This isn’t your typical interisland getaway.
The Hawaii men’s basketball team meets Chicago State tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Lahaina Civic Center on Maui in the Rainbow Warriors’ first game on a neighbor island in seven years.
Potential distractions abound. The team had final exams all week, and the toughest sustained portion of the season schedule looms on the other side of this scenic mini-trip. There’s also the matter of assistant coach Benjy Taylor’s showdown against the team he led for three years prior to joining Gib Arnold’s staff.
Arnold wants his 6-2 Rainbows to put all that aside and focus on the 3-9 Cougars of the Great West Conference. UH arrives on the Valley Isle tonight after a practice at home.
"We talked about how we’re not at a point in our program where we can just show up and beat people," the coach said. "We gotta bring our ‘A’ game every night, and this is one of those games where if we don’t play one of our best games, we’ll get beat."
» Who: Chicago State (2-9) vs. Hawaii (6-2)
» When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m., Lahaina Civic Center, Maui
» TV: None.
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
It’s classified as a neutral-site game, though the Rainbow Warriors should have fan support in the 2,400-seat arena known for annually hosting the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
No one has to worry about sophomore forward Joston Thomas being distracted with sightseeing.
"I mean, everything looks the same (as Oahu)," said Thomas, who visited Maui with Montrose Christian (Md.) in high school. "An island is an island, I feel like. I hope it’s not disrespectful to everybody who’s from here. … I’m looking forward to playing Chicago State, that’s the first thing on my mind."
The Rainbows’ toughest stretch of the season starts almost immediately after the team gets back on Saturday. UH hosts the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, Dec. 22 through 25, followed with a brutal start to Western Athletic Conference play, at Utah State and at Nevada on Dec. 29 and 31.
But first, UH will look for its third straight win over the Cougars, who traveled to the islands under Taylor each of the past two years but came up empty.
It’s a compelling reunion between Taylor and the team he led from 2007 until this spring. His highlight with CSU was in 2008-09, when the Cougars went 19-13 as a Division I independent, but he and CSU mutually agreed to part ways after a 9-23 season in 2009-10.
CSU returns largely the same roster from last season, with seven seniors. The Cougars have struggled in all facets of the game, producing a minus-23.9 scoring margin. Taylor, who had scout duties on his old players, urged caution.
"They’re a dangerous team. I know those players well," he said. "They have the ability to beat us. So we just have to come out and put all personal agendas aside, stay professional and get it done."
Taylor said that this game was scheduled when he was at CSU with the understanding it would be played on Maui because of a conflict with graduation ceremonies in the Stan Sheriff Center.
CSU is now led by first-year coach Tracy Dildy. Senior forward Carl Montgomery, a career 1,000-point scorer, leads the Cougars with 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Cougars possess some athleticism and like to press, but have been burned by teams running up and down. Their first four Division I opponents each scored 100 points or more.
Senior point guard Hiram Thompson leads UH in scoring at 13.1 points per game.
Amis doubtful for CSU
Senior forward Bill Amis may not be back from a stress fracture in his foot as soon as the team first hoped. Arnold was previously optimistic Amis would be available for a few minutes against CSU, but the tri-captain felt some discomfort on Tuesday and was back in a boot yesterday, watching practice.
"We’re not going to play him a day before he’s ready," Arnold said. "Make sure he’s good to go."
Group tickets available
Groups of 24 or more people may purchase tickets for the Chicago State game at a discounted rate by calling the UH ticket office at 956-4482 by 5 p.m. today. Those tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for students ages 4 through high school.
Individual tickets are still available. All unsold tickets will be available at the Lahaina Civic Center door on game day an hour prior to tip-off.