Archive for December, 2012

Jewel of a Diamond Head Classic

December 27th, 2012
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Pete Derzis at ESPN Regional TV and David Matlin, the executive director of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, should be given a round of applause for the fine 2012 edition of  the just-completed tournament at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The championship game of the 2012 DHC should help keep this tournament on the map in the years to come. No. 3 Arizona needed a huge block from freakishly athletic Nick Johnson on Chase Tapley's layup attempt at the buzzer to preserve a 68-67 win over No. 17  San Diego State on Christmas night.

The first half wasn't anything to write home about, but the second was a true test of the Wildcats' mettle as they went down eight against a SDSU team that hadn't lost indoors yet this season. It was a wild fight to the finish worthy of the tourney's first meeting of ranked teams.

For those UH fans who stayed for the championship, kudos to you. It was the best atmosphere for a non-UH game at the DHC in its four years of operation. At first glance, the crowd of about 3,000 didn't look as impressive as those that fill the Lahaina Civic Center for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, but that's deceiving with how easily the 2,000-seat LCC fills up compared to the Stan Sheriff. The vocal fans of UA and SDSU, while more spread out in the SSC lower bowl, were just as good at creating a thrilling atmosphere.

Even the third-place game, between Indiana State and Miami, delivered on the goods ... eventually. Jake Odum hit a leaning bank shot to win it at the overtime buzzer, 57-55.

All in all, it was the best holiday tournament at UH in years, and it brought to mind some of the glory days of the old Rainbow Classic.

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UH's 81-66 loss to Ole Miss in the consolation championship wasn't a huge surprise given the disparity in guard experience. Beating East Tennessee State with a freshman backcourt was one thing ... the opportunistic Rebels something else entirely. Credit the 'Bows for pulling themselves out of a 16-point first half hole, fighting through some fullcourt pressure and putting themselves in a position to win in the final five minutes. Criticism is fair as well for the meltdown that followed, and the wild 26-2 disparity in points off turnovers.

UH (6-5) went without a win over a quality team in the nonconference season, though it certainly tantalized with the near-upset of Illinois, a close first-half battle with Miami and a competitive second half at UNLV. And, of course, some thrilling moments against Ole Miss.

Vander Joaquim's return to form in the final nonconf. game (career-high 29 pts, 15 reb, 2 blk) was surely a welcome sight for UH fans. He looked like the Vander of old, not an old Vander, which is what many feared his preseason knee injury would render him into.

With Big West play looming on Saturday, we'll see if Gib Arnold goes back to something closer to the rotation that he started the season with, now that Manroop Clair and Brandon Jawato have gotten a taste of real playing time they can fall back on later if needed.

The real question is, can Hauns Brereton pull himself out of his slump in time to salvage a productive senior season? He's certainly trying, putting up extra shots after just about every practice. But after a sizzling 24-point start to the season, he hasn't come close to matching that output. UH needs his shooting touch if it is to become a threat to win the Big West tournament.

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Back to the DHC. Six teams, including host UH, have been announced for the 2013 field. They are George Mason of the CAA, Iowa State of the Big 12, Saint Mary's of the WCC, Oregon State of the Pac-12 and South Carolina of the SEC. Not a bad start with two pukas to fill.

Given the overall strength of this year's group and the thrilling finish, the incomplete nature of next year's field could work to ESPN's advantage (as opposed to Maui, which has completely filled the next two years ... with the caveat that it's hard to know exactly how good a team will be that far out). Expect two more "name" teams to fill the void.

The dates for 2013 weren't released yet; there are some TV scenarios involving the NFL that need to get sorted first. But from what I'm told there's a good chance the Dec. 22, 23 and 25 dates of every previous DHC will remain another year.

Diamond Head Classic time

December 21st, 2012
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For the first time, the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic field equals, if not surpasses, what the EA Sports Maui Invitational fielded in the same season.

In the fourth HADHC,  No. 4 Arizona and No. 18 San Diego State headline a very strong field. Hawaii will probably have to get past Miami (receiving votes) in the first round on Saturday to have a shot at one or both of the ranked teams, but you never know for sure. Ole Miss, San Francisco and Indiana State have proven frisky at times this season and could pose problems if the big names are lax. East Tennessee State is the only pushover on paper.

Hawaii has seen ranked teams this season in both Illinois (unranked at the time, but now No. 10 after winning Maui and other games) and No. 21 UNLV. The Rainbow Warriors will potentially be exposed to more of the top 25.

