WAC tournament

Saturday, March 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Hawaii came in as a longshot to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament. Not anymore.

The Rainbow Warriors, seeded No. 5 after finishing 8-8 in the league, turned in their second straight strong performance in upsetting top seed and 25th-ranked Fresno State 76-67 on Friday night.

Hawaii (16-13) will play in the title game Saturday night against No. 2 seed Tulsa, which beat UTEP 59-56.

Hawaii's lineup is a mix of players from around the globe and it played like one in the view of Fresno coach Jerry Tarkanian.

``Hawaii's a tough team right now,'' he said. ``They're like playing the foreign national team. They're a little older, they're great shooters like the national teams are, they're great passers. They know how to play.''

Predrag Savovic, from Yugoslavia, scored 23 points Friday night. Newfoundlander Carl English had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Canadian Phil Martin had 10 points and 13 rebounds. American Troy Ostler scored 19.

Coach Riley Wallace said Hawaii's recent strong play _ it has won six of seven _ is a result of getting everyone back healthy and, in the case of Israeli Haim Shimonovic, back from an NCAA-imposed suspension.

``These guys' engines have been started,'' he said. ``When everybody got healthy and got out there and saw what they could do, they got revved up.''

Hawaii shot 60 percent and tied a school record with 13 3-pointers in a 99-79 quarterfinal victory over Texas Christian on Thursday. Tarkanian called that performance ``frightening.''

``They just cut TCU up totally with their offense,'' he said. ``After I watched what they did to TCU, I was scared to death.''

The Bulldogs looked more disinterested than scared during the first half Friday, when they fell behind by as many as 12. They hit just nine shots, and leading player Melvin Ely picked up three fouls.

Fresno State (25-6) played better defense early in the second half and it contributed to a 10-0 run that tied the score. Hawaii committed seven of its 25 turnovers in the first nine minutes of the second half, and the Bulldogs eventually took just their third lead of the game, 42-41, with 11:45 to play.

But Hawaii met the challenge with consecutive 3-pointers by Mikey McIntyre and Nerijus Puida. Then came Savonivic with a jumper, two free throws and a 3-pointer on a behind-the-back assist from English that made the score 54-46.

Fresno State got no closer than six the rest of the way.

``When we get into our offense, it's very difficult to cover,'' Wallace said. ``These guys really do a good job of reading what the defense is doing and they're looking for each other. They're fun to watch.''

Tulsa (21-10) overcame its worst shooting night of the year _ 31.7 percent _ and held off UTEP (22-8) to advance to the championship game.

The Golden Hurricane outscored UTEP 5-0 in the final 90 seconds.

``It's a shame somebody had to come out a winner,'' Tulsa coach Buzz Peterson deadpanned. ``I don't want anything pretty now. I just want a win.''

Kevin Johnson scored 20 for Tulsa, including a turnaround jumper over Brandon Wolfram that tied the score at 56 with 1:30 remaining.

Wolfram, who scored 17, missed a jumper with about 1:15 to play and David Shelton got fouled. He made the first to give Tulsa a 57-56 lead.

The teams traded turnovers _ Greg Harrington threw the ball away for Tulsa and Eugene Costello got called for a charge for UTEP _ before Greg Harrington sank two free throws with 24.4 seconds remaining to give Tulsa a three-point lead.

Costello and Chris Neal each got good looks on UTEP's last possession, but the shots didn't fall.

``Playing on their own floor in the semifinals of a conference tournament game, it's a difficult place to battle,'' coach Jason Rabedeaux said. ``Our kids answered the challenge.

``My kids played as hard as they could. They just came up short.''