Rainbows peppy
despite slippage

Judging by the mood in Gym II yesterday afternoon, one might think Hawaii was the team riding a lengthy winning streak into tomorrow's Western Athletic Conference basketball game against Nevada.

Nevada at Hawaii

When: Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Internet: HawaiiAthletics.com
Tickets: $20 (lower level, single seats only); $15 (upper level, adult); $5 (upper level, students); $3 (upper level, UH students); $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Parking: $3

It would have been far from surprising if the Rainbow Warriors sulked through their workout weighed down by a four-game losing streak. But the energy that flowed during the team's drills seemed more fitting for a team priming for the postseason than one playing out the string.

"None of us are down, we still have a lot of confidence," senior forward Jeff Blackett said. "I know a lot of people are thinking otherwise, but we know what we can do. We had a good practice and we know we have to win these two games and get ready for the (WAC) tournament."

After a disappointing road trip that ended with their worst loss of the season, the Rainbows open their final homestand of the regular season tomorrow against No. 25 Nevada at the Stan Sheriff Center. They close the schedule Saturday against Fresno State. Both games tip off at 7:05 p.m.

Since Nevada edged UH 58-55 in Reno on New Year's Day, the teams have taken opposite tracks to arrive at tomorrow's game.

The Wolf Pack (22-5, 14-2 WAC) comes to town having won its last eight games and clinched at least a share of the WAC's regular-season title with a 76-63 win at Fresno State last Saturday. They are 7-0 on the road in WAC play and can secure the title outright with a win tomorrow over UH or Saturday at San Jose State. A UTEP loss to Boise State on Saturday also gives Nevada the championship.

Nevada entered the national rankings Feb. 21 and seems destined to return to the NCAA Tournament regardless of their finish in next week's WAC tournament in Reno.

Conversely, Hawaii (14-11, 6-10) has floundered since starting the season 8-0. The 'Bows have lost six of their last seven games and are trying to avoid their first five-game skid since the 1998-99 season.

While Nevada is close to sewing up the top seed in the conference tournament, UH needs help to avoid having to play a first-round game at the WAC tournament. The 'Bows' only hope of climbing into sixth place is to win both games this week while SMU loses to Tulsa and Rice at home.

Should the Rainbows continue to slide, they could find themselves even farther down the standings. Boise State (6-11) and Tulsa (5-11) are lurking right behind them in eighth and ninth place.

UH is coming off its most lopsided defeat of the season, an 80-61 thrashing at Rice on Sunday. Still, the 'Bows have been able to maintain a positive outlook heading into the final week of the season as they look to build some momentum before the conference tournament.

"They're confident kids and they believe in themselves," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "(The coaches) have not given up on them. We have to make sure we're there for them and they respond.

"It's important to come out and play Nevada right down to the wire and prove we can play with the top team and beat them. We played them that way up there, but we didn't beat them. Now we have to play them that way here and beat them."

In order to score an upset of Nevada tomorrow, the Rainbows will have to find a way to contain Wolf Pack forward Nick Fazekas.

The 6-foot-11 sophomore is a leading candidate for WAC Player of the Year honors as he leads the conference with 21.3 points per game. He presents problems for defenses both in the paint and on the perimeter and leads the Wolf Pack with 9.4 rebounds per game.

Fazekas suffered a broken nose against Fresno State, but is expected to play this week. He's reached the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks in less than two full seasons.

"He plays like those Utah guys did," Wallace said, recalling the string of Utes big men who tormented UH in the 1990s. "Josh Grant, (Keith) Van Horn, he's in that class and might even shoot it a little better."

The presence of Fazekas and senior forward Kevinn Pinkney (12.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) in the post allowed a young Nevada back court to mature over the course of the season. Freshman point guard Ramon Sessions ranks third in the WAC with 5.3 assists per game and hit the decisive free throws in the final minute of Nevada's win over UH earlier this season.

"One of the reasons they're improved is those kids aren't freshmen anymore," Wallace said. "They're seasoned freshmen."

Notes: Nevada has never won in Honolulu, entering the game 0-7 against UH on the road. ... UH last played a nationally ranked team in last year's National Invitation Tournament when the 'Bows defeated No. 25 Utah State 85-74 in Logan, Utah.

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