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 eight of conference play. Gary Dickman looks at the men’s side, while Tiff Wells features the women’s side.
By Gary Dickman:
The beginning of February has been a lot kinder to the UH men’s basketball team than the beginning of January was. From the end of January into the first week of February, things have gone pretty good for this team.
- I know I write about the point guard position often and last week wasn’t any different. I was writing about JoVon McClanahan and how he showed improvement throughout the UC Irvine series. I was more pleased last week to see the great, overall play from all three point guards. In game one on Friday night versus Cal Poly, they all contributed. They all took and made shots that last month, they weren’t taking. Head Coach Eran Ganot called it “Individual Confidence.” I’m glad Jovon continues to get better. I was also pleased with the offensive aggressiveness from Biwali Bayles. He’s not afraid to drive into the paint and challenge those bigger players. Noel Coleman had a good weekend as well. When I evaluate, it’s not just points and assists I look. It’s more so in how they run the team? Are they hurting the team? Are they playing smart basketball? Are they tentative? You get the idea. I was especially concerned with this position a month ago. Of all positions, I thought it could have been the weakest on this team. Not anymore. It’s so important to not have that much of a drop off when the bench players come in the game. Now with the UH point guards, there is no drop off. Not every team can match that.
- For this team to have a legitimate chance at winning the Big West tournament, they’ll need consistent play from all five starters. If everyone is on their A-game, I like Hawaii’s chances against anyone in the league. On the Rivals Waikiki pregame show last Saturday, I mentioned that James Jean-Marie has been off his game lately. Jean-Marie was very impressive over the first four to five games to start the season. He then went into a slump and now, he’s not starting. Minutes have been reduced. He also had a game in which he scored just two points…and UH won that game against UC Irvine. I also mentioned on the pregame show that I hope he’s not sulking. He’s too important a factor of this team to do that. I felt confident that he would soon start producing again. I just had no idea the production would come that soon. Jean-Marie put up 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He also had five rebounds. This production all took place in…a little over 17 minutes. I also put Casdon Jardine in category as well. He had a good start to the season but hasn’t been a consistent scorer as of late. Cas didn’t score in the win against the Anteaters. Jardine had 11 points and eight rebounds last Saturday versus Cal Poly. Hawai’i will really need similar production from these two for the rest of the season and especially this week against UC Santa Barbara.
- I did some math last week and two numbers I came up with are a concern. The first is three. As in, UH only has 3 bigs on the roster. That’s not a lot of depth to begin with. Last Saturday, two of them (Mate Colina and James Jean-Marie) had four fouls with over five minutes remaining in the game. Colina then fouled out. What little depth there is to begin each game with now took an even bigger hit. Also, there’s not another player on this team that’s over 6’6”. This is a concern because this week, UC Santa Barbara has 6’9” Amadou Sow, who right now is probably the favorite to win the Big West Conference Player of the Year award. For UH to have a chance to win the Big West tournament, they’ll have to go through teams that have this kind of size in the post. Hawai’i can’t improve in the size department this season; they have to play with the current roster. For UH to have a chance in March, it’s so important to be healthy and stay out of foul trouble. My expertise in math also showed that right now UH only has 11 eligible players in uniform. 11 isn’t a big roster. The answer to both of my concerns is Bernardo de Silva. He hasn’t played since early January. I’ve been told it’s a leg injury and the coaches hope he might come back by the end of February. He’d help to: fill some minutes, keep guys fresh and out of foul trouble. It’d be a big help. I don’t know if he’ll be able to get back to where he was last season, if he even makes it back onto the floor this season. There might not be enough remaining games for him to get back. But again, he’d be a help just by being able to play.
- I mostly write about players and schools. But I feel Head Coach Eran Ganot deserves a lot of credit. I’ve always admired Eran and his style. The type of players he recruits are ones that Hawaii fans can be proud of. You won’t find his players getting into trouble or embarrassing the school and themselves. I thought about his comments after both wins last week. UH won by 16 and 17. After I listened to him after both games, he didn’t seem satisfied. On both nights, he pointed out turnovers. There were only 15 and 12. Then I thought about it. I think he didn’t want his players being over confident or feeling too good about themselves. And this is in the hope that they’ll still play hard, and not let up or be over confident. It’s so smart. I know he’s proud with how his team has played lately. They’ve won three-in-a-row, four of the last five. They are one shot away from a five-game winning streak. After the four-game losing streak, there was a players’ only meeting. It has paid off. The team knew the season was slipping away from them and they were falling into the bottom tier in the standings. When it gets to conference tournament time, those teams seeded seven through 10th must play in a play-in game. This team was playing a little desperate, but in a good way. They needed to win. They had to win. They won by 23 points the next game after the meeting. They wouldn’t let UC Irvine win without a fight to the last seconds of each game in that series. That fight earned them a win over an undefeated team. That’s where a Head Coach makes a difference. And with Eran not content about a sweep last weekend, that is going to help this team over the next month.
- I’ve mentioned before how over the last five weeks of Big West play, the schedule is pretty favorable. Only two of the 10 remaining games are against teams with a winning record. Only UC Santa Barbara fits that criteria and they are in Honolulu this week. I’ll take a split right now and be happy. But the remaining six are so important. I know they will have a slip up now and then. It happens. It shouldn’t, but it does. I just hope that for UH, it’s not more than one or two games. Even though Hawai’i will be favored against CSUN, Long Beach State and UC Davis, two of those three series are on the road. And the better team doesn’t always win. I know I’m reaching too far into the future, but here I go. If Hawai’i splits with UCSB, they’ll be 6-6 in the Big West. If they then go 5-1 over those last 6 games, they’d finish at 11-7. In a season with so many cancelled games, UH is the only team in the league that can play all 18 conference games. Everyone else has lost games. Here’s where you don’t look at wins, rather you’re looking at percentage points. I think 11-7 is realistic, but if they go 4-2 over the last 6, they’d be 10-8. I’m not sure that would be enough to get them into third place at the end of the season. Right now, UH is in 5th place. They are a game out of 4th, 2 games out of 3rd place. Teams will beat each other up in the standings. If Hawai’i takes care of business, they’ll be fine. But having two off nights instead of one could be the difference in finishing 3rd or 4th in the standings. I feel confident they’ll finish strong. March Madness is back this year and let’s hope our Rainbow Warriors are a part of it.