Some have said this field is the strongest since the event's inception. I'm one of them. While Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Butler won it two years ago and made it to the national title game that year (for the second straight season under coach Brad Stevens), they weren't an overwhelming team on paper, and runner-up Klay Thompson and Washington State cooled off considerably in Pac-10 play.

UH coach Gib Arnold is among the believers. He's seen all three DHCs this point, including the first as an assistant with USC, the inaugural champion in 2009.

"I think so. I think it's a great field," Arnold said before rattling off some of the top competitors this weekend. "Top to bottom. They've done a good job. I think the Diamond Head Classic, I said last year, when it's all said and done is going to be the premier preseason tournament in the country. That's because the facilities are great here and the hospitality's great. (Tournament director) Dave Matlin and the rest of the guys from the Diamond Head do a great job of hosting it. I know that for a fact, I played here in the first one. I left here thinking' What a great tournament. It's well run.' You can see, it's just getting better and better. I have no doubt, it's going to be the premier one in the country."

Arizona, certainly, is the highest-ranked team the DHC has seen at the time of its execution. And SDSU could be right up there too, if not for a loss on an aircraft carrier to Syracuse. Miami has beaten a ranked team in Michigan State and its only loss, to Florida Gulf Coast, came with some key players out.

If you're looking for some high quality hoops, come out to the Stan Sheriff Center on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. UH's game vs. Miami is listed at 7:30 on Saturday, but that ESPNU game might start closer to 8 with the previous game, Arizona and East Tennessee State, slated to start at 5:30.

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Meanwhile, UH is coming off a game in which it got a season-high 40 bench points in the 104-93 win over Chaminade. Junior guard Brandon Spearman, moved to the bench, scored 18 a game after going scoreless. Freshman Brandon Jawato took advantage of the 10 minutes he was given, scoring 10 for a breakout game. And Garrett Jefferson was solid in the backup point guard role, scoring six with three assists. Of the three, Jefferson in particular could be key this weekend with Jace Tavita expected to have a reduction in minutes due to his now-hashed and rehashed ejection against the Silverswords.

"It was a good game against Chaminade. Happy we came out with the W. Can't wait for the Diamond Head Classic," Spearman said. "I never seen that (27 combined 3s) but we contested shots. Somehow they was going in. I believe we played good D. They were just making good shots.

"I don't think (my shot) went away. It just went away for two games. ... I just want to go out there and play hard for the team."

Jawato, too, is looking to build off last weekend.

"I would sum up the Molokai trip as a great weekend," said Jawato, who went 4-for-6 from the field, including 2-for-4 on 3-pointers. "When Coach called on me to go in the game, I was just really pumped up and energized. I wanted to bring energy on both sides of the floor, and just help my team win. That's basically it."

He may have earned himself an earlier look in games that aren't decided yet. That honor for wing players off the bench went almost exclusively to Ozren Pavlovic to this point.

"It was a major confidence booster for me," Jawato said. "I'm just going to keep going out there playing my game."

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Freshman forward Isaac Fotu appeared on PBS' Leahey & Leahey Show on Wednesday night, coming off his 18-point, 8-for-9 shooting game against Chaminade. Fotu did well for himself in the studio, too. You can watch it here.

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The Molokai life

December 15th, 2012
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Greetings from the Friendly Isle. After a bumpy ride in a tiny Cessna prop plane and some stumbling around on dark streets upon landing, your humble correspondent is settled in and ready to cover some hoops on Molokai.

Tipoff between UH (4-3) and Chaminade (3-6) is tonight at 7:30 p.m. No TV or video streaming for this one, so you'll have to tune in to KKEA, 1420-AM to catch it.

UH arrived safely Friday night and headed straight to Molokai High's gym, The Barn, for a light practice. The Rainbow Warriors were then treated to a meal there by the locals.

The Barn is your typical high school gym, seating about 2,000, with the caveat that it's at one of the most remote places in the state. That lends it a unique feel.

Stan Sheriff Center arena manager Rich Sheriff flew over ahead of time to etch in the charge circle and extended college 3-point lines on the court. It looked well done.

Doing a little picture experimentation here. This is UH assistant Brandyn Akana at  his alma mater, Molokai High, where he used to light it up in the Maui Interscholastic League.

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"It feels great. Feels like I'm back home," said Akana, whose older brother Jarinn, the former UH guard, was there as well. "Real comfortable in this gym. The guys are comfortable here, too. We spent some time here a couple months ago. Just seeing the friendly faces, old coaches, family and friends. Really good feeling to be back home."

Here was the team as a whole practicing in the barn.

