By Brian McInnis
Saying the season of the Hawaii men's basketball team hinges on the next four games, all on the road, would be a little melodramatic. Remember, the Big West is a one-bid league to the NCAA Tournament and whichever team puts it all together in mid-March will be the one to go dancing.
But when it comes to some of the alternate tournaments — as well as long-term coaching and program perception consequences — picking up wins right now absolutely makes a difference. UH (10-8, 4-3 Big West) departed Tuesday night for games at Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara, after first getting in a practice session on campus in the afternoon.
The 'Bows will be returning home for two days after the Cal Poly and UCSB games before going back out to the road for two more at UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton next week.
It was a pretty emotional practice Tuesday, with coach Gib Arnold trying to get his guys fired up before they left for the mainland.
Arnold, not coincidentally, closed practice midway through. UH has dropped three of its last four and is 0-3 this season in mainland games.
"Early in the practice, I felt like we were thinking more about the plane ride than preparing. And we were taking some plays off on both ends of the floor," Arnold said. "That changed about halfway through, and the last half of practice we I thought practiced like a team that wants to try to go win some road games.
"First half, I wasn't pleased with the effort. And this team has been giving me effort all year long. This was one of the few times where I didn't see it. It bothered me, because that's the one thing we've got to rely on, especially with these two road trips."
Energy is rarely an issue with junior forward Christian Standhardinger, who bounced back from a few quiet games with 20 points and eight rebounds in Saturday's 93-82 home loss vs. UC Davis.
"(Coach) just wants to get across that you've got to come ready to play in every game," Standhardinger said. "He saw we didn't start good enough early in practice. And he wanted to get that out of our system. As players we have to adapt, listen to him and try to do a better job."
From what I could watch before the doors were shut, senior swingman Hauns Brereton was back in on partial contact after getting an MRI done on a knee over the weekend.
Being held out of Saturday's game because of knee swelling was a bummer for the tri-captain, who'd scored in double figures for the first time in 10 games two days earlier vs. Pacific.
"Worked partial today, seeing how it feels running up and down. But it feels good," Brereton said. "My knee was really stiff (last Saturday). Stiff enough where I couldn't bend it all the way straight. And then it was hard to bend up. The doctors felt around and told me they wanted an MRI and I had to wait for that before I could get back on it. It's good, there were no ligament or cartilage tears, it's just where the bones meet, there's bruises on both of them. So there's a little swelling, but it's gone down since then. Now it's a matter of time before the bruises go away. So it's not that bad.
"It's never easy when you have to sit out. You know you can help the team out. But it happens, it's part of the game. You gotta bounce back. ... I'm hoping I'm ready to go Thursday."
The other wounded Warrior, Freshman Brandon Jawato, (hip ailment), was not cleared for contact and shot baskets off to the side. He's questionable for Thursday. For what it was worth, the team's top 3-point shooter had his customary shooting motion from long range.
Arnold said both Brereton and Jawato are making this week's trip.
As for the unusual situation of four straight conference road games, Arnold expressed some displeasure.
"We need to get in the mind-set that we're just going to go play really aggressive on the road. Go get us some wins. The conference has been kind enough to give us four straight chances to win on the road. You know, we've got to go prove ourselves. And the good teams do that.
"We're the only one who has that, us and Northridge. The difference with Northridge is they can just drive back. I was a little bit surprised that they would do that. Academically, it doesn't make a lot of sense. But you don't control those situations."
On the planned quick hop home between weeks, he said, "Basketball-wise, it's probably not the right thing to do, but school-wise, it is. We're going to be able to get two extra days of school in. And we'll take red eyes (back) there. These guys need to be in class."