For any video/live stats/radio links for the men’s games, click here.
By Tiff Wells:
- The Rainbow Wahine knew about the scheduling change on Monday, February 1st. At 5 p.m. the next day, it was made public that the UC San Diego/Hawai`i home series would be cancelled and the Cal Poly series would be made up. Another lost home series, making an additional road trip all the while adjusting a previously scheduled road trip, having to travel back on the road on roughly 36 hours notice, and then stay on the road because the next opponent for UH is UC Santa Barbara…that was a lot to take in. It would call for a 12-day road-trip. Getting to San Luis Obispo isn’t exactly the easiest of the Big West locales to get to. Coaches have always said that in order to be successful and give yourself a shot at a conference regular season title, you need to sweep the homestands and split the roadtrips. Coach Beeman’s crew were a shot away from a sweep in Cal Poly. An overtime loss on night one, followed by a six-point victory in game two snapped a six-game road losing streak dating back to last season. UH also shot a ton of threes…70 to be exact (15-of-42 in game one, 9-of-28 in game two). Freshman Meilani McBee seemed confident from beyond the arc…going 6-of-15 over the two games and Jadynn Alexander seemed to find her shooting touch…making four three-pointers each in both games. Getting a split on this road series with just a few days notice was impressive.
- The Bows defense did an okay job on the conference’s top two scorers. Abbey Ellis scored 27 points and Sierra Campisano added 22 on night one. In the second game, Ellis had 24 points…but on 24 shots, while Campisano scored 10. Those two players got their shots on a continual basis, but enough adjustments were made to get the series split. UH did lose the rebounding edge in both games, but they ran the Mustangs off the three-point line in night two (3-of-17, 17.6%) after allowing the Mustangs to shoot 41.2% (7-of-17) from three in the series opener. UH had 29 combined turnovers (they averaged a little over 18 per game entering the week). And freshman point guard Kelsie Imai continues to get more comfortable running the office. She recorded 15 assists to just six turnovers against one of the more pressure defenses in the conference.
- UH has six games remaining in the regular season…the two this week at UC Santa Barbara, a bye, back on the road to Long Beach State and then a home series with UC Davis. Entering this week, The Beach (10-0) and Aggies (4-0) are the only remaining unbeaten teams in conference play. Maybe the series of the year takes place this week Friday and Saturday in Long Beach as The Beach hosts the four-time defending regular season conference champions. The Bows are 3-4 in conference (currently in 7th) and UCSB is 2-7 in conference (currently in 9th but would be the 8th seed due to UCSD being ineligible for postseason play). It would be nice for UH to avoid that play-in round of the conference tournament. Of the three remaining teams for UH, the Gauchos seem to be the easiest for UH. To go 3-1 during a 12-day roadtrip would be monumental for the Bows moving forward with just four scheduled games remaining. UH does have a bye for February 19-20, as does UC Davis. UH is running out of open dates to try and reschedule that UC Irvine cancelled game and the UC Riverside cancelled series.
- As we said earlier, perhaps the series of the year takes place this weekend in Long Beach with two games between Long Beach State and UC Davis. Games are Friday and Saturday. Both can be seen on ESPN3, beginning at 2 p.m. HT both days. As we are in the second half of conference play, this series will most definitely have a lot of say in who wins the regular season title AND who could finish second. Remaining for Long Beach State: two games at Cal Poly, at home for two against UH and at rival UC Irvine for two to end the regular season. A possible factor for The Beach is they don’t have a bye weekend (unless there’s a COVID-19 situation which we hope isn’t the case). For UC Davis, they have another bye (they could possibly make up a cancelled series), host Cal Poly for two and then travel to Hawai`i to end the regular season. Two of the top players are in this Aggies/Beach matchup: Cierra Hall for UC Davis and the most recent Big West Player of the Week recipient, Jasmine Hardy of Long Beach State.
- With UC Davis on a bye last weekend, they were able to schedule a game on three days notice…at Eugene, Oregon to face the 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks. The Big West already had two wins over the Pac-12 Conference this season and the Aggies nearly made it a third. The Aggies led a majority of the first half (biggest lead was six on multiple occasions) before it was tied at 25 entering halftime. Their biggest lead was 46-40 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter as UC Davis put up 21 total third quarter points to lead 46-42 entering the fourth. A 21-point final quarter gave the host Ducks a 63-57 win. Point Guard Mackenzie Trpcic had a career-high 13 assists, which is good for a tie for second on the all-time single-game list at UCD. Having been placed on pause for nearly 60 days, then playing on consecutive weekends in Davis, at Santa Barbara before this game in Eugene on three-days notice, it’s been an impressive showing for the Aggies so far. Also announced on Wednesday, this weekend’s series between UC Riverside at UC Irvine was cancelled. “In a mutually agreed upon decision,” this series won’t take place. These teams met January 8th and 9th in Irvine and split. Those were originally to count as non-conference games, but with this cancellation, they will now count towards the conference standings. This means UC Irvine is 7-2 (3rd place), while UC Riverside is 5-5 (tied for 4th).
For any video/live stats/radio links for the women’s games, click here.