The University of Hawaii men's basketball team arrived, in shifts, on Maui Saturday, fresh off a 79-66 win over Hawaii-Hilo in Kona on Friday night.
A pair of players - Miah Ostrowski and Zane Johnson - went from Kona to Manoa, so they could go through graduation ceremonies with 31 other UH athletes, hopped on a plane to Kahului on Saturday afternoon and could both be in the starting lineup tonight against North Carolina A&T for a 5 p.m. tipoff at War Memorial Gym.
Gib Arnold, UH coach — ‘There are a lot of teams probably sitting where we are early in the season. We still have a lot of work to do, we are an extremely young team. ... I think it is still a work in progress.’
In the win over the Vulcans, Hawaii (4-4) fell behind by 11 points in the first half after five players arrived shortly before tipoff at Kealakehe Gym because of final exams.
The win was technically Hawaii's first on the road. The Bows have beaten Cal State Northridge, Pacific and UC Davis at home, while losing to Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Pepperdine and Pacific on the road.
"We have played three games on the road and it is always tough to win on the road," Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said Wednesday via phone. "We lost a fourth game to a team with a winning record and three of them on the road. There are a lot of teams probably sitting where we are early in the season. We still have a lot of work to do, we are an extremely young team, we have had only one senior during those games. I think it is still a work in progress."
The UH starting lineup against Hilo - Bobby Miles, Shaquille Stokes, Davis Rozitis, Hauns Brereton and Trevor Wiseman - was the fifth different combination used by Arnold this season and the fourth time in a row he has shuffled the first five.
Johnson, a senior shooting guard, and Stokes, a freshman point guard who was the New York City high school player of the year last season, lead the team in scoring at 14.3 and 11.5 points per game, respectively, but have both struggled with their shooting percentage.
Johnson is shooting just 34.1 percent from the floor and Stokes is at 33.0 after his career-high 21 points against the Vulcans. Johnson was 2-for-10 from the floor, 0-for-6 from 3-point range, and scored six points against Hilo.
While this game is designated as a home game for UH, the travel challenges can help the Rainbows be ready for the rest of their season.
"We have to learn to win on the road, that is going to be important and a big part of our season," Arnold said. "One reason we did these early road trips was so that it would pay off during the (Western Athletic Conference) season. I think that will help out in the long run."
Brandyn Akana, a former Molokai High School and BYUH standout and coach, is now in his second season as an assistant at UH. He said this team is just hitting its stride - the difficult in-state travel aside.
"We're a young team and we play hard," Akana said. "I think we are just getting to the point where we are starting to play together, so folks are going to see an exciting game, a lot of talent on this team. We are just starting to play better, so we're looking forward to taking the show to Maui and doing it in front of the people of Maui."
Ostrowski rejoined the team last week after the football season ended and he has had mixed results in two games. In the win over UC Davis, he had eight assists in a start, but Friday night he had just two assists in 18 minutes.
"He brings a maturity and he is a great leader," Arnold said. "He is a guy who we know what he brings to the table every game. He did it for us all last year and he is another very strong addition. I am fortunate that I have three really good point guards in (Ostrowski), Bobby and Shaquille Stokes. It's a three-headed monster, each of them can do something a little bit better than the other guys."
With all the lineup changes, Wiseman is the only player to start all eight games and is averaging 8.1 points per game. Stokes has started seven games and Johnson six.
"I don't put a huge emphasis on who starts," Arnold said. "I think the players do that a little bit more than I do, in fact, a lot more and I don't really care. The five guys who play best during that practice, play the best together, are the guys who start."
North Carolina A&T is 4-7 overall and has already lost a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game. The Aggies arrive for their eighth road game on a four-game losing streak - they are 3-0 at home, 1-0 in a neutral setting and 0-7 on the road.
Four players have started every game for the Aggies, and Nic Simpson leads a balanced attack with an average of 10.7 points per game. The only other double-digit average is the 10.0 of Marc Hill.
This will be the second year in a row the UH men will make an appearance on Maui - the 'Bows beat Chicago State 86-57 last December at the Lahaina Civic Center. Hawaii players will hold a free autograph session immediately after today's game.
"I like the idea of playing on the Neighbor Islands," Arnold said. "I'm a big believer that this team is Hawaii's team and they represent all of the islands. ... If we get a packed house, then there is no reason we can't do this every year."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com