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The Rainbows know they'll have to crash the glass if they hope to hand Utah State its first WAC defeat

By Brian McInnis

LAST UPDATED: 2:10 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2011

The numbers are intimidating across the board, but the Hawaii men's basketball team is concerned about one above all: 13.

Not for bad luck, but for how many rebounds the Rainbow Warriors grabbed in their Western Athletic Conference opener at Utah State last month. They felt it cost them the game, a 74-66 loss.


Western Athletic Conference

» Who: Utah State (19-2, 8-0 WAC) vs. Hawaii (12-8, 3-5)

» When: 7 p.m. today

» Where: Stan Sheriff Center

» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

Redemption could be at hand tonight in the biggest game of the season as the sixth-place Rainbows and first-place Aggies clash at the Stan Sheriff Center.

To get it, the 'Bows must rebound and find a way to match the efficient Aggies in offensive execution despite both teams' predilection for uglying up the game with their defenses. UH is No. 10 in the country in field-goal percentage defense at .381, while USU isn't far behind at .387.

"I'm looking for a grind-it-out battle both ways," said senior forward Bill Amis, who missed the previous meeting because of a foot injury. "We're going to have to struggle to get baskets and every stop's going to be tough, but we want to get more stops than they do."

Putting together a complete game against such a consistent, controlling foe won't be easy. UH shot a sizzling 63.2 percent from the field in Logan, Utah, and still lost, largely because of the 32-13 rebounding disparity.

"To beat a team of their caliber, you've gotta play your best game, and there's no room at all for slippage," UH coach Gib Arnold said. "For us to have a chance, we've basically got to play a perfect game and they gotta be off theirs a little bit."

Utah State, the three-time defending regular-season WAC champions, swept through the first half of its league schedule, most recently knocking off San Jose State 84-65 in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday. It was the Aggies' 14th straight win overall and 22nd straight WAC regular-season victory, earning them the No. 25 ranking in this week's ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

Jaw-dropping streaks, true, but UH has several advantages it didn't enjoy at the snowed-in Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Thanks in part to a successful "All In Against the Aggies!" marketing campaign, a large crowd (perhaps 8,000-plus) is expected at the Sheriff. Amis is back and playing well with averages of 17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds over UH's three-game winning streak. And perhaps most important, the Rainbows had a full week to rest and prepare for the complex Utah State offense.

No amount of preparation last time could stop Utah State's senior forward Tai Wesley, a WAC player of the year candidate who went for 27 points and 13 rebounds in Logan. That is where the return of Amis is huge; there just weren't enough big bodies to contend with Wesley.

Utah State always makes the most of its moderate talent and has been remarkably consistent since joining the WAC in 2005-06. The Aggies posted winning streaks of 10 games or more in each of the past four seasons, and the last time they failed to qualify for the postseason was 1999.

Aggies coach Stew Morrill expressed surprise at UH's 0-5 start in the WAC after playing his team down to the final minute in Logan.

"We have to do things the right way to have a chance to win," Morrill said. "We have to defend and execute and all that ... as I tell people all the time, we're not a dominating-type team. After we played them, to be honest with you, I was surprised they hit a little bump in the road. Since then they've won three in a row, and I'm sure are anxious to get a crack at us."

Beyond Wesley, the Aggies have scoring threats in guards Brockeith Pane and sharpshooter Brian Green off the bench.

"That's why they're so good, why they're leading the WAC," said UH associate coach Walter Roese, who scouted Utah State. "They're not a one-player team."

The Rainbows could get an emotional lift by the presence of reserve point guard Miah Ostrowski, whose father, Kui, died of heart failure on Wednesday. Ostrowski has played through the tragedy.

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