What UH must do to go dancing

Bobby Curran
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Friday - March 09, 2007
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Matt Lojeski
Matt Lojeski

Championship week in college basketball offers all the drama of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Ironically, the intensity is greatest in the small conference title games, where only the conference tournament winner advances to the dance. Teams you’ve barely heard of put on magical performances all week long.

Last Saturday, tiny Belmont hit 12 first half three-pointers on its way to an impressive road upset over East Tennessee State to earn a berth from the Atlantic Sun conference. Hardly a household name, Belmont and the players cut down the nets like they’d won the national championship.

On Sunday, Creighton, a Rainbow Classic victim of Hawaii this past December, delivered a clinic in a win over Southern Illinois, putting the Bluejays in the dance for the seventh time in nine years.

Monday saw Virginia Commonwealth defeat last year’s Cinderella team, George Mason, in its home city of Richmond. At the buzzer, the VCU fans stormed the court in a frenzy, realizing their dream of playing in the greatest spectacle in sports.

At what other time could you find yourself riveted to the Siena-Niagara game for the Metro Atlantic’s automatic berth? All the passion and pageantry, the jubilation of the victors and the pain and tears of the losers, make the week a fitting lead-in to Selection Sunday.

The University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors find themselves in a position shared by many others. With an overall record of 18-12, and 8-8 in conference play, Hawaii has to win the WAC tournament to get an NCAA bid. If they manage two wins this week in Las Cruces, they may be invited to the NIT, but the goal is to win three games and go to the Big Dance.

Here’s a look at Hawaii’s road to the NCAAs.

No. 5 seed Hawaii plays No. 4 Utah State (21-10, 9-7) in the quarter finals on Thursday (11:30 a.m. HST). It is the match-up UH wanted. The Aggies are the team most similar to the Rainbow Warriors in the WAC. They even run some of the same sets on offense. The teams split their series in this season, each winning at home.

One huge edge for Hawaii is Matt Lojeski’s ability to hold down All-WAC first-teamer Jaycee Carroll. Lojeski has held Carroll to four of his worst outings over the last two years, and length and ability to track the perpetual-motion guard has been frustrating for him.

Further, Ahmet Gueye at his best has no equal in the front court. If Hawaii gets by the Aggies, it will likely see Nevada. The Wolfpack beat UH twice by a total of three points. Nick Fazekas will get his points, but the Rainbow Warriors cannot let Marcellus Kemp or Ramon Sessions run wild.

Hawaii will also need to avoid silly turnovers. If they do, UH will get to the championship game against either New Mexico State or Fresno State. Those teams have similar talent, but NMSU plays at a higher tempo. Both teams will break down defensively if you’re patient on offense. If it’s Fresno, contain Quinton Hosley and make Dominic McGuire put the ball on the floor. If it’s NMSU, get physical with Tyrone Nelson and Martin Iti, and make Justin Hawkins work for his points.

With its A game, Hawaii could become the Waltzing Warriors on Saturday night.

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