As a transfer to the Hawaii men’s basketball team, Zane Johnson saw it all from the sidelines last year. The implosion in the Western Athletic Conference season. How players checked out mentally. The apathy when the Rainbow Warriors missed out on the WAC tournament.
The UH junior guard, now the team’s leading scorer, sat down at the media room podium after Saturday night’s 79-55 home loss to Boise State and laid out, in no uncertain terms, what is wrong with the Rainbows during their 0-4 start to WAC play.
The worst part is, it’s starting to sound familiar. But Johnson won’t let it continue, if he has anything to say about it. And he does.
"We’re just out there playing not to make mistakes, and you can’t do that," said Johnson, who had a team-high 18 points against BSU. "It almost felt like to me that we were playing with no heart. Just out there. We can’t do that. … We get punched, and we don’t get back up. And that’s our biggest problem right now."
The Broncos staggered the Rainbows with a left-right combination of two 3-pointers immediately out of the break, turning a two-point deficit into a four-point lead. Just like that, the game turned in BSU’s favor for good. Heads hung during big Broncos plays — of which there were many in the second half as they outscored UH 50-24.
If it feels like UH just can’t win in the WAC anymore, that’s because its lost 14 of its last 15 league games going back to last year. Both of last week’s home losses, to Idaho and BSU, could be chalked up to second-half meltdowns after UH played reasonably well in the first halves.
In the strongest statements issued by a UH player this season, Johnson was adamant that the team needs a change in attitude. One that couldn’t be supplied solely from head coach Gib Arnold.
"We’re playing with no passion. It’s embarrassing, really. It is," said Johnson, who added he felt everyone on the team cared. "So we just gotta get in practice and just get back what we had (before WAC play).
"It’s gotta come from within, it’s gotta come from the players. It can’t always come from the coaches. Somebody has to step up and want to be a leader out there. Bill (Amis) and Hiram (Thompson) have done a good job this year, I’m not trying to knock them in any way, but we gotta figure it out and figure it out fast."
UH resumes practice today to prepare for its game at New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1 WAC) on Thursday. The road trip, which ends at Louisiana Tech (9-8, 0-3) on Saturday, is annually the most difficult in terms of distance.
However, it would be a mistake to write these games off as losses; the Rainbows’ best showing in league play thus far happened at WAC title-favorite Utah State.
Arnold credited Johnson for showing more of a leadership role of late, with both his play (14.5 points per game) and voice. But so far, that hasn’t been enough in a horrible conference start. UH shot a horrendous 23.1 percent in the second half on Saturday, compared to 61.5 percent for the WAC-leading Broncos (4-0).
"We gotta find a group of guys that (keep their heads up) and we gotta get some leadership to be able to be able to beat that (letdowns)," Arnold said in the postgame conference. "When you’re building a program, it’s not always going to be easy and we might even take steps back before we go forward. But we’re going to go forward. We’re going to eventually get there. No one’s given up. We’re going to find a way to get it."