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Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, March 10, 2000

Postseason bids
muddled by Hawaii

IT would be the University of Hawaii's luck to run the table during a year when there's no automatic bid for the winner of the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Granted, Hawaii's victory over Southern Methodist last night is big for a program that has had little good fortune of late. But instead of giving the Rainbows the chance for an improbable spot in the NCAA Tournament, it probably cost the Mustangs their own brand of March Madness.

The only way they get back into NCAA Tournament consideration is for Hawaii to do to Fresno State tonight in the semifinals what it did to SMU last night in the opening round of the WAC Tournament - pull off another upset.

That would put these two schools battling for the second at-large bid back on equal footing. To believe there will be three teams picked from this league this Sunday by the NCAA selection committee is folly.

Some have even suggested that the only sure thing is Tulsa University. The rest had best hold their breath. There are only 35 at-large bids available. Two coming the WAC's way might be wishful thinking.

At this point, the leading contenders are Tulsa and Fresno State, especially should the two meet tomorrow in the WAC final at Selland Arena.

IF the Bulldogs take their third bite out of the Golden Hurricane this season, they will receive strong consideration at 24-9. Tulsa is in, but would improve its NCAA seeding by beating Fresno State on its home court to enter postseason play with a 30-3 mark.

As for the Mustangs, they have dropped down a critical notch. They not only needed to beat the Rainbows, but knock off the Bulldogs as well. Some will say SMU deserves to be there, but losing your last three games of the season isn't a good way to garner attention.

SMU's loss doesn't exactly help Hawaii's postseason possibilities either. The NIT will pick up the Mustangs should the NCAA look the other way. Texas Christian also solidified its NIT chances by beating San Jose State.

The Rainbows still have an outside shot at being selected, but they would help their cause immensely with a win tonight.

That would seem unlikely, but stranger things have happened to the Rainbows in the WAC tournament. They have pulled off several surprises over the years, including advancing to the 1994 NCAA Tournament after opening that season with three lopsided losses at the Great Alaska Shootout.

Unfortunately for Wallace, history can't repeat itself. Even if Hawaii did pull off this miracle drive, the NCAA isn't going to grant an at-large bid to a 19-11 team.

Next year, the WAC teams will have been together long enough to merit an automatic bid. But that doesn't help the Rainbows this time around. Not that Wallace is complaining, mind you. Any extension of this strange season is good.

After opening 15-5 with the help of a favorable schedule, the Rainbows lost five of their last six games of the regular season. It put a damper on the turnaround from the 6-20 campaign of a year ago.

This win helps as the Rainbows prepare to play the Bulldogs for the second time in six days. Much like the Mustangs, the Bulldogs already have defeated the Rainbows twice before.

Not that Fresno State will take Hawaii for granted. But with Tulsa waiting in the wings, it's not beyond reason to expect the Bulldogs to take the Rainbows lightly. That's exactly what the Mustangs did. And it probably cost them a chance to be one of the elite 64 vying for a national crown.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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