Winning key if UH
wants to avoid
play-in game

A victory would also keep alive
Hawaii’s hopes of
a winning record in the WAC

By Jason Kaneshiro

The Hawaii basketball team pulled into Houston yesterday physically drained and emotionally bruised.

Hawaii at Rice

When: Today, noon (Hawaii time)
Where: Autry Court
TV: Live, Fox Sports Net (Oceanic Channel 42)
Radio: Live, 1420-AM

Several players are fighting colds, the starting center is hobbling on a sprained ankle and the sting of a 25-point loss at Tulsa remains fresh as the Rainbows head into today's Western Athletic Conference game with Rice.

But with the season dwindling to a precious few games and the prospect of being forced into a play-in game at the WAC tournament drawing ever closer, the Rainbows know there's little time for self pity.

"They know this is an important game if we want to stay out of that play-in game," UH coach Riley Wallace said yesterday. "They looked fresher today than they did (Thursday against Tulsa)."

The Rainbows and Owls meet at Autry Court today at noon in a regionally televised contest on Fox Sports Net.

Hawaii (15-9, 7-8 WAC) must win today to have a shot at a winning record in the conference. To do so, the Rainbows must recover quickly from a costly 76-51 loss at Tulsa.

In the loss, center Haim Shimonovich suffered a sprained right ankle, and flu-ridden guard Carl English was held to single-digit scoring for only the third time this season.

X-rays on Shimonovich's ankle were negative, but the junior, who has started 55 of UH's last 56 games, is expected to be out of action for two to three weeks, although Wallace is hopeful he'll be back sooner.

"It's tremendous," Wallace said of the loss of Shimonovich. "It messes up your rotation and he anchors the defense in the middle."

Wallace said redshirt freshman Milos Zivanovic will get the first start of his career today, with sophomore forward Nkeruwem Akpan coming off the bench.

Zivanovic, a lanky 6-foot-11, 235-pounder from Yugoslavia, has seen limited minutes in 17 games this season. He played nine minutes against Tulsa and finished with two points, two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.

"He's got to give us some good, strong minutes early on," Wallace said. "He has good basketball savvy. He knows how to play the game."

English was running on empty Thursday as he dropped out of the WAC scoring lead with a seven-point outing against Tulsa. SMU's Quinton Ross now leads the WAC at 19.9 points per game, with English just behind at 19.8.

English felt strong enough to return to practice yesterday. Wallace said English and senior guard Lance Takaki were hit the hardest by the bug that has ravaged the team during this road trip.

"We lost a lot of energy when (Shimonovich and English) went out," Wallace said.

With a win today, Rice (17-8, 9-6) can assure itself of only its second winning season in WAC play since joining the conference in 1996. The only other Owls team to finish above .500 in the WAC was the 1998-99 squad that went 8-6 in the Mountain Division.

Rice guard Omar-Seli Mance leads the Owls with 15.4 points per game. Sophomore forward Michael Harris averages 14.5 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds coming off the bench. He leads the WAC in field-goal percentage, making 62 percent of his shots.

The Owls may look to exploit Hawaii's inexperience inside after pounding San Jose State in the paint in a 65-52 win Thursday. Center Yamar Diene led Rice with 16 points, while Harris dropped in 15.

Rice's free-flowing style of play is also a concern for the road-weary Rainbows. Hawaii ran past the Owls 85-70 Jan. 30 in Honolulu as English hit for 30 points. But on Day 10 of their current road trip, the Rainbows expect the Owls to test their legs.

"They're an up-tempo team and they're going to try to run us out of there thinking we're tired," Wallace said.

Short shots: Hawaii has won the last four meetings between the teams and eight of the last nine. ... The Rainbows return home tomorrow and close the regular season with games against Boise State on Thursday and UTEP on Saturday. ... Akpan made only the second 3-pointer of his career in the final seconds of the Tulsa game. The sophomore is now 1-for-2 this season and 2-for-3 in his career. ... Fresno State can claim the WAC regular-season title with a win at home against Nevada today. ... Hawaii remained in seventh place in the WAC after Thursday's loss. Louisiana Tech (9-7) tumbled from third to sixth with a stunning 75-57 loss at last-place UTEP. After winning seven straight games to climb into contention, the Bulldogs have now lost three in a row.

WAC Standings


Fresno St. 12 3 .800 19 6 .760
Nevada 10 5 .667 15 10 .600
Rice 9 6 .600 17 8 .680
Tulsa 9 6 .600 16 9 .640
SMU 9 7 .563 14 12 .538
LaTech 9 7 .563 12 12 .500
HAWAII 7 8 .467 15 9 .625
Boise St. 5 10 .333 11 14 .440
San Jose St. 3 12 .200 6 18 .250
UTEP 3 12 .200 5 20 .200

Louisiana Tech at Boise State
Hawaii at Rice
San Jose State at Tulsa
Nevada at Fresno State

UH Athletics

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