It’s conference basketball season! And for both the Rainbow Warriors and the Rainbow Wahine, it’s year 9 of playing in the Big West Conference. In this edition of “Around the Arc,” we look at five of the biggest storylines around Hawai`i and the rest of the conference, either from the previous week or heading into week seven of conference play. Gary Dickman looks at the men’s side, while Tiff Wells features the women’s side.
By Gary Dickman:
Wow, what a weekend it was for the UH men’s basketball team. I’m supposed to write about five storylines every week. With so much going on this week, I could write about 10.
- Have we seen the growing up, the changing of this team over the last two weeks? I see a different team now. A few weeks ago, I wrote that this team was still trying to find its identity. What lineups work better, defining roles for players, etc. I knew it would take time with seven new players, a completely new starting lineup and a lack of non-conference games. The hope was that at some point things would just click. UH is just a last second shot by Justin Webster from sweeping UC Irvine and coming into this week on a three-game win streak. The defense is much better, turnovers are still down and they’ve elevated their game over the final 20 minutes. The second half comebacks have been fantastic.
- Can Hawai’i take advantage and get two more wins, that a week ago, were impossible to have gotten? What? Let me explain. UH was supposed to be on the road this week at UC San Diego. Those games wouldn’t have counted in the Big West standings. Transitioning up to Division I, the Tritons are ineligible for any postseason play. They play everybody, but none of those games count towards the league record. I’ve written previously that UH got a bad deal when their two games at Cal Poly were cancelled. At 3-11 overall and 1-7 in conference play, the Mustangs are struggling this season. I felt that every other school would get two wins against Cal Poly and Hawai’i wouldn’t get their two opportunities. Well, they are now. In a season where games often get cancelled and rescheduled, it’s now happened to the Rainbow Warriors. UCSD is out and Cal Poly is in. And this Cal Poly matchup is in Honolulu; a bonus home series for UH. With two wins, Hawai’i would be 5-5 in conference play. A week ago, this wasn’t even a possibility. Now, with a sweep, UH would either be in fifth or sixth place in the league standings.
- Has Eran Ganot found his permanent starting point guard? Last week we saw the third starter at that position, JoVon McClanahan. I thought he did an ok job and more importantly, felt he did better than the other two players. Back into the rotation is Noel Coleman and he’s in a battle for the backup point guard with Biwali Bayles. Both have been ok, but I feel JoVon did the best. Coach Ganot obviously felt that way by leaving him in at the end of both games against UC Irvine last week. He made two plays on Saturday that don’t show up in the stat sheet but showed me even more that he’s the best option. Let’s hope he continues to improve. The point guard position is such an important one in college basketball. Look at how UH played last week against the top team in the league. Point guard play had a lot to do with that.
- A bit of concern over the last two weeks is the front-court scoring. Or lack thereof. It’s the inconsistent scoring efforts from both Casdon Jardine and James Jean-Marie. Good numbers on Friday as they combined to score 26 points. On Saturday however, these two had just two points between them. To be a successful team and in the upper half of the league, this can’t happen. It seems like it’s been hard for these guys to have strong performances back-to-back. Over the last two weeks, the offense has been consistently led by Justin Webster and Junior Madut. I know some may say well Hawai`i still won that Saturday game with those two points between Jardine and Jean-Marie. Yes, that’s true, but it won’t lead to wins most nights.
- The schedule. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, Hawai’i has one of the easiest schedules. With the recent addition of Cal Poly to the schedule, only one (UC Santa Barbara at 6-2) remaining opponent has a winning record. The other four: Cal Poly (1-7), CSUN (2-4), Long Beach State (2-2) and UC Davis (0-2) are all at .500 or lower in conference play. With how the remaining schedule looks…with this team improving and really finding their way, they’ll continue to move up in the Big West standings. If they don’t have an off night or come out flat, the remaining schedule provides an opportunity to get the 4-seed for the Conference tournament. I think UH will be in 5th place by the end of this weekend. Let’s see if I’m right.
For any video/live stats/radio links for the men’s games, click here.
By Tiff Wells:
- We mentioned last week that for the coming weekend, there was another first for the Big West Conference…five conference series. They all took place on Friday night, including the Hawai`i-UC Irvine matchup. Then came this tweet at 11:00 Saturday morning:
— Hawai‘i Women’s Basketball (@HawaiiWBB) January 30, 2021
That’s the only information we were given as to why game two was canceled. As far as we know, they don’t test the student-athletes between games. Maybe it’ll come out officially as to what “abundance of caution” merited the game to be canceled. Key word here: maybe. We assume Hawai`i will host UC San Diego for a pair this week AND UC Irvine will head to CSU Bakersfield for a two-game series because that’s what the schedule said. We assume. We didn’t have to wait too long on Tuesday because at 5 p.m., this tweet was posted:
🚨 Schedule Change 🚨#HawaiiWBB going back on the road to Cal Poly this Friday and Saturday.
