For the second night in a row, Western Athletic Conference regular-season champion Colorado State had to hang on for dear life before emerging with a victory in the final minute.
This time the Rams had to come from behind to edge an upset-minded Hawaii team 50-46 Friday night at the Huntsman Center, after slipping past Utah by a similar 52-50 score the night before. The victory extended the Rams' winning streak to 11 games as they improved to 22-8 on the season. Hawaii dropped to 17-12.The Rams will meet UTEP at 8 tonight with the winner getting the WAC's automatic NCAA bid. It will mark the first appearance in the WAC finals for the Rams.
In their meetings with UTEP earlier this year the Rams split, winning 81-68 at home and losing 69-53 at El Paso.
Pat Durham was the hero as he scored half of the Rams' points with 25 and hit what turned out to be the game-winner on a baseline drive and dunk shot with 55 seconds left.
"The coach told me to take it to the hoop tonight," said Durham, who made 15 of 20 foul shots and 5 of 13 from the field.
The Rainbows worked the clock down to 14 seconds, but Terry Houston's 15-footer bounced off the front rim and Durham rebounded. CSU point guard Trent Shippen, who was scoreless in the game as well as the tournament, was fouled with six seconds left. But after two Hawaii timeouts, he calmly sank both foul shots to put the game away.
"I think the big thing tonight was that we were able to go inside to Pat," said CSU Coach Boyd Grant. "I thought it was a real gutty performance that we came back from being down eight."
After trailing 26-25 at halftime, the 'Bows came out fast in the second half, hitting six of their first eight shots to grab a 37-29 lead at the 14:30 mark.
The Rams regrouped, however, after a timeout and within two minutes were back within two at 39-37. A Matt Sharp follow shot of a Durham miss with 10:20 left knotted the score at 41.
The score stayed 41-41 for more than four minutes as both teams milked the clock and couldn't convert. Finally CSU's Eric Friehauf broke the ice with a 15-footer from the right angle.
Then Hawaii's Troy Bowe hit a pair of shots, the second a three-pointer, to make it 46-44 with 3:17 left. Durham missed a foul shot for CSU and Phil Lott missed a banker for Hawaii before Durham tied it at 46 after a controversial foul call on Reggie Cross with 1:58 left. The call came late after Durham lost the ball inside, and it was the fifth on Cross, who was Hawaii's top scorer with 16 points.
With 1:15 left, David Hallums threw up an airball from three-point range, and 20 seconds later Durham got free on the baseline for his winning stuff shot.
"They are the WAC champs and one of the best-coached teams in the country - they deserved to win," said Hawaii Coach Riley Wallace.
Hawaii was only three of seven from the foul line compared to CSU's 18 of 25.
The Rams were in control early, leading by as much as 15-8 after a turnaround jumper by Durham with just under 10 minutes reamining. Triblehorn scored eight of CSU's first 15 points.
But the Rainbows stormed back and took an 18-17 lead after Terry Houston stole the ball then threw a length-of-the-court pass to Vincent Smalls for a layup with 6:30 left.
Hawaii, which had the backing of the majority of the Huntsman Center crowd, had a chance to make it a four-point lead when Houston went to the foul line at the 1:13 mark with the score 25-23. But he missed both, and Triblehorn came back and knocked in a three-pointer with 54 seconds left to make it 26-25.