What a doubleheader for University of Hawaii sports fans, even those who didn’t get to see the conclusion of the baseball team’s 5-4, 15-inning victory over Texas.
Some of that sellout crowd at Les Murakami Stadium had already made its way to the Stan Sheriff Center to help build another big gathering, this one around 8,000, to see the hottest team in town beat New Mexico State 76-70 in the UH men’s basketball team’s final home game.
And you can’t be late for senior night, can you?
If you were on Hawaiian Time, you missed the 5 seconds Hiram Thompson played in his final home game — and perhaps the tribute the Rainbows Warriors paid him in the early going by playing Hiram Ball; they flew around the court without regard for their bodies in the style of the senior guard known for his extensive medical chart and aggressive on-court style. His fellow seniors, forward Bill Amis and center Douglas Kurtz, seemed most eager to bang bodies with the NMSU big men.
And, another unique honor afterward — Thompson must be the only NCAA basketball senior feted with not one, or two, but three Polynesian war dances from relatives following his last game.
SOME OF THE dancers looked nearly as fierce as the outsized Aggies, a physical team that dominated Hawaii by 18 points at Las Cruces, N.M., on Jan. 13.
But this is a much different Rainbows team today. It’s a squad that has won eight out of 10 games since that debacle, which was the fifth loss in a row for UH to start the WAC season.
This is now a group capable of beating anyone in the conference, and not just when it’s hot from the perimeter. While Zane Johnson’s six 3-pointers were obviously huge, the Rainbows’ rebounding margin of 42-30 and stalwart defense — especially at the rim — were the biggest factors in last night’s outcome. When they played in Las Cruces, the Aggies owned the glass 43-34.
Center Vander Joaquim becomes a bigger force with every game, and with the help of Amis, controlled the post area on both ends as Hawaii never trailed after NMSU scored the first basket and UH built a double-digit lead.
The crowd was the loudest in years in the second half when Johnson hit an NBA-range bomb and then another three, and Joaquim’s block and ensuing bucket forced an NMSU timeout.
UH finished up a 14-3 run with four players touching the ball on a transition bucket, with Amis doing finishing honors.
The Aggies’ defense tightened up in the late going, forcing Hawaii down to the final seconds on the shot clock several times. At 2:26, Amis failed to get his guarded jumper off on time. The Aggies trailed by just four, and had calmed the crowd, at least momentarily. There was still noise, but the apprehension was palpable.
BUT DOWN the stretch, the Rainbows held on. And they did it without two key players, as Joaquim and Miah Ostrowski, the guy who makes the offense go, fouled out.
Backup point Bobby Miles, forward Trevor Wiseman and guard Bo Barnes (another man off the bench) contributed steady minutes — Barnes hitting the key free throws to close it out. What do those three have in common? They’re all freshmen.
Look at how young this team is. During certain key spans, a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen were on the court.
It was a celebration of the contributions of seniors Amis, Thompson and Kurtz. But it was also a good time to consider that there is plenty for this program to look forward to in years ahead.
Reach Dave Reardon at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com.