Hawaii and Louisiana Tech have more in common than just the distance separating them from the rest of the Western Athletic Conference.
Their men’s basketball teams, four time zones apart, have succeeded and failed in similar fashion all season. Lately, it’s been more of the latter as both reside at the bottom of the conference without a single WAC win to their names.
But one of those teams will correct that tonight. UH (9-8 overall, 0-5 WAC) meets LaTech (9-9, 0-4) at 3 p.m. in Ruston, La.
UH and LaTech are at their best lighting it up from deep, at their worst with ball control — they turn it over at alarming rates — and brought in a number of new players this season.
The Rainbow Warriors are coming off an 82-64 loss at New Mexico State, while the Bulldogs fell at home, 79-74, to San Jose State.
WAC MEN’S BASKETBALL
» Hawaii (9-8, 0-5 WAC) at Louisiana Tech (9-9, 0-4)
» Today, 3 p.m., at Thomas Assembly Center, Ruston, La.
» TV: None
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Travel-weary UH arrived by plane and bus in Ruston yesterday afternoon with enough energy for a shortened practice.
"They’re a team similar to us," first-year UH coach Gib Arnold said in a phone interview from the team hotel last night. "They brought in a lot of new players this year. They’re very young. Like us, they’re trying to find their roles and their identity. And any time you’ve got that, there’s definitely going to be a learning curve and some struggles."
A win over Kerry Rupp’s team would do much for the Rainbows. Getting a leg up on the Bulldogs, a team UH could battle the rest of the season to stay out of last place, is imperative. The last-place finisher among the nine WAC teams misses out on the WAC tournament in Las Vegas.
"It’s an important game for both teams, trying to get your WAC play kick-started," Arnold said. "I think it’s a very important game for both of us. The guys realize that, and understand the task at hand."
The Rainbows have lost 13 straight WAC road games going back to 2008-09, and haven’t won on the mainland in five games this season. The 0-5 start in WAC is the program’s worst since 1986-87 (UH’s worst WAC start ever happened in 1984-85 at 0-7).
Arnold said he expected some diffuculties over the past three weeks, in what he considered the toughest stretch of the schedule starting with the Diamond Head Classic. He’s gotten that in spades, but was also encouraged by the Rainbows’ play late in the loss at NMSU, cutting a 30-point deficit to 18 in the final 10 minutes.
"We’re seeing some growing pains," Arnold said. "It’s frustrating, but we’re trying to find the good things that’ve happened, and there have been. I really like how our guys battled all last night, and how we finished the game. Hopefully that’ll help us going into (tonight)."
The outcome will likely be decided by two primary factors. First, whose shooters are the sharpest; LaTech and Hawaii rank first and second in 3-point makes per game. Second, which team takes decent care of the ball; the teams are the worst two in the WAC in turnovers per game.
If there is an advantage for Hawaii on the road, it is that the Bulldogs aren’t at full strength. Brandon Gibson, who was third on the team in scoring at 9.2 points per game, is out with a season-ending ACL injury. And reserve Darius Redding is academically ineligible, robbing Tech of depth.
The Bulldogs rely on guard DeAndre Brown, a 3-point bomber averaging 16.4 points per game, and Olu Ashaolu, an athletic forward who adds 14.7 ppg and 9.3 rebounds per game, to do the bulk of their damage.
Meanwhile, UH continues to count on Zane Johnson for production. The junior went for a career-high 25 games at New Mexico State, upping his average to 15.1 ppg. Three other players — forward Bill Amis, guard Hiram Thompson and forward Joston Thomas — average double-figure scoring for the Rainbows.