Northern Colorado takes Rainbow Classic title


POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

After a colossal meltdown, Hawaii had almost enough magic to rally for an improbable win.

But Northern Colorado held off a furious Rainbow Warriors comeback for a 81-75 win in the championship of the 46th Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center.

UNC guard Yahosh Bonner was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player for his outstanding defense and clutch play late. Hawaii's Jeremy Lay, Dwain Williams and Roderick Flemings also made the all-tournament team.

Lay had a game-high 18 points, Williams added 17 and Flemings and Petras Balocka 12 apiece for UH, which suffered its first loss of the season in taking second place in the tourney.

A frenzied crowd of 2,513 watched as UH was ultimately undone by questionable shot selection and turnovers against UNC's man-to-man pressure. The Rainbows forced particularly poor shots late when their flex offense stagnated, yet nearly redeemed themselves.

“;Unfortunately we came up a little short,”; said Rainbows coach Bob Nash, who credited the UH students and marketing department for lending the raucous atmosphere to the game. “;We tried to right the ship by putting more pressure on people and creating some turnovers, and got ourselves back to respectability. But we just didn't have enough left in the tank to bring it home. I can't fault the effort of this team.”;

The game was televised nationally as part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, and the teams delivered with a thrilling duel ending later than 1 a.m. Hawaii time. No team earned more than five points separation until the Rainbows (2-1) wilted when the Bears (3-0) of the Big Sky Conference turned their defense up a notch during a 17-0 run; a tied game at 52 became a 69-52 rout with 4 minutes left.

“;The difference was intensity. Theirs rose and ours stayed the same,”; Lay said. “;If another team rises their intensity we have to do ours. If we don't, that can be the outcome.”;

UH mustered an unbelievable 20-7 counterpunch fueled by manic fullcourt pressure and three deep 3-pointers by Lay. The transfer guard got it rolling on a steal and layup. Will Figures hit two free throws for UNC, but Lay came back with a four-point play to get it to 72-66 with 1:28 left. Lay hit two more treys and UH was within 75-72 with 34.6 seconds to go.

Leroy Lutu Jr. got a putback to make it 76-74 with 20.4 left, but that was as close as it got as UNC hit five of six free throws to ice it.

“;We're never going to stop playing,”; Lay said. “;It's not over 'til the buzzer rings. We all feel that way, that we could come back and win, but tonight it didn't bounce our way.”;

Williams put in 14 points by halftime, but cooled off considerably once the Bears switched the physical Bonner onto him in the second period. He finished with 4-for-16 shooting from the field.

“;I felt they just got a little more physical with me in the second half,”; Williams said. “;That's still no excuse; I've got to knock down open shots when I get them. (Bonner) was a little more physical, but I think it was mostly my concentration.”;

UNC earned its 1,000th program victory and its first tournament title as a Division I program. The Bears are 3-0 for the first time since 2000, when they were still D-II.

Bonner scored 14 points — including nine straight during UNC's huge run. Figures had a team-high 15, Chris Kaba added 12 and Neal Kingman 10 for the Bears.

“;I'm really proud of our team. We showed some grit out there, and played really well in the second half,”; said UNC coach Tad Boyle. “;We let them get back in, but you have to give Hawaii credit — they hit some tough shots.

“;With all due respect to Hawaii, I just thought we out-executed them in the second half,”; Boyle added. “;Yahosh Bonner just changes the game defensively. There's not many guys in college basketball you can say changes a game defensively, but he's one of them. Our pressure starts with him.”;

The Rainbows haven't won the Classic since 2006, when they bested Creighton in the title game. The tourney was reformatted to a four-team, round-robin event this season to make room for the new Diamond Head Classic.

UH fell to 1-1 in the ESPN Marathon games; it beat Idaho State in overtime in the inaugural year of 2008.