Hawaii’s reward for a rousing win over Northern Iowa on Tuesday night is only the program’s biggest test in more than a decade.
When UH takes on No. 3 Oklahoma in the Diamond Head Classic semifinals this afternoon, it will be the highest-ranked foe the Rainbow Warriors have faced since No. 2 Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic.
If you’ll recall, the A.C. and Alika era Rainbows won that game, 76-65. It remains one of the program’s signature victories.
Tipoff is at 4 p.m. and it’ll be televised on ESPN2.
UH is still smarting from the heavy handed sanctions laid down by the NCAA on Tuesday, but a win in this kind of game would go along way toward easing that pain. A cortisone shot, if you will. UH has never played in the DHC title game; it is 0-2 in the semifinals in six years to date.
The Sooners are 6.5-point favorites. That it’s not more than that is a credit to how well UH has played on its home court.
“It’s tough. One of the things we like to do is, you work them hard, and then you fire fresh,” UH coach Eran Ganot said of the quick Oklahoma turnaround after the 68-52 win over UNI. “You gotta have a balance there. Our guys … they knew coming into this tournament, regardless win or lose you’re going to be playing three tough games. So (the strategy) was always enjoy the moment, because you have to with what they’ve been going through. And then rest, eat, do your treatment. We’re going to go walk through (today), be prepared, and get ready to get after it with obviously a great challenge. As always, a well coached Lon Kruger team.
Kruger was respectful of the prospect of playing UH on its home court after the Sooners’ 88-60 win over Washington State on Tuesday.
“That’s the nature of these events,” Kruger said. “Hawaii’s always played well here, so it’ll be a tough one.”
UH will have to try to corral All-America candidate Buddy Hield, who shot 5-for-8 from long range for 25 points in the DHC opener. And it’s not just him; Ryan Spangler is a versatile big man and guard Isaiah Cousins is a very capable playmaker.
The Sooners (9-0), one of five unbeatens in the country, have shot an insane 47.2 percent on 3-pointers for the season. That’s basically 13 percentage points higher than their clip of field goals allowed by opponents. Yep … people are shooting just 34.4 percent against them from anywhere. They outrebound teams by more than nine a game.
UH and OU are split 1-1 in all-time meetings. The Sooners got the best of the Bows in the 1982 Rainbow Classic, while UH’s 2OT one-point win came by the Fabulous Five in the 1971 NIT.
There were plenty of good quotes from last night I couldn’t get into the print edition, but here’s Ganot on the raucous crowd:
“I told our guys, ‘I’ve been here before, I love this place,’ you knew it was going to be a good crowd the first game of the Diamond Head but I had a feeling that people here would rise to the occasion even more with what’s been going on and they did. And it was a jolt that we needed.”
Ganot on UH players overcoming the day’s dour news:
“It was sudden. But the good thing was we had a game and we communicated with them. We had a meeting before our shootaround. Those guys obviously talked together, and give them credit. I mean, that’s a tough deal. And they clearly, not just in that game, the whole day you could feel that they were going to stick together. It’s huge for us maturing. And that being said, even if you’re mature, it’s still tough. Like I said, very proud of them with all that’s been going on to lock in. And they were locked in.”