaii men's basketball has received national respect all year and is ranked third in the country. Or that it stands among Division II powerhouses in many meaningful statistical categories.

No, to the Seasiders players, they're underdogs. They wouldn't have it any other way, and there's no convincing them otherwise.

“;We have something to prove to people,”; said BYUH's star player, junior forward Lucas Alves. “;That's how our team thinks, and you hear people around talking like that, so we make it (an underdog thing) to prove to ourselves and prove to other people.”;

BYUH (25-1) is riding a 22-game winning streak but has its first chance to prove its prowess in the postseason starting tomorrow against Humboldt State (Calif.) at 7:30 p.m. at the Cannon Activities Center in Laie.

It's the first West Regional hosted by BYUH since the 2002-03 season, when the similarly top-seeded Seasiders fell in a disappointing first-round game against Cal State Bakersfield.

Totally different team, totally different scenario, BYUH coach Ken Wagner insists. For one, this year's Seasiders don't need motivation from anyone but themselves.

“;There's different circumstances,”; he said. “;I think this team has been playing extremely well, have really set their goals to play well all year long. My feeling is, we always tell them, 'Be humble, but be confident.' I would hope that when we set the goals at the beginning of the year, they felt they could beat anyone. I think if they look at it that (underdog) way, it's a good way. It doesn't matter who they're playing—they're going to give it everything they have.”;

When the season was about to begin, Wagner felt good about the Seasiders' chances to make a deep postseason run if they could dominate rebounding (NCAA II-best margin of plus-10.3 per game) and shooting (third nationally at 51.6 percent overall and 16th in 3-point percentage at 39.3). The team has mastered both, and now the Seasiders could threaten to win it all. BYUH will play on its home court (where it is unbeaten) through the Sweet 16 if it can keep winning, then fly to the mainland.

The Seasiders started convincing themselves they could be good—really, really good—at the end of last season, when they lost to Alaska-Anchorage in the NCAA II West regional final, the farthest they had been outside of the NAIA. One more win and they would have been in the elite eight.

But at the same time, BYUH has suffered from a sort of reverse inferiority complex. The better they get and the more points they blow teams out by ... the more there remains to prove. The Seasiders are fourth in the country in scoring at a ridiculous 92 points per game and have topped the century mark eight times.

“;Amongst everybody else, we're No. 1, but we always have some goals and things we're working towards,”; said senior forward Jermaine Odjegba, who averages 7.9 points per game and isn't even in the top six in team scoring. “;We want to take that attitude, that we have something to prove to everybody.”;

With the injection of point guards J.R. Buensuceso and A.J. Reilly, the Seasiders had the tools they needed to run an effective motion offense in the halfcourt and gun up and down the floor when opportunities presented themselves.

Deadly wing players Tsung-Hsien (Jet) Chang, Trenson Akana and Nathan Sims know where to slash and spot up to maximize their effectiveness. Marques Whippy complements Alves in the post for a balanced offense.

It has led to an eye-popping 20 assists per game, and Buensuceso (6.2 assists per game) is even a finalist for the Cousy Award for the best point guard in the nation (regardless of division).

“;Our thing was, stay humble, stay hungry (last year at Citrus JC),”; Buensuceso said. “;I've brought that mentality over here. I mean, we've done some incredible things. Individually, and as a team collectively. But we're not satisfied 'til we get that banner up here.”;