POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 15, 2011
Portland coach Eric Reveno has shooter envy.
When the Pilots meet host Hawaii in tonight's first-round postseason matchup of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, expect plenty of long-range bombing, but not without a healthy dose of admiration from the Portland commander.
"I thought I had good shooters until I've been watching Zane Johnson on tape. It's kind of like, the grass is always greener," Reveno said of the UH junior guard. "It's like looking at someone's nicer house or something."
Johnson, UH's top scorer at 15.8 points per game, shoots 3-pointers at a 42.1 percent clip and is one trey away from tying Michael Kuebler's UH single-season record 97 set in 2004.
That also happened to be the last year UH played in and hosted a postseason game. It's been a while, but the Rainbow Warriors, led by first-year coach Gib Arnold, have a chance to write a new chapter in the CIT, which pits 24 mid-major teams against each other in five rounds of single-elimination play.
Though the CIT isn't as prestigious as the NCAA Tournament or older NIT, the third-year CIT has something in common: one loss, and you're done.
"There's 140 teams right now that are still playing. Feels good to be one of them," said Bill Amis (15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game), one of three UH seniors to get an extra, unexpected home game. "But we want to keep narrowing that down and keep getting lower than that."
UH (18-12) drew one of the tougher CIT opponents in the Pilots of the West Coast Conference, who like the Rainbows were stunned in their first game of their conference tournament. UH is coming off a last-second loss to San Jose State, while the Pilots succumbed to Loyola Marymount last week.
Neither team is ready to call it a season.
Portland has played in all three years of the CIT, losing on the road in the first round each of the past two times.
Reveno's respect for Johnson was genuine, but he was being modest about his own snipers. Portland ranks second in the country at 3-point field-goal percentage at .417.
Guards Jared Stohl and Nemanja Mitrovic have 178 of Portland's 235 3-pointers this season. Stohl was tops in the country in 3-point accuracy last season at 47.8 percent.
Combined with nightly double-double threat forward Luke Sikma — the son of former NBA All-Star Jack Sikma — the Pilots (20-11) have a potent inside-outside combination. All three players average between 13.8 and 13.1 points per game.
To Johnson, studying the Pilots was like looking at a mirror.
"We haven't played a team like this this year. It could be similar to practice, playing against ourselves," Johnson said. "But they're a great team, got 20 wins, and run a lot of sets. It's going to be a challenge, unlike any other we've had this year."
In terms of execution, Arnold likened the Pilots to Western Athletic Conference champion Utah State, the only team from UH's conference to make the NCAA Tournament. And there are other red flags for UH: The Pilots went 5-1 on the road against nonconference opponents this year and were 3-0 against WAC competition.
But after dropping their past two games following a five-game winning streak, the Rainbows should be ready.
"These guys were told that they weren't supposed to be good, this team was told they were supposed to finish last and not even play in the conference tournament," Arnold said. "And we're still playing. I give all the credit to these guys; from Day 1 they've given it everything they got and we played through injuries and a lot of adversity, and they keep coming."
It will be no different today. UH junior Miah Ostrowski may have to play the full 40 minutes at point guard, with Johnson or forward Trevor Wiseman sliding over for potential relief. Freshman backup Bobby Miles hyperextended his left knee during Sunday's practice and sat out yesterday's team session. Senior Hiram Thompson also hasn't fully recovered from the ligament damage in his left elbow.
"I think I'm ready for it," Ostrowski said.
Should UH beat the Pilots, there is a chance the Rainbows can host a second-round game on Friday.
Oceanic Digital Cable won rights to broadcast the game. Howard Dashefsky is on play-by-play with Lori Santi on color commentary.