Reasons For UH Hoops Optimism
Wednesday - November 11, 2009
For a while, every so often, scattered throughout the first half of the Warriors game versus the closest thing the university has to a cross-island rival, UH ran the fast break with the speed and precision that head coach Bob Nash has been pleading for since he first moved into the first chair two years ago. It was, during those moments, an exciting glimpse into what may become of a program in need of some positive news.
Now, before we start ordering rings in celebration of a conference championship, one does have to recognize the effort was against a Division II opponent, and that the team went from dominant to confused and clumsy in a matter of minutes. The result was a squandered 20-point first-half cushion that sank to two points in the second half as BYU-Hawaii discovered its calm and shooting touch. And take nothing away from the North Shore school that made Laie famous.
The Seasiders made the journey over the Pali, Likelike or H-3 highways, no one bothered to ask, with their best player and national player of the year Lucas Alves out of action until perhaps the post-holiday season. The Seasiders struggled in the first half with a combination of bad passing, sloppy defense, poor ball control and way too many one-handed shots that hit iron and little else. The last of which caused BYU-Hawaii coach Ken Wagner to produce a wry smile that combined disbelief and already spent aggravation during post-game comments. Such bad first-half habits get easier to stomach when adjustments are successfully implemented at halftime. To their credit, and to suggest their lofty D-II status is based on reality and not imagination, the Seasiders reversed the ugly first 20 minutes and made a statement of respectability, from which they will benefit once the PacWest season begins.
The Seasiders have a few players worthy of attention, and a great home-court atmosphere that makes it one of the best places in the state - some say the best - to watch college basketball. Virgil Buensuceso, last year’s Cousy Award finalist (nation’s best point guard), Rory Patterson and PacWest freshman of the year Tsung-Hsien Chang, kicked in 17, 15 and 12 points, respectively.
While just an exhibition, both teams came in looking for a test and with something to prove. The Seasiders wanted to show they could not just compete, but win, against a D-1 opponent without the services of Alves. For the Rainbow Warriors, the game was about finding cohesion within a patchwork lineup, and eliminating the mistakes that allowed UH-Hilo to play too close for comfort the week before.
The ‘Bows were successful in one category, but blew it in the other. UH turned the ball over 19 times against Hilo and increased that number by 10 against BYU-Hawaii. While early unfamiliarity and carelessness were responsible for most of those giveaways, gawdawful officiating also played a hand.
This space typically refrains from wasting valuable print space on blaming those in stripes for athletic failure, but the crew’s sometimes bizarre foul-calling took both teams out of their rhythm and prevented both sides from playing a consistent style of basketball as no one knew what would be called and what would be ignored. After the game, center/forward Paul Campbell talked about being used to playing in front of hostile officials. And this was at home during an exhibition. The Seasiders weren’t any happier after getting whistled 30 times, much to the dis-belief of players, coaches and the vocally uninhibited BYU-Hawaii fans.
The biggest success for the ‘Bows on this night was not the success of their fast break in the first half, but their ability to work the post for easy scores in the second. UH’s big men, especially Campbell and Petras Balocka, took advantage of spacing and screens to run cuts to the basket that resulted in layups and dunks enabled by good interior passing.
While most attention this year will be focused on All-WAC second teamer Roderick Flemings, senior center Bill Amis and perhaps newcomers Dwain Williams and Jeremy Lay, much of the success for UH this season will ride on Balocka’s wide shoulders.
Balocka is a strong post player who can rotate to the wings for midrange jumpers and an occasional three. He needs to forget about beating guys off the dribble and, most importantly by far, control his temper. Balocka is not a walking technical foul, but he is easily frustrated, and is quick to react negatively and complain to officials instead of getting back on defense when calls don’t go in his favor. Nash said the key is pulling him off the floor at those times so the 6-foot-8-inch, 250-plus pound Lithuanian can gather his senses. If Nash can rein him in, Balocka and the team will be a lot better.
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