By Jack Danilewicz
Friday, March 15
Ouch! This one really hurt. This was not your ordinary loss – especially in what has been an extraordinary year.
Hawaii seemingly had Xavier where it wanted it on Friday afternoon, with the Musketeers trailing the Rainbow Warriors 40-28 with less than two minutes to play in the first half. But Xavier got out of that predicament and went on to win 70-58 in their NCAA Tournament first-round contest in Dallas.
For Hawaii, a long sweet ride had come to a bittersweet end. Indeed, although the Rainbow Warriors can only be proud of a year in which they won a school-record 27 games, they also know they missed a golden opportunity for the school's first NCAA Tournament victory.
Ironically, it was the three-point shot that was Hawaii's downfall. While the Rainbow Warriors were solid in the first half, they found the well dry after intermission, making just 3 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Xavier (26-5) turned up its defense in the second half, getting into Hawaii's passing lanes and preventing Predrag Savovic from coming open off of screens as he had in the first half. Even with the lead, when shooting the ball well, the Rainbow Warriors failed to get into sync within the framework of their "flex" offense.
After the break, Hawaii (27-6) had too many quick possessions, where they attempted a three-pointer off of the first pass. With their shots no longer falling, Xavier was able to make up its deficit in a short time.
In the first half, led by Savovic's 16 points, Hawaii shot 48 percent from the field, including 5 of 11 on 3 pointers.
Hawaii connected on just one of its first 11 shots in the second half, however, as the Musketeers went on a 25-8 run.
"It's not that the shots didn't go down, it was the shots we were taking," Savovic told the Associated Press. "Coach told us not to take them, and for whatever reason, we didn't listen."
The Rainbow Warriors committed 12 turnovers in the second half and also missed Haim Shimonovich on the defensive end. Two quick fouls to begin the game kept him from ever getting into the flow of the game, which was a tough break for Hawaii, given that Phil Martin (11 points, nine rebounds) played big for the Rainbow Warriors.
"We were on the verge of getting run out of the gym," Xavier coach Thad Matta told the AP. "(Hawaii) is a rhythm team, and we took them out of their rhythm."
Leading the Musketeers, defensively, was Lionel Chalmers, who had a solid all-around game with 15 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals. David West added 13 points and 11 rebounds.
For Hawaii, fatigue was clearly evident in the second half.
"These kids are tired," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace told the AP. "To turn it up when they had to, they just couldn't reach down and get that extra little bit. We just seemed to be drained."
The Rainbow Warriors had been on the road since leaving Honolulu on Feb. 26 for road games and then the Western Athletic Conference tournament. In all, they traveled 4,317 miles in 17 days.
Jack Danilewicz is a College Basketball Analyst for the Rainbow Sports Network.