End of a longDALLAS >> There was no "United Nations" breakfast yesterday morning.
road for Bows
A record-setting season for Hawaii
finished on a disappointing note
By Cindy Luis
The players on the Hawaii basketball team, representing six foreign countries and four U.S. states, were allowed to sleep in. The longest road trip of the season was finally coming to an end 19 days and four states after it began.
While his players headed to DFW airport for their return to Honolulu last night, Hawaii coach Riley Wallace had a rare day off to spend with family and friends who had made the trip here for the NCAA Tournament. Yesterday's outing appropriately was to the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, where the 61-year-old Wallace promised he was going to ride the "Titan."
The park's 255-foot-high roller-coaster is advertised as having hyperspeeds of up to 85 mph with 312 minutes of spectacular plunges. After the season Wallace had with this record-setting Rainbow team -- a year of incredible highs with a disappointing low Friday -- the "Titan" was tame by comparison.
Out of habit, the hotel room TVs were tuned to ESPN and some to CBS, the official tournament station. There was a collective shaking of heads when looking at the remaining teams in the bracket, teams that Hawaii had beaten during the regular season that were still alive in the second round:
>> Tulsa, a three-time loser to the Rainbows;
>> Georgia, the Rainbow Classic runner-up, which UH held to a season-low 44 points;
>> And Wisconsin, defeated by Hawaii in the third-place game of the Big Island Invitational.
But Friday, 20 minutes away from advancing to the second round for the first time ever, Hawaii couldn't finish it. No. 22 Xavier sent No. 25 Hawaii packing a suitcase full of "what ifs" after the 70-58 season-ending loss at the American Airlines Center.
"The loss will stay with you for a while," said Wallace. "You wake up this morning and you're disappointed today. But tomorrow you're going to look back and say we had a great year.
"We won the Rainbow Classic, we won the WAC Tournament back-to-back for the first time, went to the NCAAs back-to-back for the first time. A couple of years ago, we were wondering if we'd ever go again. Now we've had two in a row and the next step is to get better and win that first game."
How to take the next step is a question Wallace and his assistants hope to begin answering this week. With the exception of associate head coach Bob Nash, who returned with the team last night, the coaching staff hits the road to scout postseason tournaments.
Wallace and assistant Jackson Wheeler head out to Hutchinson, Kan., for the JUCO national tournament. Scott Rigot likely will make another recruiting trip to Europe, again contacting several players he spoke with last month, including the 7-foot younger brother of Rainbow redshirt freshman forward Milos Zivanovic.
Hawaii has four scholarships to dole out. The immediate needs are two shooting guards to replace departing seniors Predrag Savovic and Mike McIntyre; a point guard to back up Mark Campbell, who returns for his senior year; and a big body in the post to help out center Haim Shimonovich and the developing Tony Akpan.
The plan is to move Carl English into Savovic's shooting guard spot next season. Wallace will need to find some scorers who will make up for the 1,124 points (55 percent of the offense) that leave with seniors Savovic, McIntyre and Mindaugas Burneika.
"We have a great nucleus back, including four starters," said Wallace, looking ahead to his 16th year at the Manoa campus. "We have three experienced sophomores (English, Shimonovich and Phil Martin) and a junior (Campbell) to help us take that next step."
Friday's loss was a tough but valuable lesson for the players who will come back next year.
"We learned we need to execute the entire game," said English. "Each one of us tried to do our own thing to get us back in the game, but it ended up hurting the team.
"I personally tried to take it to the hole, take some shots to help us, but I should have been running the offense."
The last 33.6 seconds of Friday's first half against Xavier will probably haunt English and the rest of the Rainbows. English drove the key but picked up a charge with 9.6 seconds left; the Musketeers responded with a 3-point shot at the buzzer that gave Xavier the game-turning momentum and the psychological edge of being down by just seven (40-33) instead of 10.
"Any game is tough, but when it's the last game of the season, it's harder than anything else," said English. "It's frustrating any time the shots don't fall but especially when it's costing you the game.
"It's very disappointing when you lose to a team that you know you can beat. They were just the better team on this day."
Coming back: Of the four returning starters, English scored the most points this season (512). Also back will be Martin (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Shimonovich (6.6 rpg, 62 blocks) and Campbell (team bests of 151 assists and 55 steals).
