Winning season? Check. Western Athletic Conference tournament berth? Check.
Hawaii is assured of both after riding a dominant first half to a 71-58 defeat of Louisiana Tech last night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
A crowd of about 4,900 saw the hard-charging Rainbow Warriors win for the seventh time in nine games behind impressive performances from all five starters. Sixth-place UH (16-10, 6-7 WAC) thumped the last-place Bulldogs (12-17, 2-11), who dropped their fifth straight conference game.
When UH’s first five was on the floor, LaTech simply couldn’t match up. Senior forward Bill Amis, playing in his second-to-last home game, scored a game-high 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Shooting guard Zane Johnson hit three 3-pointers as part of his 16-point night. Point guard Miah Ostrowski broke down the LaTech defense with his quickness and scored 12 points with seven assists. Sophomore center Vander Joaquim offered some flashy plays en route to 11 points and nine rebounds, and freshman small forward Trevor Wiseman was his usual pesky self in hustling from baseline to baseline.
Senior night is tomorrow against New Mexico State. Guard Hiram Thompson and center Douglas Kurtz are the other seniors.
"I’m as pleased as can be for the seniors," UH coach Gib Arnold said. "This ensures we have a postseason, and ensures they leave as winners. Those were two goals the very first time I met with those three young men. … So good for them … they’ve earned it, because they’ve been great."
UH’s last winning season (18-13) was in 2006-07, in Riley Wallace’s last year as coach. A fine accomplishment, sure, but these Rainbows have much more in mind with three regular-season games left.
"We all want to win all three of them, so that’s our goal right now," Amis said. "We win all three, we carry momentum into the tournament and maybe even get a higher seed, and a bye."
UH expected desperation from the Bulldogs, who are in real danger of missing the WAC tournament. That desperation turned to frustration, especially on the face of LaTech’s top player, forward Olu Ashaolu, who after scoring nine points in the opening minutes, was held scoreless the rest of the way and fouled out with 7 minutes left.
UH dissected LaTech in the first half, earning a 41-22 halftime lead punctuated by back-to-back Ostrowski 3s, and maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way. LaTech’s reserves outscored UH’s in the final minutes to narrow the gap.
Hawaii shot 50 percent, including 65.2 percent in the first half, and notched another stellar defensive effort in holding LaTech to 37.3 percent shooting.
"You have to be tough enough to finish things in the paint. And you’ve got to hit the open shots," LaTech coach Kerry Rupp said. "That’s what they (Hawaii) did."
So well in hand was the victory that Joaquim both ran a fast break and stepped out for a corner 3-pointer in the second half, and didn’t get yanked by Arnold.
"(The fast break was) better than him shooting that 3 ball on that deep corner. That’ll make a highlight reel at the end of the season, but that’s where it needs to be — the end of the season," Arnold said. "That was a fun play, a neat play. He looked pretty good doing it. It wasn’t bad."
That’s a far cry from the 0-5 start to the WAC season, which raised fears of UH missing the tournament for a second straight year. UH’s 56-48 win in Ruston, La., ended much of that concern, and the Rainbows have been on a tear since.
Wiseman started in place of Joston Thomas, who played on the scout team in practices this week after a one-week hiatus for personal issues. Thomas, the team’s third-leading scorer who has started 21 games, checked in for the first time with 2 minutes left in the first half and scored two points in 10 total minutes.
His offense wasn’t needed last night. UH jumped out to a 17-4 lead by hitting five of its first seven shots and stealing the ball three times from the careless Bulldogs.
"We just like to work real hard on defense," Ostrowski said. "I think we’re doing a good job of knowing personnel and how to help, and that’s just teamwork out there and getting each other’s backs. … That’s a main emphasis of our team."
LaTech played without its top scorer, guard DeAndre Brown (15.8 ppg), who was suspended indefinitely last week for a violation of team rules.
The Bulldogs had little choice but to go to Ashaolu at every opportunity. The forward, who averages nearly a double-double, scored nine of LaTech’s first 11 points. But a Herculean night was derailed by foul trouble and effective defense from Amis.
Hawaii played without Thompson, who missed his second straight game with ligament damage in his left arm. He is doubtful for senior night.
|New Mexico State||8||5||.615||4||14-14|
|Boise State||8||6||.571||4 1/2||16-11|
|Fresno State||5||9||.357||7 1/2||13-15|
|San Jose State||4||9||.308||8||14-12|
Hawaii 71, Louisiana Tech 58
Idaho 67, Nevada 59
Boise State 70, Fresno State 56
New Mexico State at Hawaii, 7 p.m.
Louisiana Tech at San Jose State, 3 p.m.
Idaho at Utah State, 4:05 p.m.
Boise State at Nevada, 5:30 p.m.
Hawaii 71, Louisiana Tech 58
Rainbow Warriors (16-10)
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 — Hawaii 41, Louisiana Tech 22
3-point goals — LaTech 5-19 (Smith 2-6, Ashaolu 1-1, Hall 1-2, McNeaill 1-5, C. Johnson 0-5). Hawaii 6-18 (Johnson 3-9, Ostrowski 2-3, Barnes 1-4, Amis 0-1, Joaquim 0-1).
Steals — LaTech 3 (Ashaolu, Souza, Hall). Hawaii 8 (Joaquim 2, Johnson 2, Ostrowski 2, Thomas, Barnes). Blocked shots — LaTech 1 (Roshell). Hawaii 2 (Thomas, Johnson). Officials — Verne Harris, Rick Batsell, Winston Stith. A–Not provided.