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Meanwhile, Chaminade — the "home" team for this game — was to fly in Saturday morning after a 74-65 loss to a tough Cedarville team on Friday night.

The good news for the 'Swords (and potentially bad news for the 'Bows) was that senior guard De'Andre Haskins and freshman forward Kevin Hu, the two players instrumental in the upset of Texas last month, returned from injuries to play off the bench vs. Cedarville.

UH senior center Vander Joaquim was feeling confident after Friday's practice, despite the team's two consecutive losses. He said his right knee was in good shape.

"So far so good. We feel like we're at home. Nice weather out here," Joaquim said. "It helps out a lot because we had practice here before. I kind of feel like I'm getting the boards, you know, with the rims, it's not like it's something new because we just got here and we gotta get used to it."

Pepperdine fallout // Fotu gets a surprise

December 11th, 2012
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Everyone had a chance to cleanse their palate from that Hawaii loss to Pepperdine on Saturday? I can't hold it against you if you haven't yet ... things got downright sour at the Stan Sheriff.

Thirty-three percent shooting from the field and 50 percent at the foul line will do that do you. Especially when you clank 11 in the second half (in 20 FT attempts) to hamstring your comeback effort.

UH had Monday completely off from weights, films, and practice, as it's now finals week. The Rainbow Warriors got back at it in a closed practice session Tuesday afternoon. More on that in Wednesday's edition of the paper.

Scout work on Saturday's opponent, Chaminade, begins in earnest starting tomorrow. If the Silverswords get De'Andre Haskins and Kevin Hu — two of the key Texas slayers at the Maui Invitational — back from recent injuries in time, it could be quite a battle at The Barn.

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There were a few extra visitors at Tuesday's practice. Manu Fotu, the father of freshman forward Isaac Fotu, attended along with two of Isaac's younger siblings.

The Fotus worked with UH assistant coach Brandyn Akana to arrive in Hawaii from New Zealand in secret and surprise Isaac on campus before practice.

"We decided to come over and surprise Isaac. We didn't tell him that we were going to come," Manu Fotu said. "Isaac thought he was going down to have a talk with a counselor."

"Coach Akana sent me a message about a meeting, I didn't know what it was about," Isaac said. "(My family) just came out of a door. I was shocked, in shock.  ... I've been telling everyone I've been missing my family, and then they just turned up. That was really good. ... I thought it was a dream."

Said Manu with a laugh, "It was nice to see the look on his face. ... It was pretty cool."

The Fotus have been watching UH games on the internet to this point, but will get to see the Molokai game in person, along with the first two days of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

"My wife couldn't come, because she got a new job. But we're hoping next year we can come as a family," Manu said.

Arnold, Taylor's Pepperdine history

December 8th, 2012
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Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold and associate head coach Benjy Taylor go back a little bit with UH's opponent tonight, Pepperdine of the West Coast Conference.

Arnold "cut his assistant coaching teeth" there, in his words, from 1999 to 2003.  Taylor assisted there alongside him for the 2000-01 season.

Pepperdine won more games during that span than at any other four-year period in school history. The Waves made the NCAA Tournament twice while Arnold was there, in 2000 and 2002. From there, he went on to become a head coach at the College of Southern Idaho.

Here's what Arnold had to say about his time at Pepperdine this week:

"Obviously it's different players and a different coaching staff. I really enjoyed my time at Pepperdine. We had some really, really good teams. The one thing that stands out, we beat Bobby Knight in his last game at Indiana in the NCAA Tournament (No. 11 seeded Waves won 77-57 over No. 6 seeded Hoosiers in 2000). Lost a close one to Oklahoma State the next night. Played Wake Forest down to the wire in the NCAA Tournament (2002 first round). Had some battles with Gonzaga, won the conference outright, the last team to do that before Saint Mary's finally did it. So I have a lot of great memories there. I still keep in touch with lot of the players. Any time I see a Pepperdine score, you take a closer look. When I think about Pepperdine, I have a lot of fond memories. We were fortunate to have four really good years. My time there was well-spent.

In Taylor's one season in Malibu, the Waves made the NIT. He went on to head coach at Division III North Central College in Naperville, Ill. Here's what Taylor had to say on his time at Pepperdine:

"(Memories came up) last year when we were over there (a 73-67 UH loss). But that was 10, 12 years ago. I had a good experience there. I was only there for one season. It's a beautiful place and it's a wonderful school. They're doing a good job over there now. We're looking forward to the game ... two teams that are up and coming. They beat us at their place last year, we need to try to settle the score at our place."

