Hard to ask for a better first road test than this.
Starting today, first-year Hawaii coach Gib Arnold would like to set a new tone of away victories for a program long starved of them.
Doing so is certainly feasible against struggling Cal Poly. The 5-0 Rainbow Warriors, off to their best start since 2004-05, take on the Mustangs (2-3) of the Big West Conference.
UH has benefited from buoyant home crowds at the Stan Sheriff Center in each of its wins. That changes at Poly’s compact, 3,000-seat Mott Gym.
"You know, the road’s different. Boys win at home. It takes men to win on the road," Arnold said. "We’re going to see where we are when we don’t have our fans behind us. It’s a big difference when you got 6,000 people cheering you on, and helping you to get that extra stop. When you got them cheering against you, we’ll see."
However, there should be a solid contingent of Hawaii fans at the difficult-to-reach campus. Half the Rainbows’ active roster hails from the Golden State, a few hours either north or south of centrally located San Luis Obispo.
"It’s 3 hours and 12 minutes," said freshman forward Trevor Wiseman, of Santa Clarita. "I Mapquested it."
He thought some of his close friends and coaches from Golden Valley High would make it. Freshman point guard Bobby Miles, of Industry, Calif., estimated he’d have about a dozen family and friends going. Senior point guard Hiram Thompson (Sacramento), sophomore forward Dominick Brumfield (Carson) and freshman guard Jordan Coleman (Los Angeles) are also from California.
Will all that positive energy be enough to help UH break an 11-game road losing streak, going back to 2008-09?
Possibly. Besides some expected crowd support, the degree of difficulty of this game is decidedly less than on the second leg of the trip, against No. 21 BYU at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
Second-year coach Joe Callero’s Mustangs have lost to Division II Cal State Monterey Bay and lost at Montana State, 73-57, a team that UH defeated 77-59 at the Sheriff. Cal Poly is coming off a road loss at Sacramento State.
But the Mustangs arrived in Honolulu last year for UH’s BracketBusters game with a similarly poor resume and dominated Bob Nash’s Rainbows 102-89. UH has gotten in two full scout days of their opponent since arriving in San Luis Obispo on Monday.
"We did talk about that, and Hiram was involved in that game, so he talked about it as well," Arnold said. "That’s a team that came in there and scored 100 points on us last year, and beat us pretty badly. And a team with most of their players back. So it’s a team we need to really play to have a chance to beat."
Callero pointed out that his team no longer has guard Lorenzo Keeler, who went for 31 in that game.
"It’s almost not the same teams for either situation," Callero said. "We’re very young and inexperienced in the backcourt. Our defense has been very good, and our offense has been very below average (60.4 points per game for and against). Nothing like the 102 points you saw over there."
Though UH’s leading scorer and rebounder, senior forward Bill Amis, remains out with a stress fracture in his right foot, the Rainbows have four other primary scorers to call upon. Thompson (14.2 points a game), forward Joston Thomas (13.2) and sharpshooters Bo Barnes (12.6) and Zane Johnson (11.4) give Arnold plenty to work with.
And sophomore center Vander Joaquim is coming off his best game as a Rainbow, grabbing 16 rebounds against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Junior forward David Hanson leads the Mustangs with 17.2 points a game. He has 12 of Cal Poly’s 26 3-pointers this season. Senior point guard Shawn Lewis (13.4 ppg) and junior center Will Donahue (10.6) are the team’s other primary options. Those three combine for 60 percent of the Mustangs’ rebounding.
Hawaii reserve point guard Anthony Salter did not make the trip, meaning UH has 10 active players. Arnold has given him time away from the team for personal reasons.