’Bows seek
20th victory

UH hopes to avenge a home loss
vs. struggling Fresno State

FRESNO, Calif. >> Ray Lopes has seen better days as a coach.

His Fresno State basketball team endured the on-and-off suspensions of three starters before finally moving on without the trio. Consequently, the short-handed Bulldogs have struggled to a 13-14 mark overall, own a losing record at home, and are fighting just to stay out of a play-in game in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Hawaii at Fresno State

When: 5:05 p.m. Hawaii time

Where: Save Mart Center


Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM


But Lopes' office isn't exactly a house of gloom. Instead, he talks about the effort of the players who remain and flips through two manila folders on his desk bulging with letters of support from fans.

"I've really appreciated how the people here have really accepted what's gone on, appreciated how this team has responded," Lopes said yesterday. "This group continues to play really hard, this group continues to compete, this group has been in the ballgame."

The Bulldogs close a tumultuous regular season by hosting Hawaii in a matchup of teams looking for a favorable seed in the tournament and some much-needed momentum.

The Rainbow Warriors (19-9, 11-6 WAC) make their first appearance at Fresno State's Save Mart Center after being eliminated from contention for the conference's top seed with Thursday's 77-64 loss at Nevada.

Hawaii's hot shooting in the second half couldn't overcome a cold first half and UH lost its fourth straight road game.

"A win would do wonders for us," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "We have to get it back and play two halves. In this league you can't play a half of basketball."

Although the title has slipped away, the Rainbows are looking to pick up some steam heading into the tournament by registering their 20th win.

"We want to have something good to ride on and get the Nevada loss out of the way," UH forward Phil Martin said. "(The WAC tournament) is what's going to count, that's where we can get our rings and get our jump into the NCAA."

Hawaii is tied with Rice and Boise State for third in the WAC and can finish anywhere from third to fifth depending on the outcome of two other games today (see notebook).

Fresno State (9-8 WAC), which will host the McCaffrey WAC tournament next week, may have even more at stake as the Bulldogs are fighting to secure a place in the tournament quarterfinals next Thursday.

Fresno State has been without suspended starters Renaldo Major, Jonathan Woods and Terry Pettis most of the year. With a short bench, the Bulldogs have slowed the pace of their games this season.

But Lopes loosened the reins Thursday and the result was an 81-76 win over San Jose State.

"We actually had some fun out there," said Fresno State guard Marcus West, who scored 21 points against UH in their first meeting. "Coach has been wanting us to have fun, but it's not fun walking up the court."

Lopes has the option of playing different styles thanks to senior point guard Shantay Legans, who scored 30 points and hit seven 3-pointers on Thursday.

"I can play whatever way I want because of my point guard," Lopes said. "We can go up and down or we can control it in the half court, because I've got a great point guard who knows how to control tempo."

Fresno State has a chance to be the only team in the WAC to sweep UH this season. The Bulldogs opened the conference season with a 69-58 win at the Stan Sheriff Center on Jan. 3.

"We beat them up there in the islands, so I know they want to come back down here and beat us," West said.


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