Somebody’s getting burned in San Jose, Calif., tonight, when two of the hottest teams in the Western Athletic Conference collide.
The fifth-place Hawaii men’s basketball team (17-10, 7-7 WAC), winner of eight of its last 10 games, meets seventh-place San Jose State (15-12, 5-9) on the Spartans’ senior night at The Event Center.
Confidence couldn’t be much higher among the two squads in the final week of the regular season. George Nessman’s Spartans have won four straight and six of eight. Gib Arnold’s Rainbow Warriors are going for their fourth win in five road games.
To prevent the San Jose State students from rushing the court, as they did after the 72-70 overtime win over New Mexico State on Feb. 23, UH will have to clamp down on the Spartans’ potent backcourt.
To that end, the Rainbows arrived in San Jose late Tuesday night and practiced at a nearby junior college yesterday. There’s still much to play for; a win tonight keeps UH in the hunt for a top-four seed and a bye in next week’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas.
HAWAII MEN’S BASKETBALL
» Who: Hawaii (17-10, 7-7 WAC) at San Jose State (15-12, 5-9)
» When: 5:30 p.m. today
» TV: None
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
"I think San Jose’s playing really good basketball right now, their best basketball of the season," Arnold said. "They’ve played well at home. Winning four straight, they’re on a good run. They’ve got really good, quick guards and they’ve given us trouble. It’s going to be on the defensive end and keeping those guards from getting hot. It’ll be a team defensive game first, and hopefully our shots will be falling as well."
When the two teams played in Honolulu on Jan. 22, the Rainbows earned a 67-61 win in large part because Spartans guard Adrian Oliver, the nation’s third-leading scorer at 24.3 points per game, was held to 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Granted, he was coming off a two-game absence from concussion-like symptoms, but 6-foot-6 guard Zane Johnson bothered Oliver with his length.
Oliver has since regained his offensive touch, scoring 30 or more points in three of the past five games. Senior guard Justin Graham and freshman Keith Shamburger are the other primary offensive threats for the highest-scoring team (73.8 ppg) in the conference.
"We’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to take out Oliver and Graham and make their supporting guys beat us like last time," said Johnson, UH’s leading scorer with a 15.2 average. "They’re a good team, it’s hard to stop them, but we’re going to game-plan well and hopefully get that win."
San Jose State will likely be riding high on emotion at tipoff, as Oliver and Graham, both career 1,000-point scorers, will be honored before their final home game. The Spartains have upset top-half teams Idaho and New Mexico State since a 1-7 WAC start.
"Certainly now we’re healthier and playing a lot better … our halfcourt defense has dramatically improved over the last month," Nessman said. "The guys feel positive. They’re not overconfident, but they certainly feel they can go out and compete and do what they need to do. We’re playing more like we had projected for ourselves coming into conference."