The last (and only) time Hawaii faced a ranked team in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, the Rainbow Warriors beat No. 14 Xavier in an overtime thriller.
What’s in score for Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with No. 11 Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference? That depends if UH can defend at a high level, as it did in Monday night’s 66-58 win over Nebraska in the first round.
It is UH’s first appearance in the Diamond Head semifinals since 2009, the first year of the event. Their best finish to date in terms of placement was fourth place (1-2) that same year, although there have been better overall showings with a 2-1 record.
UH (9-3) is shooting only 29 percent on 3-pointers for the season, while allowing a similar percentage by opponents. The ‘Bows have been at their best when they’ve mucked things up for everyone.
The key statistic could be rebounding. WSU (9-1) is beastly on second chances, as it showed in its 80-53 rout of Loyola Marymount in the first round. The Shockers’ rebounding margin of plus-9.2 is elite (15th nationally), an effort led by forward Darius Carter (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg). On the season, WSU has grabbed 65 more offensive boards than its opponents. UH, with its frequent size problems in the post, will usually settle for a push in that category. Doing that Tuesday will amount as a win there.
The Shockers’ heralded backcourt of Fred VanVleet (11.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.2 spg) and Ron Baker (17.3 ppg, 46.0 3PT%) didn’t need to do much against the LMU Lions, as they got plenty of rest while the backups finished things off. UH, by contrast, was extended to the buzzer and played late into the night, with the game finishing around 11 p.m.
If Roderick Bobbitt can harass VanVleet into some mistakes, UH could hang around and potentially make things interesting late. Aaron Valdes will have a chance to add to his already considerable highlight package on ESPN2.
UH will look for stronger efforts from its Missouri contingent of Negus Webster-Chan and the newly eligible Stefan Jankovic.
Coach Benjy Taylor was up front Monday night about UH needing its best effort to have a chance. WSU coach Gregg Marshall was national coach of the year after leading the Shockers to a 35-0 start in 2013-14 — their first and only defeat came to Kentucky the NCAA round of 32. The year before that, Wichita made the Final Four.
UH has six players on the 12-game season with 10 or more steals. Nationally, UH is holding at 28th in spg at 8.8.
UH leads the series with Wichita State 2-1. The last two meetings came at home, with UH winning both (1998 and 1990).