LAS VEGAS - University of Hawaii men's basketball 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 out to be the perfect approach.
The Rainbow Warriors’ Hauns Brereton leaps toward the basket while guarded by the Vandals’ Kyle Barone during Hawaii’s 72-70 victory over Idaho in a WAC tournament quarterfinal on Thursday.
Hauns Brereton hit a 15-foot baseline jumper with 3.2 seconds left, and UH 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 to close out the victory. Hawaii won despite playing without second-leading scorer Zane Johnson and a week after losing by 19 at home to the Vandals. It was Hawaii'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."
Hawaii will face second-seeded New Mexico State in the semifinals today at 4 p.m. HST. The game will be televised on KFVE.
Vander Joaquim led Hawaii 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 Rainbow 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 third-seeded 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 Hawaii 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. Hawaii retook the lead at 46-45, but on the next possession Hawaii'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 Hawaii's final push started. The Rainbow Warriors likely should have led but missed four of six free-throw attempts. Still, Idaho was sloppy with possessions, and Stokes' 3 with 2:56 left pulled Hawaii even at 64.
Brereton's basket gave Hawaii 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 Rainbow 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."