Big effort, big game, big win
Rainbows outscore Tulsa 86-85
Before sellout crowd at Stanley
By Jack Danilewicz
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002
HONOLULU -- Hawaii saved its biggest effort for its biggest game.
Overcoming a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes, the Rainbow Warriors rallied for a riveting 86-85 win over Tulsa to assume sole possession of first place in the Western Athletic Conference with three games to play.
A season-high crowd of 9,669 (10,268 tickets were sold, making the game a sellout) filled the Stan Sheriff Center to see Hawaii win for the 22nd time in its last 23 home games and its 15th straight home win in WAC play.
The Rainbow Warriors are 22-4 overall and 13-2 in the WAC, with conference games remaining with Rice, Nevada and Fresno State. Tulsa (22-5, 13-3) dropped a full game back in the WAC race.
"I don't know if there was ever a bigger game in Stan Sheriff Center than that one," Wallace said. "We beat Kansas (in December of 1997) when it was No. 2 and they didn't have Raef LaFrentz. That was a big win. And when Fresno State beat us (85-83 in the 1998 N.I.T. quarter-finals), that was a big game. But this one means more than any of those because if we can take care of business, we can win the WAC and they (NCAA Tournament selection committee) have never turned down a conference
champion. If we win out, we win it (the conference). It's all in our hands now."
Hawaii was led by Carl English, who had a monster night, making 11 of 16 shots (he was 5 of 7 from three-point range) en route to a career-high 28 points. His previous high of 25 had come last March against the Golden Hurricane in the WAC Tournament. Predrag Savovic finished with 27 points (he was 7 of 15 from the field) for Hawaii, while Mindaugas Burneika finished with 11 points off the bench.
Sophomore center Haim Shimonovich was also huge for Hawaii, posting a career-high 14 rebounds to go with a game-high five assists. He also scored eight points, but, make no mistake, his defense was his most significant contribution on this night. The Golden Hurricane had 12 points in the paint in the first half, but only two after intermission.
In fact, both teams were efficient, offensively, with each compiling 18 assists against just nine turnovers.
Tulsa shot 57.9 percent from the field, while Hawaii shot 47.4 percent. Ironically, although the Golden Hurricane were rated 10th nationally in free throw shooting coming into the game, the Rainbow Warriors out performed them at the charity stripe, making 74.1 percent (20 of 27) to Tulsa's 71.4 percent (10 of 14). Tulsa had made 76.2 percent of its attempts coming into the night and had made better than 80 percent in 11 of its games this season.
"The two keys to the game were Haim Shimonovich and the defense that he played and then Mark Campbell," Wallace said. "They're the blue-collar guys, and they made big plays tonight."
Tulsa was led by Antonio Reed, who provided a steady stream of outside shots (he was 8 of 14 overall and 4 of 5 from behind the arc) on his way to a team-high 24 points. Marqus Ledoux added 15 points, while Johnson added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Hawaii's Mark Campbell provided the margin of victory by making the front end of the bonus with 2.9 seconds remaining. Moments earlier, Johnson had an opportunity to give the visitors a one-point lead, but was able only to convert the second of two free throws (and tie the game at 85-all) amid the deafening noise provided by the crowd.
During a time-out, Hawaii set up the final play, which called for both Carl English and Predrag Savovic to pop out to the wing from the free-throw line. Instead, Campbell gained a step on Dante Swanson and, with the Rainbow Warriors spread out, Tulsa's help was late in coming, forcing Johnson to commit a foul.
"When I drove, their guys had to follow them (Savo and English) and there was no one there," Campbell said. "It just opened up. It all happened in a second."
Said Wallace: "We wanted to pick (for either Savovic or English) with about four seconds to five seconds left. As he (Campbell) went hard, there was daylight, and he's such a smart player that he was able to go all the way in. You have to give the referee credit, too. It was in the final seconds, and he made the call."
Tulsa still had one last gasp, but Greg Harrington's desperation heave from between the half-court line and three-point line failed to beat the final horn.
"It was exciting," Carl English said. "Savo made some big shots, and Mark finished it. "It just shows how much we've grown as a team. For us to beat a team like Tulsa, everybody has to come to play. When we all come to play, we're difficult to beat. It was an intense game the whole way, and it could have gone either way."
If anything, Hawaii's ability to convert on its last possession merely typified the high quality of play by both teams on this night.
"It was about as good a game as you're going to get," said Campbell.
In a game that featured 14 lead changes, Hawaii found itself in serious trouble at the five-minute mark, trailing 80-73 after Tulsa had scored on six straight possessions in a 14-1 run.
Following a time-out, the Rainbow Warriors responded in impressive fashion as Savovic and English scored Hawaii's next nine points, capped by a beautiful backdoor cut (and easy lay-up) by English that came off a brilliant feed from Shimonovich with just 31.3 remaining.
That put Hawaii ahead 85-84, but the Golden Hurricane weren't through yet. On Tulsa' next possession, Johnson got the ball under the basket and drew a foul on Shimonovich, which resulted in the free throw that produced the game's final tie with 12.6 to play.
"We were ready to play - both teams," said Savovic. "It was a hard game, mentally and physically, and I hope that the fans that showed up enjoyed it. They're a great team, and we knew it would be hard."
The Rainbow Warriors close out their home schedule on Saturday when Rice visits. English is hoping for another sell-out in what will be the final appearance in the Stan Sheriff Center for seniors Savovic, Burneika and Mike McIntyre.
"That's the kind of atmosphere we enjoy playing in," English said.