Hawaii men’s basketball: 100th Season Best-Team Bracket, Round of 16, Day 3

Predrag Savovic and Carl English celebrated winning the 2001 Rainbow Classic over Georgia. Assistant coaches Bob Nash and Jackson Wheeler in background at right. / Star-Advertiser file

Day 3 of the first round of the Hawaii basketball 100th Season Best-Team Bracket might as well be taking place in the “International Wing” of the field.

With apologies to the No. 6-seeded 1996-97 team, it’s an early-aughts party replete with players from Canada, Serbia, South Africa, Israel, Lithuania … you get the idea.

Once again, voting begins at 6 a.m. Hawaii time, although starting today (Saturday) you’ll only have 24 hours to get in your vote on Twitter (embedded below or directly on the Twitter site or app), not 48. Voting for ROUND 1, DAY 2 is still underway for another day.

The results of ROUND 1, DAY 1 are in, with the top-seeded 2015-16 team ousting the No. 16 1988-89 team by a split of roughly 90 percent to 10; and the eighth-seeded NCAA Tournament team of 1993-94 besting the No. 9 team led by Tom Henderson in 1973-74, 55.2 percent to 44.8. So, 2015-16 and 1993-94, two NCAA Tournament teams, will meet in the Elite Eight.

The top 16 Hawaii basketball teams of all-time among 100 seasons played to date.

Day 3’s pairings are: First a bit of fratricide as the third-seeded 2001-02 team of Predrag Savovic and Carl English has to go against its direct successor, the No. 14 squad of 2002-03 led by English and Michael Kuebler. Then it’s the well-rounded No. 11 2003-04 team — UH’s last to date to make the NIT — up against the aforementioned “Dynamic Duo” team of A.C. Carter and Alika Smith that reimagined what hoops could be in the SSC in ’96-97.

MATCHUP NO. 1
3. 2001-02 (27-6, NCAA first round)

Hawaii’s Phil Martin (2), Carl English (23), Tony Akpan and Haim Shimonovich (14) celebrated Hawaii’s 73-59 win over Tulsa in WAC tournament championship on March 9, 2002. / Associated Press file photo

The heart of UH’s team that went to the NCAA Tournament the year before made it again, the first back-to-back trip to The Dance for the ‘Bows. And this time it was not just because they got hot for the conference tournament. Coach Riley Wallace added a key piece — true point guard Mark Campbell — to a team already loaded with scorers. UH had a sharp-shooting and deep backcourt of Predrag Savovic (20.6 points per game), Carl English (15.5) and Mike McIntyre (10.0), augmented by a solid frontline of Haim Shimonovich, Phil Martin and Mindaugas Burneika — plus Tony Akpan and Paul Jesinskis. All told, it was the high point of the program’s international flair. McIntyre and Burneika were starting-caliber players who came off the bench to regularly score in double figures. This team beat conference rival Tulsa (29-7) all three times they met — including at the Golden Hurricane’s Reynolds Center for the WAC tournament title for the second straight year — and never lost back-to-back games all season in setting what was then a program record for wins. But UH also never played a ranked team until it ran into No. 22 Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dallas. Hawaii, a 10 seed facing a 7, built a 12-point lead late in the first half, including a rousing chase-down block of David West by the freshman Akpan. But West and Romain Sato took control right before the break — scoring five points in the last 43 seconds of the half — and the Musketeers cruised to a 70-58 win. UH had a new school season record for wins, but was now 0-4 in NCAA Tournament games. Twelfth-seeded Tulsa, incidentally, upset Dwyane Wade and fifth-seeded Marquette 71-69 in the NCAA first round. UH finished the season at No. 25 in the AP poll, its first ranking in March in 30 years. It remains the last time UH was ranked.
Roster: Akpan, Burneika, Campbell, English, Ryne Holliday, Jesinskis, Gabe Lombard, Martin, McIntyre, Dan Pickart, Savovic, Shimonovich, Lance Takaki, Luc-Arthur Vebobe, Milos Zivanovic.

VS.

14. 2002-03 (19-12, NIT second round)

Coach Riley Wallace spoke to Carl English against Louisiana Tech on Jan. 13, 2003. / Star-Advertiser file photo

Michael Kuebler arrived at UH as a walk-on for the 2002-03 season, although that didn’t last long as he was immediately a double-figure scorer. / Star-Advertiser file photo

Hawaii’s run of attracting outstanding shooting guards continued after the matriculation of Predrag Savovic and Mike McIntyre. All-Western Athletic Conference performer Carl English (19.6 points-per-game), a fourth-year junior, was back for what would be his last college season, and he had a new sidekick gunslinger in 6-foot-5 junior college transfer Michael Kuebler (12.2), who memorably arrived as a walk-on. Plus, 6-foot-1 newcomer Jason Carter was an energetic scorer, and explosive leaper, too, making up for some of the roughly 40 points per game UH lost from the season before with the graduations of Savovic, McIntyre, and Mindaugas Burneika. This was one of those teams that needed more than one basketball, even with point Mark Campbell still looking to pass first. … The ‘Bows showed early on what kind of firepower they had, notching a 100-81 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the second game of the season. The highlight of the year might have been an 81-78 overtime win over Butler for the Rainbow Classic championship, in which the Rainbows rallied from 17 points down with under five minutes left in regulation. With frontcourt players Phil Martin, Haim Shimonovich and Tony Akpan providing solid play to go with the guards’ scoring, they built their record up to 11-2 prior to a 2-6 slump early in the WAC season. A 79-78 win at Kent State in one of the first ESPN BracketBusters games picked momentum back up for a time. UH was 18-11 after falling to Tulsa in the WAC Tournament semifinals — the ‘Bows fell 11 points short of making it three tourney wins in a row over the hosts at the Reynolds Center — and were sent to the NIT. They won at UNLV, 85-68, and lost at Minnesota, 84-70. English, the rascally, sweet-shooting Canadian with the long-shot story from Newfoundland, eschewed his final year of eligibility. He declared for the NBA Draft, but went undrafted and eventually made his way overseas for a successful and lengthy pro career.
Roster: Akpan, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Campbell, Carter, English, Ryne Holliday, Kuebler, Gabe Lombard, Martin, Vaidotas Peciukas, Dan Pickart, Shimonovich, Lance Takaki, Milos Zivanovic.

