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ESPNU BracketBusters matches UH with UC Davis

By Brian McInnis


The sneak peek is good. The timing is bad.

That about sums up the Hawaii men's basketball team's pairing with UC Davis of the Big West Conference in the annual ESPNU BracketBusters event announced yesterday by the network. The teams will meet on Feb. 19 at The Pavilion in Davis, Calif., in a break from conference action for both teams that doubles as a mutual preview.

UH (12-9, 3-6 WAC) will play UCD (8-12, 3-5 Big West) on a regular basis starting in 2012-13, when the Rainbow Warriors leave the Western Athletic Conference and join the Big West in all sports except football and a few others.

The game was not one of 11 matchups handpicked by ESPN for national TV coverage.

Hawaii hoops fans should be somewhat familiar with the Big West by now. This is the fifth straight year UH has been paired up with one of the California-based league's schools. UH has a 1-3 record in those games: in order, at Long Beach State (2007, W), at UC Riverside (2008, L), vs. UC Irvine (2009, L) and vs. Cal Poly (2010, L).

UH coach Gib Arnold was of two minds on the subject.

"We're looking forward to it, especially for the fact that we're going to be in their conference in a year," he said.

Davis, which has never played UH, will come to Honolulu next season in a mandated return game.

Arnold also rated that a positive, but when asked of the timing of the game -- between key UH home dates against Nevada (Feb. 14) and Louisiana Tech (Feb. 24) -- he was less thrilled.

"You know, it's tough," Arnold said. "Honestly, I'd rather not take it. I'd rather be at home, getting ready for the WAC. But it's something we inherited and something we're contractually obligated to do. So we're gonna do it. It's pretty tough timing to get on the road (for a nonconference game) right in the heart of WAC play."

Granted, UH knew whichever school it was paired with, the timing of it wouldn't be ideal. The Rainbows were locked into a Feb. 19 BracketBusters road game before the season, so all that was left was finding out where to go.

Getting one of the ESPN-televised marquee games would have helped matters, but only No. 22 Utah State was picked among WAC teams for one of those contests, at Saint Mary's of the West Coast Conference.

There are several other positives, however.

» Unlike past BracketBusters locations, getting to Davis, Calif., will be comparatively easy. UH can take a direct flight to Sacramento, which is a short bus ride from Davis.

» Arnold said he'd take advantage of the trip to Northern California to check in on a few recruiting prospects.

» It'll effectively be a homecoming for UH senior point guard Hiram Thompson, who grew up in the Sacramento area. His family lives about a 30-minute drive away from the UCD campus.

"I have a lot of friends that go there and have graduated from there (UC Davis) already," Thompson said after a team shootaround yesterday. "So I just heard we're going to have that today, and I was surprised. It's pretty cool."

An interesting subplot to the matchup is a blast from the UH past. Former Rainbows guard Todd Lowenthal, a reserve who played under Riley Wallace in Wallace's last year as coach, transferred to UCD after that 2006-07 season. He had two points and an assist at UH.

The 6-foot-3 Lowenthal, now a senior, is averaging 3.7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2.1 points per game in 28.5 minutes for the Aggies. He missed nine games in a row midway through this season but has played in the past three games.

UH is 3-5 in BracketBusters games since 2002-03, including 2-2 on the road.

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