LAS VEGAS » Four wins in four days hasn’t come up. One win in 40 minutes has.
In the new Western Athletic Conference tournament format, four wins is what it will take for the Hawaii men’s basketball team to claim the tourney title and advance to the NCAA Tournament, the preseason goal of most teams throughout the country.
MEN’S WAC TOURNAMENT
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
» Who: No. 8 San Jose State (15-14) vs. No. 5 Hawaii (18-11)
» When: 10 a.m. today
» TV: none
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
But should the fifth-seeded Rainbow Warriors (18-11) stumble today in the opening round against eighth-seeded San Jose State (15-14), the rest of the formula becomes moot.
"Pretty much everybody in the country is down to a 40-minute season. That’s it," UH coach Gib Arnold said. "That’s all we’re worried about, we’re going to keep it real simple. … We talked strictly about San Jose. We’re going to keep it that way.
"If we’re fortunate to win, then as soon as that game’s done, then we’ll be invited to another 40-minute season."
To face fourth-seeded Idaho in tomorrow’s second round, UH must dispatch the offensively talented Spartans for the third time this season and win its first WAC tournament game since 2005 — also against San Jose State. UH beat the Spartans 67-61 in Honolulu on Jan. 22 and spoiled their senior night last week with a 77-71 victory.
Other than some close losses in WAC play, San Jose State has had a memorable season. It was the struggling program’s first winning regular season in 10 years.
The constant in UH’s victories against the Spartans was effective defense against senior guard Adrian Oliver, the third-leading scorer in the country at 24.3 points per game. UH junior guard Zane Johnson, who at 6-foot-6 has a size advantage, did an effective job in holding the 6-4 Oliver to a combined 8-for-26 shooting for 14.5 points in those games.
"He’s an offensive-minded player. He’s going to get his shots up, he got them both games," said Johnson, UH’s leading scorer at 15.8 ppg. "He’s really crafty, so you gotta be ready for that. We just gotta pressure him and always be there on catches. Use mine and Trevor (Wiseman)’s length to guard him in the open floor as well as the halfcourt sets."
Arnold acknowledged the battle could hinge on whether Oliver gets hot. He has seven 30-point games this season.
"Scoring the ball, scoring baskets is what Adrian does," San Jose State coach George Nessman said. "We think Hawaii’s done a pretty good job defending him, but it’s been hard for anybody to stop him consistently. We won’t make many changes in that regard."
Both Arnold and Nessman elected to go through a scout from scratch on the other team, even though their last game was fresh in their minds. Arnold equated it to a chess match, albeit one held under the bright lights of Vegas.
"We already know what they like to do, who we need to stop, who we need to look out for," said UH junior point guard Miah Ostrowski, who had 10 assists and no turnovers in the two teams’ last meeting. "It’s a willpower kind of thing, but on top of that it’s just like, staying away from the distractions and all those other things out there and Vegas, the strip, wanting to go out, the casinos, things like that. Just trying to maintain focus."
UH could have laid claim to the title of hottest team entering the tournament, but saw its momentum sputter in an 85-70 loss at Fresno State in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
The Rainbows have been on the mainland since the beginning of March. They arrived in Vegas on Sunday, but elected to stay at a quieter hotel far from the strip until moving into the Orleans Hotel yesterday, adjacent to the arena.