LAS VEGAS — Hawai‘i coach Gib Arnold thought his team had rediscovered its resolve when it took Utah State down to the wire in the season finale just two days after getting routed at home by Idaho.
So to make sure his Rainbow Warriors had their legs for the Western Athletic Conference tournament, Arnold practiced a total of 75 minutes between Saturday’s loss and Thursday’s conference tournament opener.
Turned it to be the perfect approach.
Hauns Brereton hit a 15-foot baseline jumper with 3.2 seconds left, and Hawai‘i rallied from seven points down in the final 6:15 to beat Idaho 72-70 in the WAC quarterfinals.
The sixth-seeded Rainbow Warriors (16-15) trailed 64-57 but then outscored the Vandals 15-6 the close out the victory. Hawai‘i won despite playing without second-leading scorer Zane Johnson and a week after losing by 19 at home to the Vandals. It was Hawai‘i’s first victory since Feb. 14 against New Orleans and its first WAC tournament win since 2005.
“We were a little wounded, a little down, but these guys rallied together,” Arnold said. “They earned it. We struggled for three weeks. It wasn’t easy; it never should be easy. But we’ve still got a lot of basketball left in us.”
Hawai‘i will face Fresno State or New Mexico State in the semifinals Friday night.
Vander Joaquim led Hawai‘i with 20 points and 13 rebounds. He had a key put-back with 29.5 seconds left and later stole the desperation inbound pass on Idaho’s final effort to pull even. Brereton finished with 17. Freshman guard Shaquille Stokes also scored 17.
Stokes tried to play the role of hero for the Warriors. He drove aggressively toward the basket as the final seconds ticked away, only to get stripped as Idaho’s defense collapsed. The loose ball bounded right to Brereton on the baseline, who rattled in the game-winner.
“Shaq left me open in the corner,” Brereton said. “Fortunately, it went in.”
Kyle Barone led Idaho (18-13) with 19 points but was held to just five in the second half. Stephen Madison added 15 and Landon Tatum 12 for the Vandals, who had won seven of eight coming into the tournament and were the only WAC team to defeat regular-season champion Nevada.
Yet the Vandals are headed home and have yet to reach the semifinals of the WAC tournament.
“I thought we had seized control of the game,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We had climbed the hill. But Hawai‘i made some great plays down the stretch.”
Idaho seemed in control after a 3-point barrage that erased an 11-point deficit early in the second half. Three consecutive 3-pointers capped the Vandals’ 17-2 run, which included Madison’s 3 with 14:50 left that gave Idaho its first lead since the opening moments.
Tatum added another 3 and the Vandals led 45-41. Hawai‘i retook the lead at 46-45, but on the next possession Hawai‘i’s Joston Thomas was called for his fourth foul and given a technical foul for his reaction, giving him his fifth foul.
Thomas was missed on the inside, and Idaho eventually built its lead to seven after Madison scored six straight points — including a pair of free throws after Arnold was assessed a technical and had to be restrained by his assistants after a non-call.
But that’s when Hawai‘i’s final push started. The Warriors likely should have led but missed 4 of 6 free throw attempts. Still, Idaho was sloppy with possessions, and Stokes’ 3 with 2:56 left pulled Hawai‘i even at 64.
Brereton’s basket gave Hawai‘i the lead at 66-65, and his two free throws pushed the advantage to three. Idaho’s Deremy Geiger scored on a difficult layup while being fouled with 50 seconds left, and the three-point play pulled Idaho even.
Joaquim scored on his put-back and Barone scored for Idaho before Brereton’s game-winner. Brereton added 11 rebounds, and the Warriors committed just seven turnovers, half their season average of 14.
“Those kids stepped up and took the challenge,” Arnold said. “In the second half we jumped out and we hit the shots when we needed to. They played hard.”