Were you there?
The University of Hawaii men’s basketball program has had its share of big wins in its 100-year history, but perhaps none was bigger than the Rainbow Warriors’ stunning 76-65 upset over No. 2-ranked Kansas. It was Dec. 30, 1997, and the two schools were in the championship game of the Rainbow Classic.
The Jayhawks at the time were led by junior forward Paul Pierce, who would go on to become an NBA superstar and world champion with the Boston Celtics. On this particular night, Pierce had to pick up the slack for his All-AMerican teammate, Raef LaFrentz, who was out with an injury. Pierce did what he could, scoring 22 points and snaring 9 rebounds.
But make no mistake: This night belonged to the Rainbow Warriors.
The Stan Sheriff Center was sold out – 10,300 strong – and many in attendance could feel that something special could be happening. While Kansas was the nation’s second-ranked team, Hawaii was no slouch. Led by the “Dynamic Duo” of guards Anthony Carter and Alika Smith, the ’Bows were 9-1 coming into the game, including a 17-point victory over Indiana in the season opener.
Hawaii was competitive from the get-go, mixing up its defensive schemes to confuse the Jayhawks. Offensively, Carter struggled early, shooting an uncharacteristic 0 for 8 in the first half. Still, UH led, 29-26, at intermission. In the second half, Hawaii head coach Riley Wallace, who almost always prefers man-to-man defense, went to a 1-2-2 zone to clog the middle of the Jayhawks’ offensive attack. Carter came alive offensively, scoring 17 points on 6 for 7 shooting. He would finish the game with 19 points, 5 boards, 7 assists and 4 steals.
Smith led Hawaii with 22 points and forward Eric Ambrozich added 18 points and 9 rebounds. Forward Erin Galloway only had 2 points but delivered 2 blocked shots, including a soaring rejection of an Eric Chenowith jump shot that is still talked about today.
When the final buzzer sounded, the fans gave the home team a standing ovation. “It’s a great feeling,” Carter told reporter Stephen Tsai. “One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had.”
Kansas head coach Roy Williams praised Hawaii’s effort, saying, “They were so much more active than we were.”
The final score, again: Hawaii 76, Kansas 65.
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