— Hawai‘i Women’s Basketball (@HawaiiWBB) February 3, 2021
UCSD and UH mutually decided to cancel the two contests in Honolulu. The Tritons are exploring alternative schedule options for the weekend and for the second time in 11 months, they have a trip to Hawai`i cancelled. Last March, UCSD was set to compete in the NCAA Division II West Regional, hosted by Hawai`i Pacific before the pandemic canceled the tournament…and then the season. For UH, it’s a quick turnaround to head back on the road (where they are 0-3 this season) and play Cal Poly (7-5 overall, 3-3 Big West). The Mustangs feature two of the top players in the conference: sophomore guard Abbey Ellis (Big West leader in both points per game-17.6 and steals per game-2.7) and senior forward Sierra Campisano (Big West leader in rebounds per game-9.8 and averaging 16.8 points per game, where that number ranks second in the Big West). We’ve talked about mid-game adjustments…how about mid-week adjustments to get ready for an entirely different team?
- Another topic we touched on last week was how many unbeaten teams would there be after the Friday games?…And then the Saturday games? Well, all three stayed unbeaten after the Friday games (host UC Irvine beat Hawai`i 82-68, UC Davis escaped with a 67-65 win at UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, after a not playing since January 9th, won a close one at UC San Diego 54-50. Irvine remained unbeaten after their game with Hawai`i was canceled, UC Davis stayed perfect with a 78-61 win and Long Beach State continued their undefeated start with a 74-53 win. Between The Beach (8-0), Anteaters (5-0) and Aggies (4-0), these three teams have set themselves apart as the top three in the conference. With the fourth-place team having three to four losses already, it seems as if the league champ AND runner up will come from this group of three. Scheduled for next week, UC Davis travels to Long Beach State. If this series takes place, this series could say a lot about who wins the regular season title. It will be an unbalanced schedule however because Long Beach State is scheduled to play both UC Davis and UC Irvine, where as UC Irvine already had their series with UC Davis canceled.
- We finally get to talk about the Hawai`i series, I mean game from last Friday at UC Irvine. For as good as UH played in game two against Cal State Fullerton the previous week (season low 10 turnovers, led for 39:40), it was a complete 180 at UCI. UH never led, committed 20 turnovers (4th time this season with 20 or more turnovers) and another slow start hurt the team (down 22-9 after quarter one). If you take away that 13-point deficit and look at the differential from quarters two through four, it was a minus one point differential. Strong rebounding for UH was present once again, as they outrebounded the Anteaters 37-26. UH has had the rebounding advantage in six of its seven games this season. However, UH’s road struggles continue as they are now 0-3 this season away from home and dating back to last season, have lost its last five.
- A staple of UH this season had been its defense. Coming into the UC Irvine series, the Rainbow Wahine held opponents to just 56 points per game. UCI scored 20 or more points in two quarters en route to their most points against a Division I opponent this season (82). Those 82 points tied the most scored against UH this season. UCI had 12 more field goal attempts than UH (62-50) and shot 51.6% (32-of-62) from the field. With back-to-back series against the same opponents, I like the potential game of chess between the coaches. Who comes out more aggressive in night two? What adjustments are made?…which team makes them? Who seems to play with more urgency? No one wants to get swept in a series; winners from night one want to get that second win in case of any tiebreaker at the end of the regular season, while the loser in game one has something to prove for game two. Sadly, UH never got that chance at redemption as game two was cancelled three hours ahead of the scheduled tip-off.
- We would like to congratulate redshirt senior forward Amy Atwell. With her four three-pointers made last Friday, she passed Melanie Azama for 9th-place all-time in UH women’s basketball history as she now has 108. We know about Atwell, but there have been a couple underclassmen that have emerged with great contributions. Sophomore forward Kasey Neubert has started the last three games and most recently against UC Irvine scored 12 points and pulled down nine rebounds; it’s the second straight game she’s nearly recorded the double-double. Entering this week, Neubert ranks second in the conference with a .537 field goal percentage. The other player has been freshman point guard Kelsie Imai. Thrust into the starting lineup as the primary ballhandler after the season-ending injury to Nae Calhoun, Imai leads the team in assists (23) after her career-high of six against UCI. She has more assists than turnovers (21) and also has been looking more for her shot (scored a career-high of 12 points against UCI as well).
For any video/live stats/radio links for the women’s games, click here.