POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 2, 2010
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. » It might have been as close as the program has come to a road win in the past 12 tries, but the Hawaii men's basketball team is still searching for that elusive victory after a deflating last-second 54-53 loss at Cal Poly last night.
Joston Thomas gave the Rainbow Warriors a 53-52 lead with a baseline spin in the post with 22 seconds remaining, and the Hawaii defense forced two off-balance shots by the Mustangs.
But after the second, Cal Poly guard Chris O'Brien got the putback up and in as time expired.
Both teams swarmed the court claiming victory, but without a video replay, referees ruled the shot good and the game over.
"I haven't seen the replay if it should have counted or not," Warriors head coach Gib Arnold said, "but it was close enough to where they gave it to them. And it's too bad. I thought the guys did a pretty good job of coming back and getting the lead."
Hawaii erased a 10-point first-half deficit to take a two-point lead at the half. Cal Poly fought back to take a four-point lead in the final 2 minutes of the game. Even then, the Rainbows were able get back in the game.
Zane Johnson followed up his own turnover with three straight free throws, and Johnson's score down low looked to be enough to give Hawaii its first road win since beating Fresno State in Western Athletic Conference play two years ago.
But, in perhaps a preview of future Big West Conference opponents, the Rainbows showed that a conference switch might not be able to solve all their road woes -- especially if the team continues to turn the ball over at rates that land them among the depths of Division I.
UH came into the game ranked 301st of 334 D-I teams in turnovers per game (17.6). The Rainbows gave the ball away 27 times against Cal Poly.
It was pretty much the only way Hawaii could end up shooting 51.4 percent for the game against a team that shot 33.3 percent, outrebounding that same team by 10, and still lose.
Arnold said those same stats without the turnovers likely would have led to a double-digit victory for the Rainbows. Mustangs head coach Joe Callero, who guided his team to a 102-89 victory in the Stan Sheriff center last season, agreed.
"If you look at the most important stat consistently in the NCAA Tournament," Callero said, "field-goal shooting percentage is the No. 1 indicator if you're going to win or lose the game. But if you throw the one stat that can equalize it all, it's 27 turnovers."
Thanks to seven turnovers in the first 6 minutes of the game, Hawaii got down 16-6 before Johnson knocked down a fadeaway 3-pointer following a Cal Poly turnover.
It was the first road game for Arnold since taking over the program this season, and he felt the team prepared well after five straight home wins to open the year.
"The guys were great leading up to this game," Arnold said. "This is a team still learning who we are, and we learned tonight that we have to take care of the ball on the road."