In an unconventional game, it’s only fitting to play an unconventional team.
Hawaii breaks from Western Athletic Conference action to take on UC Davis of the Big West Conference today at The Pavilion in Davis, Calif., as part of the annual ESPNU BracketBusters event.
This game can’t help sixth-place UH move up in the WAC standings, nor will it provide a boost in RPI, as UCD is in last place in a conference ranked 22nd of 31 in RPI strength (whereas the WAC is 13th).
A win is still important to keep momentum going for the Rainbow Warriors (14-10, 5-7 WAC), who’ve won five of their past seven games heading into the home stretch of the season.
Besides the fact that UH had to travel for this nonconference game — breaking up what would have been a three-game WAC homestand — coach Gib Arnold’s team must deal with an opponent schooled in catching foes off-guard with unorthodox play.
UCD (9-16, 3-9 Big West), in its fourth year as a full Division I member, starts five players listed as guards, though two of them are 6-foot-8. The Aggies snapped a four-game losing streak on Tuesday at Seattle University.
Hawaii (14-10, 5-7 WAC) at UC Davis (9-16, 3-9 Big West)
» When: Today, noon Hawaii time
» Where: The Pavilion, Davis, Calif.
» TV: None
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
"We like to spread the court out and be able to drive it as well as shoot it," eighth-year UCD coach Gary Stewart said. "We recruit guys who can step out on the perimeter and make shots, we can post them. … We put a high premium on people who can do a multitude of things."
The Rainbows also must adapt to being without two usual starters for the game. Point guard Hiram Thompson’s left arm is in a sling from a hyperextended elbow and small forward Joston Thomas did not make the road trip after being excused from two straight practices before the trip for personal reasons.
Junior point guard Miah Ostrowski and freshman forward Trevor Wiseman are the probable starters in their stead. The rest of UH’s starting lineup — forward Bill Amis (14.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), guard Zane Johnson (14.2 ppg, 40 percent on 3s) and center Vander Joaquim (8.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) — is intact.
"(Hiram not playing) is a big loss for us because he’s a floor leader and everyone respects him, especially me because he’s helped me out a lot when I joined the team," Ostrowski said. "But we’ve been good at picking up the slack when people get hurt. That’s what’s good about our team; we come together when we face adversity. I think we’ll be fine."
UCD is a prolific 3-point shooting team; its 194 long-range makes (at a 37.7 percent clip) are more than any WAC school. Nearly a third of the Aggies’ field goal makes are from long range, as eight players have made 10 or more. Davis’ two 6-8 starters, Mark Payne and Joe Harden, lead the Aggies with 14.9 and 14.8 ppg, respectively. Harden is a transfer from Notre Dame.
UH should have an advantage on the interior, but centers Joaquim and Douglas Kurtz may be forced out of their comfort zone on defense.
"They cause you some problems in that they run a five-out motion, meaning their five-man is out there running around shooting 3s and setting screens," Arnold said. "Our bigs, Vander and Doug, are really going to have to chase a big, which they haven’t had to a lot this year. … A lot of teams zone them because of that, because it’s tough to guard the five-man motion."
The 6-7 Wiseman may play a key role there; he is UH’s best and most versatile defender. He’s seen an expanded role of late (his hustle was key in the Nevada win on Monday) and is taking an all-business attitude on this trip. He said the team learned from its last nonconference trip to California, a 54-53 loss at Cal Poly on Dec. 1.
"Last time … we acted like we were just going to walk all over them," Wiseman said. "I think that we have to take a very serious approach when we go into Davis."
UH arrived safely in nearby Sacramento late Thursday night after flying to San Francisco and practiced yesterday afternoon.
Of interesting note, Aggies 6-foot-3 point guard Todd Lowenthal played at Hawaii for one season under Riley Wallace in 2006-07 and transferred out after that. The former Rainbows reserve is a pace-setter of sorts for Davis, not looking to score (2.4 ppg) but rebound (5.5) and deal assists (3.9).
"I know him pretty well from being down in that (California) area," Arnold said. "I’ve seen him play in high school. … He’s a pass-first guy."
UCD, a team UH will see twice a season once the Rainbows join the Big West in 2012, also will play at UH next season in a mandated BracketBusters return game.
UH has played in all eight previous years of the BracketBusters event, posting a 3-5 record in those games, including 1-3 against Big West teams.