Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 6, 1999

R A I N B O W _ B A S K E T B A L L

WAC set
for final fling
with 16 teams

Hawaii will have to
improve to contend

By Pat Bigold


The University of Hawaii opens its Western Athletic Conference basketball season tomorrow in El Paso, Texas, with a grab-bag future.

A team still trying to find its identity, the Rainbows (3-9) are off to their slowest start since the 1993-94 season.

Hawaii plays the University of Texas-El Paso tomorrow night and then concludes its first road trip with a game at No. 15 New Mexico on Saturday. The Rainbows' WAC home opener will be against last season's national runner-up, Utah, on Jan. 16.

Rainbows head coach Riley Wallace (179-161 in 12th year at Hawaii), who is coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, is still juggling his lineup looking for a better combination after a disappointing nonconference campaign.

Forward Mike Robinson, who leads the team scoring with 12.5 points per game, has been moved to small forward to make better use of his scoring talents.

Forward Erin Galloway said Hawaii is at a crossroads.

''We're at a point where we can make this into a good season or a worse one than it is now," he said. ''We're willing to work hard and the new guys are willing to bring a little more to the table. Whatever we've got, we're ready to spill it, because we're tired of losing."

Galloway has had a difficult start. He is averaging only 5.8 points a game.

Junior guard Casey Cartwright has been scoring at an 11.6-ppg clip. Junior college transfer Marquette Alexander, at 6-9 the second tallest Rainbow behind 7-0 reserve center Bryan Moeller, is averaging 11.2 points per game.

Wallace is being patient, waiting for his team to jell.

''You just have to work with these kids and get up to as high a level as you can," said Wallace.

He said the team lacks both physical strength and a consistent perimeter shooting game.

Wallace has insisted the Rainbows need to get out of the blocks faster in each game.

As the Rainbows seek their identity as a basketball team, the WAC is on the verge of redefining its identity.

This will be the last season that the WAC operates with 16 teams. Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, Utah, and Wyoming are due to secede and form their own conference next season.


Utah Utes

Coach: Rick Majerus (10th season, 220-63)

1997-98 record: 12-2, 1st Mountain Division.

Non-conference record: 10-4.

WAC record: 0-0

Key returnees: Andre Miller 6-2, 203, Sr., PG, 14.2 ppg; Hanno Mottola, 6-10, 240, Jr., F, 12.5 ppg; Alex Jensen, 6-7, 215, Jr., F, 6.8 ppg; Nate Althoff, 6-11, 245, So., C, 1.8 ppg.

Top newcomers: Tony Harvey, 6-6, 205, Jr., F; Phil Cullen, 6-9, 200, Fr., C/F; Tyson Johnston, 6-10, 233, Fr., C/F. Brad Crockett, 6-4, 208, Fr., F.

The Utes, who lost in the NCAA championship to Kentucky, are favored to top the Pacific Division this season after taking the Mountain Division title the previous two years.

Majerus returns one of the nation's best point guards in Andre Miller, who passed up a chance last year to enter the NBA draft.

The Utes have had a good nonconference run and entered the week leading the WAC in scoring defense (55.3 ppg) and rebound margin (7.9).

New Mexico Lobos

Coach: Dave Bliss (11th year, 233-101)

1997-98 record: 11-3, 2nd, Mountain Division

Nonconference record: 12-2

WAC record: 0-1

Key returnees: Kenny Thomas, 6-8, 260, Sr., C, 16.8 ppg; Lamont Long, 6-4, 190, Jr., G, 14.1 ppg; Kevin Henry 6-3, 185, So., G, 5.9 ppg; Greg Davis, 6-9, 205, So., F, 2.0

Top newcomer: Damion Walker, 6-7, 225, Jr., F.

The Lobos are currently ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll.

All-American post performer Thomas, who served out an ineligibility sanction early in the season, is critical to New Mexico's hopes.

Thomas, a two-time MVP of the WAC tournament, averaged 19.5 ppg and 11 rebounds over the first 14 games of this season. He leads a wide-bodied Lobo low-post defense that will be hard to penetrate.

Also crucial to the Lobos is the return from injury of Long, who also averaged 19.5 ppg in the nonconference schedule.

The Lobos lost their WAC opener at Fresno State Monday night, 86-80.

Fresno State Bulldogs

Coach: Jerry Tarkanian (4th year, 75-41)

1997-98 record: 10-4, 2nd Pacific Division

Nonconference record: 11-5

WAC record: 1-0

Top returnees: Chris Herren, 6-3, 185, Sr., PG, 15.6 ppg; Terrance Roberson, 6-7, 215, Sr., F, 14.6 ppg; Demetrius Porter, 6-0, 170, So., G, 3.1 ppg; Larry Abney, 6-8, 220, Jr., F/C, 5.5 ppg.

Top newcomers: Melvin Ely, 6-11, 240, So., C; Courtney Alexander, 6-5, 200, Jr., G.

Herren, one of the best in the nation at penetrating the lane, returned from an ankle injury to play a role in the WAC-opening win against New Mexico. He passed up a chance to play in the NBA to rejoin Tarkanian.

