As Dan Monson sees it, the contrast in playing styles between Wyoming and Hawaii is every bit as dramatic as the contrast in climates between Laramie, Wyo., and Honolulu.
And that could present some preparation problems for Monson’s Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-9) as they attempt to shift gears for tonight’s second-round National Invitation Tournament game against Hawaii (20-8).
Tipoff is set for 9:30 (PST) at the Rainbows’ recently renamed Sheriff Center. A sellout crowd of more than 10,200 is expected, and Monson is anticipating a much different tempo than the one his team encountered during its 69-55 first-round win over deliberate, defensive-minded Wyoming.
“The game will be as different as the weather,” Monson said in a telephone interview from his hotel room near Waikiki, where temperatures have been nearly 50 degrees warmer than those that greeted the Bulldogs in Laramie last Wednesday.
Like Wyoming, Hawaii relies on its perimeter players for most of its scoring. But the similarities end there.
“We like to get out and run,” admitted veteran UH coach Riley Wallace. And when they do, the Rainbows can be as productive as any team in the country, as evidenced by their scoring average of 77.4 points per game.
“They do run plays and get into some halfcourt sets,” Monson said, “but the break is a major part of their offense.”
Hawaii’s top two offensive weapons are senior guards Alika Smith and Anthony Carter, who combined to average more than 35 points per game during the regular season. Carter scored 28 points and dished out eight assists in a 90-73 first-round NIT win over Arizona State last Wednesday.
“Their offense is predicated on their guards,” Monson said. “They do a lot of different things, but when it’s all said and done, the ball usually ends up in the hands of one of those two guys.”
The Rainbows, who knocked off Kansas and Indiana en route to an impressive 11-1 start, finished a disappointing fourth - behind Texas Christian, Fresno State and Tulsa - in the Pacific Division of the Western Athletic Conference. But their mid-season swoon can be blamed, in part, on injuries to several key players.
“We definitely should have been an NCAA tournament team,” Riley said. “We were 11-1 right after Christmas, but then we had a couple or three injuries. We had key guys in and out of the lineup and it kind of screwed up our chemistry.”
Carter missed one game and played with pain in several others because of a slight shoulder separation. Senior forward Eric Ambrozich was also slowed by a bad shoulder, and Smith was plagued by turf toe much of the year.
But after suffering a humiliating 126-84 loss at TCU in early February, the Rainbows seemed to rediscover their early season magic and reeled off five consecutive wins before closing the regular season with a 64-59 loss to UNLV.
Monson said Hawaii’s backcourt, with Carter and Smith healthy, is the best tandem his team has faced all year.
“They’re both very quick to the ball and very athletic,” he said. “They like to get the tempo up to where it resembles street ball.”
Monson could counter with the small lineup he used early against Wyoming or play big by reinserting junior forward Mike Leasure and sophomore center Axel Dench into the starting lineup in place of Mike Nilson and Doug Griffin.
In any event, don’t look for the Bulldogs to shy from a quick tempo.
“We have to push our break, too,” Monson said, “and try to isolate (scoring leader) Bakari Hendrix on it. But we have to be careful, because there’s a fine line between doing that and just taking the first available shot.
“We’re not concerned with having to run on offense, we can handle that. But if we miss, we have to make sure we get back to stop their break. Transition defense is our biggest concern.”
The Gonzaga-Hawaii winner will meet the winner of tonight’s Fresno State-Memphis matchup in a third-round game Wednesday night at a site to be determined. There is a good chance, Gonzaga officials say, that the quarterfinal showdown for the right to play in the semifinals in New York’s Madison Square Garden, could be held at the Spokane Arena - provided the Bulldogs win. … Gonzaga’s players got a taste of island life Saturday afternoon when the team went snorkeling, but the outing didn’t carry much enjoyment for Bakari Hendrix, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-8, 240-pound power senior forward, who was unable to find any size-18 swim fins to rent.
Hawaii sold out 13 of its games and averaged nearly 9,300 fans during the regular season… . The Rainbows are 16-4 at home this year and have won six of their last seven games… . According to Monson, the weather in Honolulu has been “awesome” since GU arrived Friday night, but he expressed some concern over how that might affect his Bulldogs, considering they have played some of their best basketball in the bitter cold of Fairbanks, Alaska; East Lansing, Mich., and Laramie, Wyo., while suffering three of their four WCC losses in the warmer climes of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NIT SECOND ROUND Today Georgetown (16-14) at Georgia Tech (18-13), 7:30 p.m. Penn St. (16-12) at Dayton (21-11), 8 p.m. Auburn (16-12) at Marquette (19-10), 8 p.m. Ala.-Birmingham (21-11) at Minnesota (16-15), 8 p.m. Memphis (17-11) at Fresno State (19-11), 10 p.m. Gonzaga (24-9) at Hawaii (20-8), 12:30 a.m. Tuesday Vanderbilt (19-12) at Wake Forest (16-13), 7:30 p.m. Georgia (17-14) at North Carolina State (17-14), 9:30 p.m.