By Gary Dickman.
Wow, I’m automatically in a better mood right now because I just saw that Duke lost another basketball game. Not many other things make me as happy.
I was in a great mood even before the Duke news, just thinking about the fantastic comeback and victory over UC Irvine on Saturday night at SASSC. (That means SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sherrif Center. I don’t want to write it out every time I mention the arena, so I’ll try to stick to the SASSC. Thank you.) You know how fans everywhere always claim that they were at a historic sporting event or a memorable game? Ten years from now somebody’s going to say he or she was at the SASSC for one of the most exciting finishes this arena has ever seen. It’s too bad no fans actually got to see this instant classic. Can you imagine on a Saturday night, maybe 5,000-5,500 fans to see Irvine here. That atmosphere at the end would have made my top 10 ever sporting events at the SASSC. But even without being there (and I’m still not used to that) it goes down as a night to remember.
After Friday night’s heartbreaker, when a 3-point attempt by Justin Webster at the buzzer could have won the game for UH if it went in (but it was wide left), Hawaii added another to the list of close, heartbreaking losses to those Anteaters of Irvine. Saturday night didn’t look too promising when, with 5:05 left in the second half, Irvine led, 51-39. With a little over three minutes left, it was still a 10-point deficit, 57-47. And then IT happened. The IT was a comeback to equal any we’ve ever seen. The Rainbow Warriors defense buckled down and forced four straight turnovers and got within two with under 10 seconds left. Then one of the worst calls I’ve seen in a long time almost cost UH the chance to go to overtime. Justin Hemsley set a screen by the free throw line, and an Irvine player going around the screen pushed Hemsley into another Irvine player. It was an easy no-call, not much contact, in fact the Irvine guard could have been called as well as Hemsley. Really bad call. But sometimes, refs know they screwed up, and there’s this thing called a make-up call. And that’s what happened with two seconds left as Junior Madut, one of the many stars for UH in the win, stole an inbound pass and then got “fouled.” Sure, we’ll take it, though. Madut makes both foul shots and its overtime.
Neither team scored in the last almost two minutes of overtime and Hawaii wins, 62-61. I want to point out two things that might have gone unnoticed in the last few minutes of this game. Near the end of the second half, and again late in overtime, JoVon McClanahan saved balls from going out of bounds off of the Warriors. He gave two possessions back to UH, and the overtime save was near the Irvine basket. That doesn’t show up in stats, but those hustle plays were big in this win.
At the end of overtime, Irvine had a possible layup for the win. Casdon Jardine got back on defense and had Andre Henry of Irvine, release the ball too soon as Jardine raised his arm. But probable Big West Player of the Year, Colin Welp, who had 20 points already, was an inch away from 22. His putback was around the rim, and started to drop but the basketball gods wouldn’t allow it to fall. Not tonight. What a night. What a game.
Hawaii has now won two out of three, and almost three out of three. They have four Big West series left that count. UC San Diego is in transition to D-1, so their games in conference don’t count on anyone’s record this year. My point, though, is this: UH has played three of the top four teams in the league. Their remaining four series only has one team with a winning record, UC Santa Barbara. The schedule gets easier, and this team continues to grow and improve. I like this. Maybe they’ll be more exciting Saturday nights this month like last Saturday.
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