Does this one mean more to Hawaii coach Gib Arnold?
Brigham Young coach Dave Rose chuckles, probably at the preposterousness of the question.
"I believe it wouldn’t matter who he was playing," Rose said. "The game (of basketball) means a lot to him. That’s how he is. Every game’s really important, and he’s a competitor, and he wants to win."
Rose, the six-year BYU head coach, should know. He coached Arnold in 1990 at Dixie State College in Utah. That year, Arnold, his point guard, suffered a broken ankle but returned near the end of the season and was "a real leader," according to Rose.
The Rainbow Warriors (5-1) and Arnold face their toughest test so far this season against Rose’s No. 21 Cougars (7-0) in the 20,500-seat EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. It’s not the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, but it still amounts to a home game for BYU in a huge — and unfriendly to UH — NBA venue.
HAWAII (5-1) at No. 21 BYU (7-0)
» Today, 1 p.m. HST at EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
» TV: BYU-TV (Oceanic Digital Ch. 409)
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Rose was right about Arnold. The first-year UH coach was more worried about the Cougars’ preseason All-America point guard, Jimmer Fredette, than any nerves about matching wits against his old coach or dealing with a library worth of family history with BYU.
Arnold’s father, Frank Arnold, coached the Cougars to three Western Athletic Conference titles. Gib later earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration in Provo.
"My emotions are like all the guys," Arnold said. "We’re pretty excited about playing this team. It’s a top-20 team, and they’ve got a great reputation."
There’s a good reason Arnold’s attention is trained on BYU’s players rather than the mystique of BYU itself.
Rose’s BYU teams have been consistently excellent. He’s led the Cougars to four straight NCAA tournaments and reached or surpassed the 25-win mark each of those years.
Game-planning for the Cougars starts with Fredette, who is averaging 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game. BYU is especially strong on the backboards (plus 5.9 per game) and on the fast break. The Cougars also very stingy, yielding 38.9 percent shooting from the field and 62.4 points per game.
Behind Fredette’s 20 points and eight assists, BYU prevailed 83-65 over UH in Honolulu last year. The 6-foot-2 guard was an NBA Draft prospect, but elected to return for his senior season.
"We definitely have game-prepped for him, but I don’t know if you’re going to be able to stop him completely," Arnold said. "He’s a good enough player where he’s going to get his 20, 30 points a game. He does it night in and night out."
Rose knows the Rainbows are a totally different team from last year, and is expecting them to be especially fired up following their heart-breaking 54-53 road loss to Cal Poly at the buzzer on Wednesday. It was UH’s 12th straight road loss going back to 2008-09.
"Gib is a very, very tough, competitive guy," Rose said. "He played with reckless abandon. He played the game the right way, and he’s a terrific coach, and has got these guys believing, competing and playing hard."
With a little prodding, Arnold opened up on some of the subplots to the game.
"I think it’ll be fun," Arnold said of coaching against Rose. "I’m looking forward to it. I really enjoyed playing for Coach … and I’m obviously very familiar with BYU. It’s definitely something I’m excited about. I think it’s a great opportunity for our guys to play a quality team in a pro arena."
Over the last two days, the Rainbows spent time in the Utah Jazz’s practice facility in preparation for that kind of environment.
UH associate head coach Walter Roese also is tied to the Cougars, having been on the BYU staff from 2001 (as a graduate assistant) to 2007 (by then, a full assistant).
"He was pretty fired up about scouting them, but we’re not making this game any bigger or any less than it is," Arnold said. "Gonna be a tough, tough game for us, and we’re doing the things we need to do to be competitive in this game."
The Rainbows are without leading scorer and rebounder Bill Amis, who is out with a stress fracture in his right foot. Reserve point guard Anthony Salter is not on the trip, and his future with the team is questionable following what he described as a disagreement about playing time with Arnold.
Joston Thomas leads UH’s 10 active players with 12.7 points per game. Three other ‘Bows players — Hiram Thompson, Bo Barnes and Zane Johnson — average double figures.
The last time the teams met in Salt Lake City, UH upset the Cougars 73-66 for the WAC tournament title.