Sports Watch

Bill Kwon

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, February 13, 1999

WAC tourney
won’t be same
without ’Bows

YOU could say the Hawaii men's basketball season ended Thursday night in Provo, Utah, with an 81-68 loss to Brigham Young.

Then again, you could make a case that the Rainbows' season really came crashing down on Jan. 16 at the Stan Sheriff Center when they lost to the Cougars, 60-59, on a 3-point prayer shot with 3.1 second seconds left in the game.

Many of the 5,421 fans, who saw the 'Bows blow a 15-point lead with less than eight minutes to play, vowed never to return again this season. They didn't.

The 'Bows never played before a larger crowd since, although the turnstile crowd of 4,847 that saw them beat 17th-ranked New Mexico, 72-68, in overtime yelled the loudest. That game, as the season winds down, proved to be their last hurrah.

Mathematically, the Rainbows can still overtake BYU or San Jose State for sixth place in the Pacific Division and a spot in the Western Athletic Conference playoffs March 2-6 in Las Vegas.

But, as UH coach Riley Wallace put it, "We'd have to win all our games and they (the Cougars and Spartans) would have to lose all theirs."

Making it more difficult is that his Rainbows play Utah today and a snowball has a better chance in hell. Wallace hasn't beaten the Utes in Salt Lake City since taking over as coach during the 1987-88 season. The last time the 'Bows won there came during Larry Little's reign 15 years ago.

The real hell, though, has turned out to be BYU.

BYU wound up beating Hawaii twice this season, which is the last time that the 16-team WAC will exist. Had it been the other way around, the Cougars would be the ones scrambling for a tournament berth, not the Rainbows.

AND wouldn't you know it? Where was BYU the previous two years when Hawaii posted back-to-back, 21-win seasons?

The Cougars weren't on the Rainbows' WAC schedule because they were in different divisions then.

Wallace missed playing the Cougars so much two years ago when they went 1-25, that he invited them to the Rainbow Classic the following season. It paid off with a 73-53 pasting.

This season, BYU simply bedeviled Hawaii. But the 'Bows had a lot of help along the way, including several self-destructing moments of their own.

Apparently, the loss of Anthony Carter and Alika Smith proved too much for the Rainbows to overcome this season. This year's team had no pure shooter like Smith, nor the ballhandling talents of a Carter.

With seven new faces, Wallace knew it would be a difficult transition season. But even he didn't think it would turn out this badly.

"No way. I didn't think the drop-off (in victories) would have been this bad. Not at all," Wallace said. "Even with seven new faces, you think we'd be playing .500 ball. It's hard to figure out."

THE team chemistry simply wasn't there this season as the three returning seniors -- Mike Robinson, Casey Cartwright and Erin Galloway -- didn't blend in at all with the heavy influx of new recruits.

"Immaturity's part of it," added Wallace, "and the talent level was down. But usually lesser talent works harder and it wasn't the case this year."

With two home games remaining against San Jose State and Fresno State (spare us, but yet another dose of Chris Herren), Wallace admits that there's nothing left to play for except pride and the need to salvage what remains of the season.

Me? I'm going to miss the Rainbow men at the WAC Tournament in Vegas, which would have been a nice way to send off the league as we once knew it.

The Rainbow Wahine should gain a postseason berth there. But it's just not the same feeling, you know what I mean?

Oh well, there's always the craps or blackjack table.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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