Gettin' shots up

December 4th, 2012
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It was unmistakably clear what the focus of Monday's team practice was for the Hawaii men's basketball team.

After a limited amount of team drills, Gib Arnold had his players shoot on the two standard Stan Sheriff Center rims, plus two portable baskets rolled in and placed facing one sideline. It's a setup not usually seen except in UH's summer kids clinics.

"I asked them if they could do that, and (arena manager) Rich Sheriff was good enough to set it up for us to where we could get more shots up and more free throws up," Arnold said.

The reason: UH was 1-for-18 on 3-pointers in its 77-63 loss at No. 24 UNLV on Saturday. The Rainbow Warriors were, however, a respectable 20-for-26 at the foul line.

What transpired over the second half of practice really did resemble an actual clinic. Arnold had each player make a quota of 100 3-pointers and 100 free throws before they were allowed to rest.

"We'll go up and down more tomorrow," Arnold said. "(Shooting) those are things if you work on, you'll get better at through repetition. We struggled from the 3-point line. ... So everybody made 100 and 100. Just get that rhythm going into this week (Saturday vs. Pepperdine)."

Junior forward Christian Standhardinger had no problem with the amount of shots hoisted. UH is now 29.7 percent on 3s as a team for the season.

"In a game like that, we need to make shots," said Standhardinger, who had game highs of 27 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. "We can't get a bad 3-point percentage like that again. That's why we're in the gym here now, and in the morning shooting in some individuals. Now we're shooting again in practice, trying to get it fixed.

"Shooting's all about repetition and self-confidence," Standhardinger added. "And self-confidence you get out of repetition. That's what we gotta do."

Arnold felt the majority of the team's 3-point looks were good ones.

"I thought so. We shot 18 and I would say 15 of them were good shots. Three maybe weren't great shots. But 15 were shots we should take, and will take again."

Senior center Vander Joaquim had an open 3-point look off a kick from Standhardinger with under three minutes to play, which would have knocked UNLV's deficit down to five. But the big man's shot hit back iron and UH did not score again in desperation mode.

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Had the team's two halves been inverted, the positive tone of Monday's practice might have been much different. UH trailed by as much as 26 in the first period but played exceptionally better after halftime in the desert, allowing the 'Bows to come home with a feeling of self-respect, if not the victory.

"We could have easily just folded and put our tails between our legs and made a lot of excuses, but the guys continued to battle and continued to fight, and played really high-level basketball that second half, in a tough place against a tough team," Arnold said. "We didn't win, but it was really tight. I know they (UNLV) felt tight. I was just pleased with the effort. We get a couple 3s, it could have been a totally different game."

Keep your eye on the running 3-point tally on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how much more confident the 'Bows come out from beyond the arc against the Waves.

UNLV game rewind

December 2nd, 2012
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Playing at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center was going to be a tall order no matter what.

But digging a 26-point hole in the first half  — and 22 at halftime — made things no easier for the Hawaii men's basketball team on Saturday.

Despite that, give the 'Bows credit for coming out the way they did in the second half. They got to within eight points on two occasions before the No. 24 Rebels closed it out. They were just too quick and athletic, notching eight dunks and 22 assists.

Two players in particular played well for UH (4-2). Christian Standhardinger was the team's only solid option throughout, as he tied his career high of 27 points to go with 10 rebounds while winning his head-to-head matchup with Mike Moser. He's had experience playing at some tough Big 12 venues, at it showed in comparison to the tentative early play of his teammates.

Backup point guard Garrett Jefferson was a pleasant surprise in 22 minutes off the bench. He matched up well with UNLV's athletes on one end, and showed off a heretofore unseen playmaking sense at the other. He had eight points, five assists, three boards, two steals and a block while shooting 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 at the foul line. He was a better option than Jace Tavita that night; Tavita was held to two assists after averaging 8.0 per game through UH's first five contests.

Conversely, UH got almost nothing from the wing, and went 1-for-18 on 3-pointers. Hauns Brereton was off all night (1-for-9 overall) and Brandon Spearman was only slightly better. Those two came in averaging a combined 28 points and left the T&M with 10 between them. That won't get it done.

Center Vander Joaquim was flustered from the get go with five turnovers in the first half. But he avoided turning it over after the break and scored 10 of his 12 in the period. He had a 3-point look coming out of a timeout that would have made it a five-point game with 2:09 left, but he back-ironed it and UH would not score again in the final 2:58.

Up next is Pepperdine on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff. The West Coast Conference always has to be respected and the Waves (4-3) have played two Big West teams already this season, losing to Cal State Northridge and defeating UC Irvine.