LOGAN, Utah » Zane Johnson missed Hawaii’s historic 44-point loss at Utah State last year because of NCAA transfer rules.
Now starting for the Rainbow Warriors, the junior guard wasn’t about to let that happen again when he had an opportunity to do something about it.
"I know they beat us by 40 last year, and I would never let anybody beat me by 40," Johnson declared after the Rainbows’ 74-66 loss at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum last night. "It’s embarrassing to lose by 40, so we all came ready to play tonight."
Johnson matched his career high with 24 points to keep Hawaii (9-4, 0-1 Western Athletic Conference) within reach of what would have been a stunning upset of the three-time defending conference champion Aggies (12-2, 1-0).
After trailing 34-30 at halftime, the Rainbows pulled to within two points on five occasions in the final 8 minutes, but could never get a defensive stop when they needed it the most.
"You have to give Hawaii credit for giving us a battle," USU forward Tai Wesley said after his team’s 23rd straight home victory. "They are not the team that we have seen in the past. They are a good team. They have a bunch of new players that can light up the scoresheet and hit some tough shots."
Wesley, the WAC preseason player of the year, put together one of the strongest performances of his career, going 8-for-12 from the field and 11-for-11 from the free-throw line en route to 27 points and 13 rebounds. The 27 points matched Wesley’s career high, which also came in the Spectrum against the Rainbows in 2008.
"They know who their go-to guy is, and he did what he always does — he delivered," said UH head coach Gib Arnold, who unsuccessfully recruited Wesley while he was the head coach at the College of Southern Idaho.
Hawaii put together its best shooting performance in four years at one of the toughest places to play in the country, knocking down 63.2 percent of its shots, including an 8-for-14 effort from 3-point range.
Johnson hit four of UH’s treys, while senior guard Hiram Thompson added two. Thompson finished with 13 points and tied his career high with nine assists before fouling out with 1:48 remaining.
"We played really hard, and we played together in a really tough environment and put ourselves in a position to win that game," Arnold said. "We were right there, but a great team that is so well-coached like that, they’re not going to give it to you. You got to take it."
The Rainbows’ hot shooting hands, however, were negated by a woeful rebounding performance. Hawaii totaled just five boards in the second half and 13 for the game. The Aggies pulled down 32 rebounds and held an 18-2 advantage in offensive rebounds.
"You’re not going to win anywhere, home or away, with a rebound margin like that," Arnold said. "They did a great job on the boards, and we didn’t."
With a snowstorm wailing outside, the game was played with two referees after the third’s plane was diverted away from Salt Lake City.
The Rainbows still found themselves battling foul trouble most of the night, with big men Vander Joaquim and Joston Thomas missing large chunks of time. Thompson fouled out and Johnson played the last 3:16 with four fouls.
"It was different," Arnold said of the official situation. "I thought they did as good of a job as they could do. But it was very physical, and it’s obviously going to be a differently called game with two. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying it was different."
Down 5-0 to start the game, the Rainbows quickly righted the ship with a 12-3 run and led by four points on two occasions in the first half.
Facing a large variety of defensive looks from Hawaii, the Aggies never seemed to get into a comfortable offensive flow, but thanks to a 10-for-10 performance at the line, the hosts ended up pulling away for a 34-30 lead at halftime.
Utah State, playing in front of a relatively small home crowd of 7,025, started the second half with a 7-0 spurt before Johnson got hot and the Rainbows closed to within 48-46 with 11:56 left on a dunk by Thomas. Hawaii made several more runs at Utah State, but the veteran Aggies responded when pushed and never surrendered the lead.
With 1:29 left, Brockeith Pane’s head clipped Johnson’s shoulder on a screen, and USU’s point guard when down to the floor while Johnson ended up knocking down a 3-pointer to pull Hawaii to within 67-64. Still dazed, Pane ended up being forced to call a timeout on USU’s subsequent possession with 5 seconds left on the shot clock and UH’s defense closing in.
However, Pane ended up taking the inbounds pass from Wesley at halfcourt and driving all the way down the right side of the lane for a layup as the shot clock expired.
Leading 69-64 with 47 seconds left, the Aggies closed out the victory with free throws and a tip-in by Wesley off a missed free-throw attempt.
"We went out there and played hard and played together," Thompson said. "This is a new team, and we didn’t even talk about last year. We have confidence that we can we win.
"We had our chances and just fell a little bit short. It hurts, but we’re going to recover and keep going."
|New Mexico State||1||0||1.000||—||7-8|
|San Jose State||0||1||.000||1||8-4|
Utah State 74, Hawaii 66
New Mexico State 74, Idaho 69
Boise State 71, Louisiana Tech 60
Fresno State 75, San Jose State 62
Hawaii at Nevada, 3 p.m.
New Mexico State at Boise State
Louisiana Tech at Idaho
San Jose State at Utah State
UTAH STATE 74, HAWAII 66
RAINBOW WARRIORS (9-4, 0-1)
AGGIES (12-2, 1-0)
Key — fg-a: field goals made-attempted; ft-a: free throws made-attempted; rb: rebounds; pf: personal fouls; pts: total points; a: assists; to: turnovers; min: minutes played.
Halftime — Utah State 34, Hawaii 30
3-point goals — Hawaii 8-14 (Johnson 4-6, Thompson 2-3, Barnes 1-2, Thomas 1-3). Utah State 7-23 (Williams 3-5, Newbold 2-7, Green 1-4, Pane 1-5, Wesley 0-1, Walker 0-1).
Steals — Hawaii 4 (Thomas, Thompson, Johnson, Wiseman). Utah State 6 (Pane 2, Williams 2, Bendall, Wesley).
Blocked shots — Hawaii 1 (Thomas). Utah State 2 (Wesley, Jardine). Officials — Verne Harris, Darron George. A–7,025.