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MATCHUP NO. 2
11. 2003-04 (21-12, NIT quarterfinals)

Phil Martin, who would set the UH career record for wins before Mike Thomas broke that in 2017-18, tried to maneuver around Texas-El Paso defenders Roy Smallwood, right, and Omar Thomas on Feb. 23, 2004 in El Paso. / Associated Press file photo

Hawaii’s Julian Sensley was mobbed by teammates after sinking the winning shot in overtime against Fairfield for the 2003 Rainbow Classic championship. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Richard Walker

The solid four-year careers of forward Phil Martin and center Haim Shimonovich were finally coming to a close; they were the last reminders of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2001 and 2002 and they would go down as two of the winningest players in program history. But this was still a guard-centric squad. Fans were disappointed that Carl English left with a year of eligibility left, but the “baby-faced assassin” Michael Kuebler (18.1 points, 40 percent on 3-pointers, 51 percent on 2-point shots, then-program-record 97 3s made) helped fill the void in becoming UH’s first Academic All-America first-team selection. Jason Carter exploded for big points on occasion. So did Kailua native Julian Sensley (12.3 and 7.3 rebounds), who displayed a strong perimeter game to go with his 6-foot-9 length. Sensley, a Kalaheo alumnus, had been one of the most highly-rated prospects to ever come out of the islands, and had bounced back to UH after a few stops. Junior college transfer Jeff Blackett was money on mid-rangers from the short corner. Vaidotas Peciukas never quite lived up to his billing as the next Savovic but was good for occasional points. Interestingly, this season was the first and only time to date that UH participated in the Maui Invitational; the Rainbows beat host Chaminade in the semifinals but lost to Dayton in the championship game. The ‘Bows won 12 of their next 13 games, including a rare WAC road sweep through San Jose State, SMU and Louisiana Tech en route to an 11-7 WAC mark. After getting knocked out in their first game of the WAC tournament on gut-wrenching 70-68 loss to Rice, UH received an invitation from the NIT and made it to the postseason for a program-best fourth straight season. This time, they made a run of it, beating No. 25 Utah State on the road 85-74 for the program’s first road win over a ranked team ever. They followed that up with an 84-83 edging of Nebraska in front of a rabid, sold-out white-out crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center. They couldn’t keep the magic going at Michigan in an 88-73 loss in Ann Arbor, and UH was denied its inaugural semifinal berth at Madison Square Garden for the third time in its last five NIT showings.
Roster: Blackett, Carter, Garland Gantt, Paul Jesinskis, Kuebler, Logan Lee, Martin, Nash, Peciukas, Sensley, Shimonovich, Jake Sottos, Milos Zivanovic.

VS.

6. 1996-97 (21-8, NIT second round)

After UH beat Memphis to take third place in the 1996 Rainbow Classic, Micah Kroeger gave Seth Sundberg a high five. Behind them are the “Dynamic Duo” of Alika Smith and Anthony Carter, plus big man Eric Ambrozich. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

UHs’ Mike Robinson (left) and Danny Furlong went up for the rebound vs. Northwestern’s Joe Harmsen (lt) and Nate Pomeday on Dec. 27, 1996. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

Anthony Carter (Atlanta) and Alika Smith (Kalaheo High) were from opposite sides of the country. But when they shared UH backcourt duties for two magical seasons it seemed as though they’d played together forever. Carter was a lightning-quick slasher and a leaper, and Smith a deadly 3-point shooter. Defenders learned the hard way that if you paid more attention to either one and his set of skills, the other would likely burn you badly. Thus, the “Dynamic Duo” was born. Carter averaged 18.7 points and Smith was second on the team with 17.9 while hitting 41.1 percent of his 3-pointers. UH was 13th in the nation in shooting from the floor at .487. That was largely due to Carter’s penetration that led to 6.6 assists per game, a mark that helped him win the WAC Pacific Division Player of the Year, UH’s first conference player of the year award. Smith and Carter both were named to the WAC All-Defensive team; the two would finish as top-six players in UH career steals. Frontliners Micah Kroeger, Eric Ambrozich, Mike Robinson and captain Seth Sundberg all averaged between 7 and 10 points. … UH was 9-2 overall after it beat 16th-ranked New Mexico 75-62 to start conference play, and the ‘Bows soon ripped off 10 wins in 11 games en route to the WAC’s Pacific Division title with a 12-4 mark, its first regular-season conference championship. Riley Wallace picked up his second of three WAC Coach of the Year awards for his efforts. But a 65-57 loss to those same Lobos (ranked No. 14 this time) in a tough draw in the conference tourney first round relegated UH to the NIT; it beat Oregon 71-61 at home — the first men’s basketball postseason game held at the Stan Sheriff Center — but after an 89-80 OT loss at UNLV, it was hold-the-MSG yet again for the Rainbows. The bigger fireworks would wait for the following winter.
Roster: Ambrozich, Carter, Aaron Curry, Danny Furlong, Quinton Gallon, Kroeger, Luke Meyers, Greg Miller, Robinson, Smith, Sundberg, Jason Yadao, Ales Zivanovic.

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Brian McInnis and Dave Reardon assembled the season summaries. Curtis Murayama designed the 100th season bracket.

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