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Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

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

Star-Bulletin file photo
Troy Ostler will be one of three starters returning next season.

Rainbows have
a tough climb
ahead of them

The University of Hawaii men's
basketball team is expected to return
three starters next season

By Pat Bigold


What the University of Hawaii men's basketball team accomplished in its Cinderella role last week at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament bodes well for next season.

Three starters are expected to return from the team that finished 17-11 and fell to NCAA Tournament-bound Fresno State in double overtime in the WAC Tournament semifinals.

Back will be all-WAC Tournament pick Troy Ostler and guard Predrag Savovic, both members of the league's All-Newcomers Team.

The third returnee, Nerijus Puida, is one of the conference's best passers and top assist men.

Add in reserves Mike McIntyre, one of the WAC's top percentage 3-point shooters, Lane O'Connor, who had the highest single-game total this season (27 points), 7-footer Todd Fields, and promising redshirts Phil Martin and Carl English, and there's a strong base to build upon.

Hawaii has four scholarships to give. The biggest needs will be at point guard and at the post, vacancies left by the departure of senior starters Johnny White (guard) and Marquette Alexander (center).

The Rainbows are also hoping to build on the togetherness the team found on the road last week.

Hawaii had lost six of its last seven games heading into the WAC Tournament. After the 79-69 loss at Fresno State that ended the regular season, Rainbow head coach Riley Wallace went up to the mountain ... and took all of his players.

No one knows what exactly happened at 6,500 feet above sea level in cold, snowy King's Canyon National Park. But it was immediately evident when the WAC Tournament opened last Thursday.

"I think going up to King's Canyon, the guys all got away from it all, reconnected with one another,'' said associate head coach Bob Nash. "I think that played a bigger part in re-energizing them, and they said, 'Hey, let's try to win this WAC Tournament.' "

The 'Bows, who'd held closed practice sessions all week, suddenly were able to sustain intensity for 40 minutes. They were able to keep their heads up when the breaks were working against them.

In the quarterfinals, the sixth-seeded Rainbows took a 15-point first-half lead over third-seeded Southern Methodist - a team they had lost to twice - and held on for an 87-82 upset.

When the Mustangs cut the lead to one (66-65) midway through the second half, the 'Bows did not do what they'd done on the road all season: fall apart.

It was obvious that the team that went up to King's Canyon never came back.

The Hawaii team that showed up surprised Bulldogs head coach Jerry Tarkanian.

"I really didn't think they could hang on (against SMU),'' said Tarkanian, whose boisterous fans backed UH against the hated Mustangs with a deafening roar.

The next night in the semifinals, senior center Marquette Alexander created a deafening silence when he hit a short jumper to give the Rainbows a 68-61 lead against the Bulldogs with 9:03 left in regulation.

Not often has Selland Arena gone quiet this season. But no one expected the Rainbows, of all teams, to rally like they did.

Hawaii trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half but ended up taking the Bulldogs to two overtimes. The Rainbows lost on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Hawaii lost all but one WAC road game this season. The Rainbow veterans will return next season with they knowledge that they can keep their composure amid the jet engine-decibel noise of hostile gyms such as Selland Arena.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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