Whoever, wherever, whenever is now the road mantra of the Hawaii men’s basketball team. "Whatever" is the attitude about its seeding in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The Rainbow Warriors — who will be seeded fifth or sixth despite a possible 9-7 WAC record — are nonetheless charged with positive energy heading into the regular-season finale against Fresno State at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., today.
That was all UH coach Gib Arnold was concerned about yesterday. Fretting over the seeding and missed chance at a first-round bye, despite possibly finishing in a four-way tie for second place, wasn’t on the priorities list. UH can’t finish in the top four because of the WAC’s head-to-head tiebreaker rules with Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico State.
"It doesn’t matter at all," he said by phone after a light team practice in Fresno. "We just want to play, and are looking forward to going to the tournament. Whoever we play, and whatever day we play is fine for us. I’d probably rather play a game than sit in the hotel all day anyway. We’re just thrilled to be going."
UH (18-10, 8-7 WAC) won for the fourth time in its past five road games Thursday night at San Jose State, 77-71. But because Nevada (8-7) won at Louisiana Tech and Idaho (9-7) defeated Fresno State in Moscow, Idaho, that night, the Rainbows lost any chance at a bye. Spirits were high anyway; Arnold said the overnight bus ride to Fresno was "one of the funnest I’ve ever had."
» Who: Hawaii (18-10, 8-7 WAC) at Fresno State (13-16, 5-10)
» Time: 6 p.m.
» TV: None
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
Should the ‘Bows win for the 10th time in 12 games tonight, they guarantee a rematch with the Bulldogs in the 5-8 matchup in the opening round on Wednesday. A loss tonight means UH could face either Fresno State or San Jose State, depending on the Spartans’ performance at Boise State.
Either way, UH will have to win four games in four days in Las Vegas for the WAC’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
The Rainbows have played so well of late, the extra day almost doesn’t matter. With one more win, UH can get its most since 21 in the 2003-04 NIT season and Arnold can match Bruce O’Neil (1973-74) for the most victories by a first-year UH coach.
It matters a lot to Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland, who expects to have his fill of UH on senior night.
"I prefer the scenario where we beat Hawaii, take the seven seed and play someone else. But you never know how it’ll play out," Cleveland said. "I think Gib’s done a great job. They’ve got confidence, and that’s the key. … I’ve watched enough film on Hawaii to know they’ve got guys who can score it."
Junior guard Zane Johnson (15.6 ppg) has averaged 22.2 points and 5.2 3-point makes over UH’s five-game winning streak. After 26 points and six 3s against the Spartans, Johnson moved up to fourth in the country at 3s per game (3.33) and took sole possession of second place on the UH single-season treys list at 90. He needs only eight more to break Michael Kuebler’s record of 97.
"He’s got a great rhythm going on right now," Arnold said. "Obviously, he’s a shooter and we want him to shoot it. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him shooting it. We call his number and we expect him to hunt his shots. It’s our job to get him open as teammates."
Cleveland said he considers UH senior forward Bill Amis (15.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) an All-WAC player and also spoke highly of center Vander Joaquim (9.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).
The Bulldogs (13-16, 5-10) are coming off one of their best road efforts, a 69-66 loss at Idaho. Center Greg Smith, last season’s WAC freshman of the year, remains the Bulldogs’ most important player despite an unremarkable sophomore season of 11.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Both coaches realize the paint is where tonight’s game could swing. Cleveland said his team, which has struggled from the outside, won’t take jump shots each possession until a post player touches the ball at least once, and Arnold surmised UH must limit Smith, as it did in a 62-52 win in Honolulu on Jan. 20.
UH missed the energetic services of freshman forward Trevor Wiseman against San Jose State, as Wiseman remained in Manoa to attend all his classes during the week. He flew up with strength coach Chris McMillian last night and will meet up with the team in Fresno this morning.
Senior point guard Hiram Thompson is still rehabbing ligament damage around his left elbow and is doubtful to play. Junior Miah Ostrowski, who had 10 assists and no turnovers against the Spartans, will get the start again.