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UH begins search for improvement


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POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon or Kyra Sedgwick available?

After a final stretch in the 2008-09 Hawaii men's basketball season that could only be described as disappointing, the Rainbow Warriors are looking for a few good closers.

Hawaii wrapped up its season at 13-17 (5-11 Western Athletic Conference) after dropping its final five games, including the Western Athletic Conference tournament play-in game against last-place Fresno State on Tuesday.

What might be remembered most about these Rainbows are the several games in which UH held leads in the final minutes, but had them slip away in a flurry of turnovers or bad decisions.

In the final seven games, UH dropped a heartbreaker at home against Nevada, an agonizing and critical loss at San Jose State and the play-in game against the Bulldogs in that fashion.

“;Late in the (year) we lost several games that could have been a big difference, and it just shows our youth and inexperience on how to close out games,”; second-year head coach Bob Nash said. “;And that's something certainly we have to work on as we go forward next season, to get closers and address those issues. This year's done, now those players will be a year older, understand the importance of every possession. So we just have to get a few more pieces to the puzzle and keep going forward as a program.”;

UH loses no seniors and currently has two scholarships available to offer to prospective recruits. Nash and assistant coach Jackson Wheeler recently returned to Honolulu after making some recruiting stops on the mainland following their season-ending loss.

There's a foundation to build on. The Rainbows were competitive in most games thanks to the pickup of junior college transfer Roderick Flemings. The 6-foot-7 junior swingman led the Rainbows in scoring at 16.6 points per game, grabbed 5.8 rebounds per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field against frequent double teams.

But when Flemings was heavily doubled by opponents, the question became: Who else could step up to make shots? There was no consistent answer this year. Junior forward Bill Amis was the only other Rainbow to average double figures at 10.7 ppg.

As is common in college basketball, the Rainbows were hit with injuries over the course of the season. Point guard Hiram Thompson (hamstrings) and forward Petras Balocka (groin) both missed considerable time, and Flemings and Amis were bothered with nagging ailments. The injury problem was exacerbated by a short bench.

“;We were not whole all year long, and when you aren't and you don't have people on the bench who can come in and play at the same level as your starters, then that's where the concern takes place,”; Nash said. “;Those are the issues we have to address—have enough personnel out on the floor who can compete for starting jobs. We need more than five people on the team who can get major contributions when called upon.”;

Three-point shooting is at the top of UH's concerns after the Rainbows hit only 106 treys (3.5 per game, 326th of 330 ranked Division I teams) at a 28.3 percent clip. UH's most prolific 3-point shooter was Lasha Parghalava, who only converted 27.4 percent of his long-range shots. As a result, teams sank back into zone defenses and dared UH to beat them from outside.

Turnovers (nearly 16 per game, 293rd in the country) also plagued UH, which had 89 more giveaways than assists and never really got its running game going. The Rainbows also didn't have a dominant big man to utilize in its flex-motion halfcourt system and stop beefy centers at the other end.

“;Obviously we need shooters. We need to shore up some post defense,”; Nash said. “;There's a lot of needs, but we also have some good players in the program. It's going to depend on how they develop as we go forward. This was a learning year for a lot of us.”;

An 8-4 mark in nonconference play was somewhat deceiving, as the Rainbows faced a slew of low-RPI teams, with the notable exception of Illinois on the road. Perhaps the brightest spot of the season came midway through conference play, when Hawaii held three straight opponents to fewer than 50 points—a first in the modern era for UH.

UH did improve its win total from Nash's first season—from 11 to 13—but Hawaii couldn't replicate the 7-9 WAC mark of Nash's debut campaign. This year's 'Bows showed flashes of ability but ultimately faced an uphill battle most of the season.