UH tries for improbable win vs. USU


POSTED: Thursday, February 25, 2010

On paper, the only thing less likely than Hawaii defeating Utah State today is the Aggies beating themselves.

But games are decided on the hardwood, and the Rainbow Warriors will trudge gamely onto the court to meet the Western Athletic Conference leaders at 7 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center.

A victory over red-hot USU in UH's battered and reeling state would rank up there with the program's most improbable of victories, even at home. The Aggies (22-6, 11-2 WAC) ride a 12-game winning streak, fourth-longest in the country, into Honolulu. Meanwhile, UH (9-17, 2-10) has dropped its last eight, its worst season skid since 1987-88.

Besides ending that dubious mark, the Rainbows could draw motivation from the 44-point spanking issued by the Aggies on Jan. 11 in Logan, Utah. The 98-54 outcome — in which USU shot 61.8 percent overall and 11-for-16 (68.8 percent) on 3-pointers — was the worst WAC loss in UH history.

UH closes its 21-game home slate Saturday vs. Nevada (16-10, 8-4). A victory before heading to Boise State and Idaho for the final two WAC games would reduce the all-or-nothing pressure of winning in Boise, Idaho, on March 4. UH and BSU are tied for eighth in the standings, and whoever falters to last place will miss out on the WAC tournament.





        Who: Utah State Aggies (22-6, 11-2) at Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (9-17, 2-10)

When: Today, 7:05 p.m.


Where: Stan Sheriff Center


TV: KFVE-Ch. 5


Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM


“;(Answering back) would be huge,”; said senior forward Petras Balocka, who is coming off a career-high 23-point, 16-rebound game in UH's BracketBusters loss to Cal Poly. “;It would be huge to snap a losing streak, be huge to win one of the last games at home, and be huge in our WAC standings. Quite a few things hanging over the court over these games.”;

The short-handed Rainbows (with just 11 active players, including one scholarship guard) will look to continue their grind-it-out halfcourt style against a team extremely efficient at doing just that. USU has myriad plays and set variations to choose from, signaled by flash cards from coach Stew Morrill's assistants on the sideline.

When the Aggies settle on a shot, it's almost always a good one. USU leads the country in 3-point percentage (42.7), and the WAC in overall field-goal percentage (48.7) and free-throw percentage (77.0). They give up the fewest turnovers per game (10.5) and assist on the most baskets (16.6) in the league. Over their winning streak, the numbers kick into even higher gear.

“;They're well-coached by Stew Morrill, they present a lot of challenges for us,”; UH coach Bob Nash said. “;They've got good size, they've got guards who can really shoot the basketball. It's going to be an uphill battle for us, but we're going to do our best job of getting ready. Go out and give a great account of ourselves. We want to atone for the beating they put on us up there. They really smacked us around up there, but our guys have a lot of pride so we're going to come out and do our best job to try to atone for that.”;

After a 6-4 season start, including 0-2 in conference, USU reclaimed its WAC juggernaut status without the benefit of a dominant scorer. Aggies junior forward Tai Wesley (whose parents and sister live in Hawaii) is 13th in the WAC in scoring at 13.3 points per game, but several other players, such as guard Jared Quayle and forward Nate Bendall, are essential pieces of the well-oiled machine.

As USU coach, Morrill picked up his first win in four tries at Hawaii last year. He's learned not to overlook any stop in the islands.

“;People talk about trap games, but to me that has always been a little bit arrogant,”; Morrill said this week. “;When they say 'trap games' it is like you are supposed to win that game. If you don't get ready you might get upset. I have been to Hawaii enough to know they can beat you no matter what over there.”;

If UH is to make it interesting, it will need another monster game from Roderick Flemings, who scored a career-high 39 against Cal Poly to raise his average to 16.7 ppg.