Greatest game in the history of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, bar none. Brian McInnis, the Star-Advertiser’s basketball beat writer who has seen them all, agreed wholeheartedly.
Then we both laughed.
Yes, Washington State’s 77-71 semifinal win over No. 15 Baylor yesterday entertained on many levels — including a foot above the rim. But the joke is that it’s the best of 18 DHC games so far, going way back to 2009. Maybe it will be outdone by tomorrow’s championship tilt of Wazzu and Butler, the upstart that made it all the way to last season’s national championship game.
It’s remarkable that the DHC has come so far so fast and draws such a strong field. It was less than two years ago when Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan, Hawaii Bowl executive director Dave Matlin and ESPN Regional TV general manager Pete Derzis announced its creation.
And it’s obvious who the dominant partner is in the UH-ESPN relationship. All you need to do is look at the opening-round matchups, compared to in the old Rainbow Classic days (the real one, not the four-teamer that exists now). Back then, the bracket was a racket for UH.
When UH controlled things, the Rainbows always got a first-round patsy so they could advance to at least the semifinals. The Toreros of San Diego would have fit that role nicely, much more than Florida State or anyone else in the field.
But this event — like just about all of college and pro sports these days — is more about eyes on TVs than fannies in arena seats. No one at ESPN was interested in clearing the way for Hawaii to the semis by not putting them up against the Semis.
Fortunately for UH fans, the schedule maker worked it out so the home team played in primetime last night despite Wednesday’s loss; that doesn’t matter for mainland TV.
PREGAME MUSINGS included Baylor as similar to Florida State: long, fast, tireless … and, in addition to all that, highly skilled and worthy of its ranking. But Washington State built a 20-point lead against the bulk of the Bears team that went to the Elite Eight earlier this year.
We kept waiting for Baylor to make a move, and KITV sportscaster Jahmai Webster, who covered the Bears working in Waco last year, assured me they would.
Shooters are fearless and lack conscience; that’s why LaceDarius Dunn could miss his first 11 3-point tries and still end up with a game-high 29 points.
As a team, Baylor missed its first 16 treys. Then, Dunn finally rattled one home; once he got started he was nearly unstoppable. If not for Klay Thompson’s sharpshooting to stop the bleeding, all those Cougs fans who showed up would be in for some daytime b-ball tomorrow.
"I told you," Webster said of Dunn. "It doesn’t matter how many he misses. Eventually, he explodes."
AS FOR BUTLER, it lost some marquee value when Gordon Hayward went pro after leading the Bulldogs on their March Madness run. But plenty of players remain from that team, including electric guard Shelvin Mack and gritty big man Matt Howard.
Howard — who was already steady all game — came up huge in the final minute with an offensive rebound, a steal and free throws to hold off Florida State. He does the little things, and the big things.
Yes, Brad Stevens looks younger than most of his players. But watch up close and you can see a lot of what Butler has accomplished is due to his coaching.
Even though the Rainbow Warriors aren’t in the winners bracket, it promises to be a fun final day of holiday hoops tomorrow at the Sheriff Center.