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‘Bows need someone to step up

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LAS VEGAS » With one complete game in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, the Hawaii men’s basketball team can end futility past and present.

The problem is, the Rainbow Warriors aren’t complete. When sixth-seeded UH tries to end dual losing streaks — five games overall and six straight in WAC tournaments — against third-seeded Idaho today, the ‘Bows will be without senior guard Zane Johnson, their best shooter who is tied for the top in team scoring honors but is not on the trip due to an illness.

Idaho coach Don Verlin is wary of that, even after his team stormed into Honolulu and rolled UH 82-63 last Thursday — with Johnson on the court.


At Orleans Arena in Las Vegas

» Who: No. 6 Hawaii (15-15, 6-8 WAC) vs. No. 3 Idaho (18-12, 9-5)

» When: 10 a.m. today

» TV: None

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

» Internet streaming:

» Series: Idaho leads 14-6

"Zane’s a great player, but they got other good players," Verlin said. "And so many times in sports you see where somebody gets hurt, or something happens, and a team rallies around him and some guys step up and play very, very well."

That’s what UH is counting on at the spacious Orleans Arena. Somebody’s going to have to step up, but who’s it gonna be?

Freshman point guard Shaquille Stokes is a candidate. This season has been a learning experience for the confident New Yorker, but with Johnson out, Stokes figures it’s time to show he’s taken his lessons to heart. His scoring average of 7.6 is fourth on the team behind Johnson, center Vander Joaquim and forward Joston Thomas, who all average 14.0.

"I’m going to do my part the best way I know how," Stokes said. "There’s been a lot of talk about me, this and that, but I know what I can do. I’m not here for no reason. I know I can fill it up in scoring and also be a point guard. So I’m just going in there ready to hoop, ready to play. You’re going to see No. 4 performing, and also Hawaii."

UH coach Gib Arnold kept his team’s preparation for Idaho light on Wednesday. Conserving energy has been an emphasis lately.

"Hit everything real quick, everything we needed to, but got in, got out," said Arnold, who added his team tweaked some sets offensively minus Johnson. "These guys should be well rested and very well prepared. Usually when those two things happen, you got a pretty good chance to play well."

That would yield a chance to finish strong in the WAC. The ‘Bows depart for the Big West Conference after this season, and haven’t won a WAC tourney game since 2005.

Arnold said his team’s last 60 minutes of game time — the second half of the loss to Idaho and the full 40 minutes of the 61-60 senior night loss to Utah State on Saturday — is a stretch to build on.

It’s true that those moments were mostly competitive, unlike most of what came on the infamous, 0-for-3 road trip that preceded them. It’s also true that Joaquim was a near nonfactor in the past two contests, with consecutive season lows of four and two points.

Joaquim, since dubbed an All-WAC first-team center, said he will remember well what happened in the last meeting with Idaho.

"Of course," he said. "Me first of all, I didn’t play well. I felt like I didn’t help our team win … we lost at home, which was pretty bad. … I think we can turn it around. We have legs. We had a short practice these last couple days, and our minds (are) right. I felt like we had a pretty good game (against USU), except we just couldn’t finish it."

Idaho is likely to pack in the paint on Joaquim and forward Joston Thomas (14.0 ppg), especially with a zone buster of Johnson’s caliber unavailable.

In contrast to UH’s season-high five-game skid, the Vandals have won seven of eight coming into the tournament, epitomizing the "play your best ball at the end of the season," mantra that coaches often toss around.

The Vandals may not have much in the way of star power, but they get it done as a patient, disciplined unit. Their starting five averages between 13.0 and 7.1 points, and Idaho shoots .479 overall and a WAC-best .393 from 3-point range.

UH earned a 76-70 win in Moscow, Idaho, on Jan. 28, a fact the UH coaches called upon in recent moments of doubt.

"They’re a little older and they don’t hurt themselves," Arnold said. "They’re a very physical team. We got our work cut out for us. We split with them on the season, but we know we can beat them. We just gotta do what we do best as well."

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