POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 14, 2011
It wasn't last season, but it was last year. It might as well have been a decade ago for the Hawaii men's basketball team.
The improved Rainbow Warriors seek a measure of revenge against Nevada tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Wolf Pack dealt the Rainbows one of their more lopsided losses of the season, an 86-69 rout on New Year's Eve in Reno, Nev., during the first week of Western Athletic Conference play.
"We already forgot. It's past," said UH sophomore center Vander Joaquim, one of the few Rainbows to play well in that game. "I feel like we're playing much better right now than before. It was last year, we didn't know them. Now we know them very well. ... I think we should do much better."
Seventh-place UH (13-10, 4-7 WAC) is well rested after having more than a week off from game action and will try to deal third-place UNR (10-14, 7-4) its second defeat in eight games.
Coach Gib Arnold's crew also has played well of late, earning a road-trip split two weeks ago at Boise State (a 73-66 win) and Idaho (a 75-61 loss). UH has won four of its past six and is still in contention for a top-four seed in the WAC tournament.
Arnold sees this game as a measurement of his team's progress.
"We're playing pretty good basketball right now. I think we're much improved from then," Arnold said. "You get this game, that puts us right in that middle mix there with four more games to go. I like how we're playing right now, I like that we're healthy. This will be a good test for us. This team really beat us up good the first time, so now we got a chance to see where we are a month or so later."
The point total UH allowed at UNR is still a season high for a 40-minute game. The Rainbows have done an otherwise respectable job of defending, ranking 13th nationally in field-goal defense at 39.0 percent.
A fifth WAC victory would make it unlikely that the Rainbows would finish in last place and miss out on the WAC tournament for a second straight year. San Jose State (3-9) and Louisiana Tech (2-10) are running out of time to catch up with four games remaining apiece.
UH's degree of preparation — the most for any team this season, Arnold said — was the opposite of the last meeting, which capped a stretch of five games, including the Diamond Head Classic, in just over a week.
Talented Nevada continues to perform well in league play after a 1-7 overall start to the season, thanks in large part to the emergence of forward Olek Czyz, a transfer from Duke. The Pack might not be rested, but they are riding high on an improbable win at San Jose State on Saturday.
UNR rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to stun the Spartans. SJSU had a two-point lead and possession of the ball in the final seconds of regulation, but Pack guard Deonte Burton stole the ball from SJSU's Adrian Oliver, got fouled with 3 seconds left, and sent the game into the extra period.
Four Wolf Pack players — guards Malik Story and Burton and forwards Dario Hunt and Czyz — average between 13.9 and 12.8 points per game. Czyz had his breakout game against UH with 19 first-half points. Those four combined for 75 points against UH in Reno.
"I think those four players are as good as any players in their position in the WAC," Arnold said. "When they have it clicking, they're really hard to beat."
Hunt leads the WAC in rebounding at 10.0 per game. He and Czyz shoot better than 53 percent from the field.
Hawaii assistant coach Benjy Taylor, who was the scout on UNR, says the difference could be UH senior forward Bill Amis, one of two Rainbows averaging a team-best 14.3 ppg. The previously injured Amis did not play in that game.
"They have a swagger about them, and they'll come in here thinking they can beat us," Taylor said. "We'll just have to hold serve at home."
Junior guard Zane Johnson is UH's other top scorer and is second in the WAC in 3-point makes per game at 2.9. He finished with 10 points in the teams' previous meeting.
"We're saying that was last year, so we're a whole different team now," Johnson said. "We know that, and I think teams around the league know that. We've stepped it up defensively."
Second-year UNR coach David Carter said UH has become much more of an inside-out team since that game. Amis and Joaquim have played increasingly well, while Johnson has been UH's only consistent perimeter threat in WAC play.
"Seems like it's been so long since we played them," Carter said after the Wolf Pack arrived in Honolulu yesterday. "I know they're a different team. I think we're a different team. I think we're starting to play a little better. I know they are too. ... We had to prepare, I think, a little different."
The week off did a body good for senior point guard Hiram Thompson, who needed stitches to sew up a gash just above his right eye at Boise State. He was then sick to his stomach two days later at Idaho. Each caused him to play limited minutes.