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Warriors cool and confident in Vegas

Special to WarriorInsider.com

LAS VEGAS – Appearing relaxed and confident, the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team held a light-but-productive first practice Monday afternoon in preparation for Wednesday’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament opener against San Jose State.

During an efficient two-hour workout at the state-of-the-art Impact fitness center near McCarron International Airport, the Warriors had the look of a team that was very comfortable in its surroundings and with its position as the No. 5 seed.

“I think we fixed what we needed to fix (after the last two games) and now it’s a whole new season,” UH coach Gib Arnold said after practice. “We reviewed some of our stuff knowing we needed to improve on how we defend San Jose State based on the last game, and we tightened up some things on offense. We did a pretty good job guarding them, so it was just minor adjustments.”

The Warriors held off the eighth-seeded Spartans, 77-71, last Thursday in San Jose. The teams will square off again at 10 a.m. (Hawaii time) Wednesday at the Orleans Arena just off the Las Vegas Strip.

UH (18-11) finished the WAC regular season at 8-8 after an 85-70 loss at Fresno State, then took a late-night, three-hour bus ride back to San Jose immediately after the game before flying into Las Vegas late Sunday afternoon.

The Warriors are staying at the Suncoast Hotel and Casino in Summerlin, about 20 minutes north of downtown. They did not practice Sunday.

Arnold liked the scheduled noon start times for practice Monday and Tuesday, saying it will help get the team accustomed to Wednesday’s tipoff.

“It’s kind of an odd starting time, 12 o’clock, so it’s that good we got this place (Impact) at noon,” said Arnold, noting that assistant coach Brandyn Akana made the practice arrangements.

Shanxi Zhongyu Basketball Club, an Under-20 China Basketball Association team, worked out before Hawaii did and closely watched the first 20 minutes of the Warriors’ practice from the bleachers. Arnold said UH might travel to China this summer and Shanxi Zhongyu may be a potential opponent.

After the normal warm-up drills, the Warriors went over some offensive and defensive wrinkles before halfcourt and full-court live action. There was a scary moment near the end when shooting guard Zane Johnson, the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, went down after apparently tweaking his knee.

But after sitting on the floor for about 30 seconds and then gingerly getting up, Johnson resumed play and looked OK running up and down the court.

Warriors senior point guard Hiram Thompson, still nursing an elbow injury, suited up for practice but did not participate so they are left with 10 healthy players.

One thing nobody seemed too concerned about is the many distractions Las Vegas offers.

“We’re practically staying in Utah,” Arnold said of Suncoast’s remote location. “Most of these guys have already played AAU ball here in the summer, so they’ve been here numerous times. It’s a mature group, and we’re doing everything together, we eat as a team, so there’s nobody wandering off on their own.”

Senior forward Bill Amis, an All-WAC second team selection, said it’s not hard focusing on the task at hand especially since Hawaii did not even qualify for the 2010 league tournament.

“It’s my last year, and I want to make the most out of it,” said Amis, who is averaging 15.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. “It’s going to come down to whoever wants it the most. We already know each other’s stuff, so it’s more about execution and who is playing the best right now. The coaches have done a good job keeping us focused on doing the right thing.”

Here is the latest episode of “Bill and Zane’s Excellent Adventure,” featuring some fun moments before the last game at Fresno State.

4 Comments

  1. Special thanks to veteran Hawaii sports reporter and longtime UH basketball fan Wes Nakama, who is in Las Vegas this week and agreed to cover the Warriors at the WAC Tournament for WarriorInsider.com.

  2. Good job, Wes. Anything for a side trip to Vegas.

  3. Philosophically, I still am not sure I believe in having the conference tournament in a non-WAC city … but personally, I gotta admit I’m glad it’s here.

    Plus, UH will be a Mountain West city (in football) soon, so I guess you could look at it as a early jump on helping the league?

  4. Great support for Warrior Insider. Good luck in Vegas! Go Warriors!

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