Hawaii and Louisiana Tech are cellar buddies no longer.
The Rainbow Warriors and Bulldogs faced a mutual plight at the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference in Ruston, La., last month, just before UH broke through against the Bulldogs for its first conference victory after five losses.
Over a month later, UH has found its footing, winning six of its past eight games overall. LaTech is still in the basement.
» Louisiana Tech (12-14, 2-10 WAC) at Hawaii (15-10, 5-7)
» Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., at Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5. Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
» Note: Game starts after the 5 p.m. Rainbow Wahine basketball game
UH can empathize from its struggles earlier in league play, but expect no sympathy for the Bulldogs tomorrow night when the teams meet with high stakes on the line at the Stan Sheriff Center.
A win would guarantee the sixth-place Rainbow Warriors (15-10, 5-7 WAC) a berth in the WAC tournament in Las Vegas next month and keep alive hope for a top-four seed. A loss by LaTech (12-16, 2-10) would severely damage the Bulldogs’ chances of avoiding elimination from the tournament after 16 WAC games.
"Both teams are still fighting to get to the postseason. I expect nothing but their best shot," UH coach Gib Arnold said. "I think Kerry Rupp’s an outstanding coach, and he’s going to have them prepared and ready. We expect a big-time game."
UH held LaTech’s top two players, guard DeAndre Brown and forward Olu Ashaolu, to 4-for-21 combined shooting in the previous meeting in Ruston. The Bulldogs, who’ve suffered myriad injuries, illnesses and other problems all season, are even less equipped for a road win.
Brown (team-best 15.8 points per game) was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules and athletic department policy before LaTech’s 51-45 Bracket Buster over Georgia State on Saturday. A school official said he did not make the trip to Hawaii.
Assistant coach Brandyn Akana, who has scouted the Bulldogs, homed in on freshman point guard Kenyon McNeaill as LaTech’s new source of offense. McNeaill, a perimeter threat, is averaging 8.6 points on the season, but about 14 over LaTech’s last seven games.
"I think with the point guard playing well, the players around him, Ashaolu, those guys are playing well together," Akana said. "They’re a dangerous team. It’s WAC tournament (on the line), their backs are against the wall because they need to win games."
While LaTech hasn’t shaken its struggles — particularly in the scoring department — UH continues to improve. Junior guard Zane Johnson (team-best 14.9 ppg) is coming off a career-high 32-point effort in the Bracket Buster matchup at UC Davis, in which he hit nine 3-pointers, one off the UH-record 10 set by Trevor Ruffin.
Senior night is on Saturday against second-place New Mexico State. Forward Bill Amis, center Doug Kurtz and point guard Hiram Thompson are the three UH seniors, but Thompson is doubtful with an injured left elbow. Junior Miah Ostrowski will start in his stead.
"Hopefully the fans come out, get some big crowds for my last couple games," said Amis, UH’s second-leading scorer (14.7) and rebounder (7.3). "They’re both huge games for us."
The Rainbows welcomed back sophomore forward Joston Thomas this week after he was left home from the UC Davis game and was excused from a few practices for personal issues.
Thomas practiced with the scout team yesterday, a sign that perhaps Arnold will bring him back to his starter’s role gradually.
"We’re going to do what’s best for the team," Arnold replied to a question about Thomas’ role vs. LaTech. "We’re so close, talent-wise (in the WAC), that the best teams this time of year are the ones that continue to play. Just play together. That’s our focus. Just everybody as one unit."