Call it a business trip with the opportunity for pleasure and prestige.
The University of Akron men’s basketball team will spend the days leading up to Christmas in paradise, playing in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. UA faces Oregon State at 7:30 tonight on ESPNU.
The Zips (5-2) hit the road with a four-game winning streak, some serious momentum as the team’s chemistry finally seems to coming together.
“We’re starting to get along better. You can see it in practice. Our best players are starting to get along,” Zips coach Keith Dambrot said Wednesday after a comeback win against Detroit.
That game offered the perfect example of what the Zips are capable of doing when they are in tune.
They trailed by 14 points in the first half against the Titans and didn’t hit double digits in scoring until the 5:22 mark, and they shot 23 percent from the floor.
The second half? Completely different story. They hit 9-of-12 3-pointers and shot better than 70 percent overall to eventually blow out Detroit 79-60.
“[It shows] we can overcome adversity and we can come back and win a game, but it’s going to take collective effort to do that,” Zips forward Demetrius Treadwell said. “It ain’t just one person. It’s five guys — 12 guys on our team — so we have to fight through adversity.”
Playing three games in five days gave everyone an idea of what the Zips can do. More important, it gave them some momentum as they head west.
“These three games were good and they will help us build confidence toward Hawaii,” forward Quincy Diggs said. “We have Oregon State next and hopefully we’ll do the same thing.”
Dambrot views the Diamond Head Classic as an opportunity for the Zips to showcase themselves.
“We’re starting to play a little bit better,” he said. “I don’t think we’re maxed out by any means. Now we have the opportunity to go on a neutral court and play some good teams. Then we have the opportunity to go to South Carolina and play another good team.”
South Carolina, by coincidence, is playing in the same tournament, but Dambrot is in no way looking beyond the task at hand with the opening game against the Beavers (6-2). Nor can he look over it.
Dambrot called Oregon State “humongous.” No one on the Beavers roster is shorter than 6 feet. Oregon State has an impressive triumvirate of starters, who average 57.3 points combined.
Roberto Nelson, a 6-4 guard, puts up 22.1 points and 4.4 assists per game. Devon Collier, a 6-8 power forward, isn’t far behind with 21.3 points with 9.6 rebounds, and Angus Brandt, a 6-10 center from Australia, averages 13.3 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“If we can get the first one, which won’t be easy, then we’ll probably get the opportunity to play Iowa State, who is similar to how I view Oklahoma State last year, which is a great opportunity for our team,” Dambrot said.
Whether the Zips take advantage of them in this tournament remains to be seen. Although it’s there, the chemistry continues to develop.
“We’re good when we’re comfortable, and when we’re a little uncomfortable, we’re not so good,” Dambrot said. “You can see us getting a little bit better — a little inconsistent. They’re trying to test my nerves all the time.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.