Herren and strong forward Anderson provide the leadership for a solid team that's bolstered by the addition of Virginia transfer shooting guard Alexander to the starting lineup. Herren has moved to point guard.

The Bulldogs, who had five players averaging in double digits last season, will once again rely on their wide-open game on offense. On defense, they led the WAC in steals and blocks last year.

UTEP Miners

Coach: Don Haskins (38th year, 711-346)

1997-98 record: 3-11, 7th Mountain Division

Non conference record: 8-5.

WAC record: 0-0

Top returnees: Sharif Fajardo, 6-8, 225, Sr., F/C, 15.4 ppg; William Smith, 6-3, 195, Jr., G/F, 12.6 ppg; Brandon Wolfram, 6-8, 220, So., F, 6.8 ppg.

Top newcomers: Winfred McCrae, 6-1, 175, Jr., PG; Jarvis Mullahon, 6-4, 195, Jr., G, Damond Gregory, 6-9, 235, So, F.

The Miners, led by the 10th winningest Division I coach of all time, had a six-game win streak stopped by Detroit in the championship of the Sierra Providence Sun Classic.

Fajardo has topped double figures 11 times this season while Wolfram has done it nine times.

UTEP has also been effective on the boards this season, outrebounding opponents eight times in 13 games.

Gregory became eligible three games ago and might give the Miners needed inside help.

Brigham Young Cougars

Coach: Steve Cleveland, 2nd year, 14-28.

1997-98 record: 4-10, 6th Mountain Division

Nonconference record: 5-7

WAC record: 0-0

Top returnees: Mekeli Wesley, 6-9, 243, So., 13.5 ppg; Todd Christensen, 6-1, 165, So, G, 4.6 ppg; Bret Jepsen, 6-11, 245, Jr., C, 2.9 ppg; Danny Bower, 6-4, 180, Sr., G, 11.2 ppg.

Top newcomers: Silester Rivers, 6-7, 230, Jr., F; Michael Vranes, 6-3, 180, Fr., G.

The Cougars lost top scorer Ron Selleaze and point guard Mike Garrett for the season when both were suspended for smoking marijuana.

Power forward Wesley, an All-WAC candidate who is the top returning scorer, leads a team of question marks into the season. Wesley, who uses his body well under the basket, was the only Cougar who shot over 41 percent last season.

Jepsen could be a formidable force in the middle.

Rivers, a transfer from Utah Valley State College, averaged 17 points and eight rebounds in junior college.

San Diego State Aztecs

Coach: Fred Trenkle 5th year, 53-71

1997-98 record: 5-9 6th in Pacific Division

Nonconference record: 2-10

WAC record: 0-0

Top returnees: Matt Watts, 6-3, 190, Sr., G, 12.9 ppg; Marcelo Correa, 6-10, 220, So., C, 4.1 ppg.

Top newcomers: Myron Epps, 6-6, 210, F, Fr.; Vincent Okotie, 6-7, 225, Fr., F.

Both Epps and Okotie have joined the starting lineup with veterans Correa and Watts.

Eight of this year's roster are freshmen. Watts, the the team's top returning scorer, also led in assists (3.6).

A setback for the Aztecs is the loss of reserve Julien Sormonte, a 6-5 freshman forward from France. The revelation that Sormonte played pro ball in France will cost him a season.

San Jose State Spartans

Coach: Phil Johnson, first year

1997-98 record: 1-13, 8th, Pacific Division

Nonconference record: 7-6

WAC record: 0-0

Top returnees: Michael Quinney, 5-10, 158, Sr., G, 15.8 ppg; Will Trawick, 6-7, 208, Sr., F, 7.4 ppg; Shaun Murray, 6-9, 194, Sr., F, 8.2 ppg.

Top newcomers: Ben Sanders, 6-5, 195, Jr., G; Reggie Wilcox, 6-1, 180, Jr., G; Jeff Jacoway, 5-10, 180, Jr., G.

The Spartans have one of the shortest teams on the West Coast and will be led by a man assuming his first head coaching position. The 39-year-old Johnson was an assistant for five years at Arizona.

Murray earned player of the week honors for his 80 percent floor shooting and 15 rebounds in wins over Portland and Cal State Fullerton.

Sanders, who has started the last five games at small forward, is the team's leading scorer with a 13 ppg average.


Mountain Division

Look for Tulsa (12-3 nonconference) to be a favorite in the weaker half of the WAC with four returning starters and one of the strongest recruiting classes ever lured to the Oklahoma campus.

The Golden Hurricane return two players -- forwards Michael Ruffin and Eric Coley, who averaged over 10 points per game last year.

Texas Christian, the AP's No. 22 team, was 12-2 in nonconference games and is looking very strong heading into the WAC schedule.

Horned Frogs forward Lee Nailon, who averaged nearly 25 points last season, was named Mountain Division player of the week this past week for his 44-point performance in a 90-87 victory against Gonzaga.

Colorado State, last year's fourth-place finisher in the Mountain Division, returns only one starter but has posted a 10-2 nonconference record.

UNLV was picked to finish near the top of the division but was only 7-6 in nonconference games.

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