With just 10 days remaining in February, we’re on the cusp of the best sports month of the year. College hoops owns March like no other sport singularly owns any month. Even your co-worker in accounting knows how to fill out a bracket. Sure, they pick the winners based on which cities they’ve visited or which mascot seems friendliest, but they probably won the office pool more recently than the resident sports junkie. March incorporates everyone into the college basketball fold.
So with such an exciting stretch on the horizon, it’s pretty cool that the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and Wahine are having one of the best combined seasons in school history. The men (18-9, 6-5 Big West Conference) won both home games last week and have won back-to-back conference games for the first time all season. The women (17-7, 9-2) swept their pair of road contests to up their winning streak to nine games.
The 35 combined wins is already as many or more than the two programs totaled in any season from 2001-02 until 2012-13. Each team still has at least six games remaining, depending on their postseason performances, so they could far outdo the 37 combined wins – 20 for the men, 17 for the wahine – that made up last season’s resurgence.
They would need a pretty remarkable run to come close to 2001-02, when the men went 27-6 and the women were 23-8. It’s been a while since both were firing on all cylinders like they currently are.
The men will have their work cut out for them if they are to keep pace with the wahine. Aaron Valdes missed Saturday’s win over Cal State Fullerton with an ankle injury and Isaac Fleming and Mike Thomas both suffered ankle injuries in that same 81-61 victory. All three traveled with the team for Thursday’s contest at UC Irvine, but coach Benjy Taylor stated he doesn’t expect them to play.
Those three combine to play 72 minutes a night, so the rest of the team has a large task trying to replace their 32 points and 12 rebounds per game. Plus, the ‘Bows have been most successful with a frenetic pace. They extend themselves defensively and have been forcing huge turnover totals. That style takes a toll physically and with an even shorter bench and likely longer minutes for the regulars, we’ll see if they can keep creating the same opportunities with tired legs.
The women haven’t had to change their script much and should be implementing the same formula as they try to win their first conference title since 2003-04. It’s been defense and rebounding that has set them apart. Those are the easiest attributes to maintain, once properly taught. Winning nine straight games has given the Wahine a 1 1/2-game lead in the standings and they can further distance themselves with a match-up this week against second-place UC Davis (12-10, 7-3).
Winning seasons are already in the bag, but there is more happening that anyone could have anticipated. Expectations are raised. Excitement is elevating. Hoops is definitely back at the Stan Sheriff Center and a new era of Hawaii basketball is certainly delivering.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.