Hawaii has thrown down the gauntlet at "The Gauntlet."
That’s what UH coach Gib Arnold calls this stretch of the schedule, which included a neighbor island game during finals week and the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, followed closely by the most difficult road trip of the season.
The Rainbow Warriors (9-3) have so far risen to the challenges, and have gotten stronger along the way. They hope that continues tomorrow against Utah State (11-2) in their difficult Western Athletic Conference opener in Logan, Utah.
"I feel good with how hard we’re playing and how we’re playing together," Arnold said after practice yesterday. "When you looked at the season before it started, you kind of thought these five to six games are kind of like the gauntlet.
UH MEN’S BASKETBALL
» Who: Hawaii (9-3) at Utah State (11-2)
» Where: Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan, Utah
» When: Tomorrow, 4 p.m. Hawaii time
» TV: None
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
"If we can just get through this (period), it would be good for us," he added. "We’re right in the middle of this real tough run, and obviously we got a great couple of teams we gotta play on the road."
UH left for frigid Salt Lake City last night and will bus 2 hours this morning to Logan, where the Rainbows will get in a full practice today in preparation for the WAC’s perennial title contender.
The defending regular-season champion Aggies were predicted by the league’s coaches and media to win the league again, while the Rainbows were projected last in both preseason polls under Arnold, their new head coach. Yet UH is just one win from matching the total from last season (10-20 overall, 3-13 WAC), when Bob Nash’s ‘Bows finished last among nine teams and failed to make the WAC tournament.
UH follows at Nevada (3-9) on Friday. UNR is down this year, but UH has never won against the Wolf Pack in Reno in 13 tries. UH also has never beaten the Aggies at USU’s Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in WAC play, and has lost 12 straight true road games going back to 2008-09.
Nonetheless, an impressive defensive stand through the Diamond Head Classic has the Rainbows feeling confident heading into league play. That is despite the ongoing absence of senior forward Bill Amis, who will make the trip but won’t play because of a nagging stress fracture in his right foot.
Over its past five games, UH has held opponents to averages of 57.8 points and 31.5 percent shooting from the field. The Rainbows’ only loss over that period was to a solid Florida State team.
Junior guard Zane Johnson has raised his play on both ends, scoring 19.8 points per game over that five-game stretch on 49 percent shooting. He leads WAC players in 3s per game (3.0) and is up to 14.4 ppg for the season.
"I definitely feel like I’m in a good place right now," Johnson said. "But it can only get better, and the better we play defense, the better my offense comes. I get a better rhythm when I’m playing good defense and rebounding. Gotta keep playing defense, and the offense will be there."
Depth was a major concern when guards Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman opted to leave the program after seven games, followed by an injury scare to senior point guard Hiram Thompson against Chicago State on Maui. But Thompson overcame a stiff back to play 74 of 80 possible minutes in the last two games of the DHC, wins over Utah and Mississippi State.
Another boost came from guard Miah Ostrowski, who fully joined the team the day after the Hawaii Bowl. He even played 2 minutes against MSU without knowing many of the team’s offensive sets.
"I wasn’t worried about how many minutes I was going to get. I wasn’t expecting to play," Ostrowski said. "It was nice to get a game feel … get those jitters out of my system."
Arnold won’t call upon his fellow Punahou alum for heavy duty in the backcourt, barring foul or injury trouble, until Ostrowski is able to learn more of the offense. The team’s basic motion offense must suffice for now, but he still brings UH back up to 10 active players against USU.