Walton's bruised thigh: Everage takes center stage

The Spartans are looking for fans. Attendance has not reached 1,000 in any of the six home games so far, and average attendance this season is 739.

The University of Hawai'i men's basketball team isn't expecting much of game from the under-staffed SJSU Spartans tonight.

This Western Athletic Conference game at the San Jose State events center on campus is scheduled for a 7 p.m tip-off.

"There's only one thing we want to do here," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "That's win the game."

Unlike visits to other cities, this one does not include any free time for the players. Last season, the first-place 'Bows were upset by the last-place Spartans in San Jose.

"It's basically eat, study hall, and then practice," Wallace said. "We can't afford to get distracted and let one get away to the Spartans again."

Hawai'i is 11-2 overall and 4-1 in the WAC. The 'Bows need a victory to keep pace atop the WAC with Fresno State (5-1) and Tulsa (3-1). The Spartans are on an eight-game losing streak and are 3-10 overall and 0-4 in the WAC.

"This is a huge challenge for us, obviously," SJSU head coach Phil Johnson said. "We're real little, and we're struggling in a lot of areas right now."

Making matters worse, SJSU's only true post player, 6-foot-8 junior Eric Walton, is not expected to play tonight because of a bruised thigh. In his absence, 6-5 freshman Keith Everage will have to defend UH's 6-10 center Haim Shimonovich.

SJSU's other four starters will be guards, all 6-4 or shorter.

"We may have to speed up the game, but it's not like Hawai'i is slow," Johnson said. "This is a tough situation we're in."

Because of Walton's injury, Johnson will be using a different starting lineup for the 13th time in 14 games this season.

"We're still searching for a combination of guys that plays well together," he said. "We look for improvement every game, and I don't know if we've found it yet."

The Spartans are also looking for fans.

Attendance has not reached 1,000 in any of the six home games so far, and average attendance this season is 739.

"It's tough to get ready for that atmosphere," Wallace said. "Most places on the road, the crowd is loud and against you. Here, it kind of lulls you into a lazy mood. You really have to be mentally ready."

Wallace is aware of his team's size advantage and said: "Rebounding and defense will be the key for us. If we control both those areas like we should, we'll be OK."

Taking care of business: Wallace's new contract was finally approved by the UH Board of Regents yesterday.

Wallace, 61, agreed to a three-year contract last June. It is believed to be worth between $200,000 and $250,000 per year.

"The extension of Riley Wallace's contract, I believe, is a testimony of the great job he has done with our men's basketball program," UH athletic director Herman Frazier said.

Wallace's last contract, which paid a base salary of $120,000, expired April 30, 2002. The new contract will be retroactive to 2002 and expire on April 30, 2005.

Bracket talk: The latest rumors — published by the Fresno Bee — have Hawai'i traveling to either Creighton or Kent State for ESPN's Bracket Busters Saturday on Feb. 22. In that scenario, Fresno State would play the team (either Creighton or Kent State) that Hawai'i does not.

Official match-ups will be announced Feb. 3.

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