Back also will be the athletic Akpan and incoming senior forward Paul Jesinskis. Coming off redshirt seasons will be the 6-11 Zivanovic and 6-9 junior Josh Stanhiser.
Walk-on guards Lance Takaki, the only player from Hawaii, and Ryne Holliday are expected back for their senior years. Other walk-on guards who likely will be back are Gabe Lombard, Dan Pickert and Keron Wilkerson. Wilkerson redshirted this year.
"It's going to be scary, that first practice next season," said Martin. "With Savo, Mike and Mindaugas gone, it's going to be like, 'Where is everybody?'
"They're going to be hard to replace, especially Savo. Carl, Haim and myself need to take it upon ourselves to bring our games up a notch.
"We want to get back to the tournament and advance this time. I think what this loss did was build another fire under us for next year.
Momentum changer: Although the five points scored by Xavier guard Romain Sato in the final 36 seconds of the first half swung the momentum to the Musketeers' side of the court, the game-breaker may have come on a non-call five minutes into the second half.
Hawaii had missed its first six shots as Xavier closed to 41-39. Martin's fadeaway jumper in the key appeared to be going when it was swatted away by freshman forward Anthony Coleman.
The official who overruled the goal-tending call told the Hawaii coaches that Martin's shot was short and had no chance of going in ... although replays show otherwise. Xavier scored on the ensuing fast break, with Alvin Brown's layup tying it with 14:15 to go; Hawaii never led the rest of the way.
"Honestly, I think yeah, it was (goaltending)," Coleman said after the game. "But hey, no call, no goaltending. ... I think it just knocked all the wind out of them."
Bulletin board fodder: Xavier, a 7, had the higher seed than Hawaii, at No. 10. But the Musketeers still felt like underdogs, particularly since Hawaii had received more national pregame publicity, including a front page feature story in Friday's Dallas Morning News.
"I can say we probably ruined a whole lot of people's brackets," David West, Xavier's all-American forward, said during the postgame press conference. "Probably nobody but us thought we'd win."
One last regret: Savovic was his gregarious self after the loss, posing for pictures with fans and signing autographs. An hour earlier, the all-American guard shared his biggest disappointment with the media.
"I expected to win two games here, one more next week and to meet my brother in the Elite Eight," said Savovic.
Savovic's younger brother, Boban, played his final game for Ohio State yesterday. The senior scored five points in the Buckeyes' 83-67 loss to Missouri.
Had Hawaii and Ohio State won their respective second-round games and regional semifinal next week in San Jose, Calif., the brothers from Yugoslavia would have played against each other for the first time in the U.S. in the West Regional final.
"We had high expectations for this year, but sometimes your expectations don't meet your achievements," said Savovic. "I think a great group of guys is coming back next year and you'll hear more from the University of Hawaii."
This was the first year that Wallace didn't write down what he expected the team's final record to be. He normally makes a prediction, then seals it in an envelope and puts it away in his desk.
"For some reason, I didn't do it this year," the coach said. "Maybe it's because I didn't know what to expect. We knew we'd be good. But this team kept surprising me all year."
For the record: This will go down as one of the greatest teams in the history of Rainbow basketball. Among the achievements:
>> The 2001-02 team won the most ever games (27), the most conference games (15, also a WAC record) and the most away games (6-3 in the WAC, 2-2 at neutral sites).
>> This team also was the first to go 9-0 at home in WAC play and will open next season with a streaks of 12 straight wins at the Stan Sheriff Center and 16 consecutive WAC victories at home.
>> Savovic became Hawaii's fourth AP All-American and its first academic All-American. He finished his career as the all-time leader in 3-pointers (178) and fourth on the all-time scoring list (1,414).
>> Helped by McIntyre's third-best 3-point shooting of all time (159), the Rainbows broke their year-old record for treys by 64, with 241. They also set a single-game mark with 14, hitting that in wins over SMU and at Fresno.
>> Hawaii won consecutive WAC titles for the first time and this year's team also won the first-ever regular-season title. With one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country, the Rainbows were 11 assists shy of tying the school record of 557 set last year.
Year-end banquet: The basketball banquet is scheduled for April 11 at the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki. No-host cocktails will be followed by dinner.
The cost is $40. For information and reservations, call 956-6501.
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