LAS VEGAS » Heartbreak in the Western Athletic Conference tournament had been a few years and two head coaches removed. The basketball gods decided Hawaii needed a reminder.
The Rainbow Warriors fell in stunning fashion in the opening round of the WAC tournament, a last-second 75-74 loss to San Jose State on Wednesday in which Bill Amis’ putback at the buzzer was waved off.
It felt oh-so-familiar to first-year Hawaii coach Gib Arnold. UH basketball fans could probably say the same, for different reasons.
In the postgame press conference, Arnold lamented a few instances this season when UH was on the cusp of winning, only to get burned by a basket at the last second. Losses at Cal Poly and at home against Utah State came to mind.
This time, San Jose State guard Adrian Oliver hit the go-ahead jumper with 5 seconds left and UH’s rebuttal was a split-second too late.
"We’re half a second away from winning that game. It’s a tough loss," Arnold said. "I think everybody felt that one pretty good. … Immediately after, as expected, it was quiet in the locker room. There were a lot of heavy hearts. Not a whole lot you say right after, you all know that was a tough, tough loss."
Thing is, it wasn’t the first time this sort of thing happened to UH in the WAC tournament. UH’s sixth straight WAC tourney loss ranked right up there among the most painful:
» Quarterfinals, March 11, 2004: With UH down 70-67 to Rice with 3.4 seconds left, Logan Lee is fouled. The Rainbows guard makes the first free throw and intentionally misses the second. The ball caroms to UH forward Phil Martin, who puts up a quick shot that bounces around the rim before falling out at the horn. Martin blames the basketball gods in the postgame interviews.
» Quarterfinals, March 9, 2006: Down 58-57 to New Mexico State in the waning seconds, UH has two chances at a game-winner. But a contested jumper by Julian Sensley from the left baseline misses into the hands of teammate Matthew Gipson, who can’t put in a close-range putback attempt at the buzzer.
» Quarterfinals, March 8, 2007: In what would be the final game of Riley Wallace’s 20-year career as head coach, the Rainbows have the ball, trailing Utah State 72-70 with time expiring. Bobby Nash misses a corner 3-pointer with 11 seconds left and UH resorts to fouling Utah State guard Jaycee Carroll, who makes one of two foul shots. Matt Lojeski’s tying 3-point heave at the buzzer hits back iron.
Unlike those last two instances, UH has a chance to atone. The Rainbows (18-12) play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament against Portland at the Stan Sheriff Center on Tuesday, their first postseason appearance since the NIT in 2004.
"I know we’re all excited about it," Arnold said. "The reason you grind it out in the preseason and regular season is to put yourself in a position to play in the postseason. For a team that wasn’t picked to even go to the WAC tournament, to be able to play in the postseason is pretty special. These guys are grateful for it and excited for it. We’re playing a heck of a team."
The UH players returned to Manoa for Thursday classes and resumed practice yesterday in preparation for the Pilots (20-11), who were upset by Loyola Marymount in the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament.