By Brian McInnis
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.
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.
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.