’Bows focus on improving

Rebounding will be a key to the Hawaii basketball team's hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing start to the Western Athletic Conference season.

The Rainbow Warriors enter tomorrow's WAC game against San Jose State averaging 36.2 rebounds per game. But they're coming off a loss at Nevada last Saturday in which the Wolf Pack nearly doubled up the 'Bows on the glass, grabbing 50 boards to UH's 26.

Nevada's size up front played a role in the disparity, but UH coach Riley Wallace is also looking for more fire from his team in going after missed shots.

"We have to concentrate on it and start getting better, because we're not rebounding with the same intensity that we were early on," Wallace said. "That's why I'm hammering them on it."

Both Hawaii (8-2) and San Jose State (3-8) enter the game at 0-2 in the WAC after dropping road games to Fresno State and Nevada last week.

With UH needing to protect the Stan Sheriff Center court to avoid its first 0-3 WAC start since the 2000-01 season, Wallace turned up the heat during yesterday's practice at Gym I. The 18th year coach was in full voice for much of the workout and no one -- from starters to walk-ons to assistant coaches -- was exempt from his ire.

"That man is a warrior and he hates to lose and he's going to instill that in us," UH guard Matt Gibson said.

UH has been outrebounded just twice in its 10 games this season -- in a win at Saint Louis and last week's loss to Nevada. UH lost its WAC opener at Fresno State despite winning the rebounding battle, as the Bulldogs tracked down the key rebounds late in their 79-78 win.

"They got the last four boards and they got all the loose balls, and that was a big part of the game," Wallace said. "They got some second chances and third chances and we've got to get that back."

The Rainbows face a San Jose State squad looking to improve on the boards. The Spartans rank last in the WAC at 29.4 rebounds per game. The Spartans have just two players 6-foot-9 or taller and were outrebounded 93-60 in their losses last week.

"The thing we have to really improve on is our rebounding," SJSU coach Phil Johnson said. "That's something Hawaii's really strong at. Both games we got beaten on the glass and that's a major challenge for us."

Back in action: UH forward Jeff Blackett returned to practice yesterday after sitting out two days due to an infection on the right side of his torso. The senior had the sore drained and played with a bandage on his side yesterday.

Although the infection was on his shooting side, he said it didn't affect his play.

"Once the blood got flowing, even when people bumped into it it didn't hurt," he said.

Short shots: UH owns the WAC's longest home winning streak at 11 games dating back to last season. SJSU ended UH's 24-game home streak in 2003 with a 55-54 win at the Sheriff Center. ... The Spartans ended a 14-game road skid with a 71-70 win at San Diego on Nov. 17. SJSU lost to USD 74-60 on Dec. 7 to start its current six-game losing streak. ... Tomorrow's game opens a three-game homestand for UH. After playing SJSU, the Rainbows face SMU on Thursday and Louisiana Tech a week from tomorrow.



Former champ quietly
moves into contention

KAPALUA, Maui » Playing in the final group, Ernie Els didn't earn a lot of TV time, but that didn't mean the 2003 Mercedes Championships winner wasn't posting a low number.

With a birdie on the final hole, the Big Easy finished at 4-under 69, only three shots off the pace set by Vijay Singh. Els has never shot a round over par in this winners-only event. It was his 23rd consecutive round of par or better, including 17 in a row on the Plantation Course.

"The conditions couldn't have been much better," Els said. "I made a couple of mistakes out there that cost me, but I'm in good shape after the first round. It was good to get a birdie on the final hole. It gives me some confidence going into the next round."

Els' playing partner was defending champion Stuart Appleby, who was one of only four golfers to shoot over par. Appleby's 74 left him with a sad smile on his face as he and Els left the 18th green. It was just his second round over par in 13 on the Kapalua course. Appleby's wife is due to have a baby any day, leaving the Australian a bit distracted.

His struggles didn't seem to affect Els, who had two birdies on the front nine and another three on the back. A bogey 5 on the par-4 12th was the only blemish on Els' card. He set the course record here in 2003 with a 31-under 261.

"I love playing this course," Els said. "The greens were a little slower than they normally are. You just have to adjust to the speed and try to avoid too many putts up-grain."

A few firsts: Ryan Palmer not only had the first official tee shot of the season, he also had the first bogey on the par-4 opening hole. Palmer qualified for this winners-only event with a victory at the Funai Classic at Disney World. He finished the first round in last place with a 76.

The first eagle of the year was carded by Carlos Franco. He managed the only eagle of the round with a three at the par-5 fifth. There was only one eagle here at the 2004 Mercedes Championships. Bart Bryant carded the first birdie of the 2005 campaign at the par-4 first. He finished in a tie for seventh with a 4-under 69. Franco was one of four golfers over par with a 74.

Todd Hamilton is one of four second-year players participating in the Mercedes Championships on Maui this weekend.

Singh hits high notes: It was the 17th time in Singh's career that he has held or shared a first-round lead. He went on to win five of those events, including three of the last four. Singh shared the first-round lead in his inaugural visit at the Mercedes in 1994 with Nolan Henke, Brett Ogle and Fred Couples. He finished in a tie for 17th at La Costa Country Club in California. The winner was Phil Mickelson.

Singh's 66 was his 15th consecutive round at par or better at the Mercedes. He has not shot over par here since his 77 in 2000.

"You want to start the year off strong and this is a great week to start, because you've got no cut," Singh said of the 31-man event. "You can go out there and try to do things that you don't normally do on a regular tournament.

"This is a huge tournament and you know the field is very good. All of the winners are here, so it's a good one to win. I haven't done it yet and that's my intention to go out there, play solid and see if I can win."

No sophomore jinx: The five sophomores (rookies who won in 2004) in the field for this tournament are the most since the PGA Tour started keeping such statistics in 1970. The five are Todd Hamilton, who shot a 1-under 72, Zach Johnson (72), Palmer (76), Andre Stolz (73) and Vaughn Taylor (69). The previous high was four in 1999 and 2001. The 1999 rookie class won a total of six times, compared to five wins by the 2001 and 2004 classes.

Scoring the holes: With the winds on the down low, the easiest hole was the par-5 fifth, which yielded a scoring average of 4.226. Along with one eagle, there were 22 birdies and eight pars posted by the 31 golfers. The hardest hole was the par-4 17th. It yielded a scoring average of 4.129. There were only three birdies scored on the hole, with 24 pars, one bogey and three double bogeys -- by Appleby, Palmer and Jonathan Byrd.

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