By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
It was a lost weekend for the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team, as the Rainbow Warriors dropped a pair of Big West Conference games to league leader UC Santa Barbara. On Friday, the Gauchos used a stifling defense to hold UH to its lowest-scoring output of the season to prevail, 59-50. Then, last night, Hawaii staged a gutty comeback against the Gauchos, overcoming a 15-point deficit to force overtime before again falling, 81-74.
Here are some quick, not-so-expert observations about the two games and the current state of the Rainbow Warriors:
🏀 Hawaii’s top scorer, sophomore Justin Webster, was held in check in both games this weekend. He came into the series averaging 13.8 points per game and is the reigning “Big West Player of the Week.” Against the Gauchos, however, J-Web scored a total of 14 points in the two contests. Credit UCSB for playing suffocating D on Webster. Credit Webster, too, for not forcing shots that simply weren’t there. But the UH coaching staff will need to get creative in finding ways to get Webster more shooting opportunities. While UCSB’s leading scorer, Jaquori McLaughlin, put up 33 shots in the two games, Webster only had 12 shot attempts.
🏀 UH center James Jean-Marie had a strong game on Saturday, putting up 17 points and shooting 7 for 11 from the field, including 2 for 3 from beyond the arc. He essentially canceled out UCSB’s Amadou Sow, who scored 16. With injuries and opt-outs putting a dent in Hawaii’s overall depth, I know the coaches need to be mindful of avoiding foul trouble for the team’s “bigs.” But I would really like to see Jean-Marie and Mate Colina paired in the front court on occasion. Jean-Marie seems like a natural power forward.
🏀 Hawaii starting point guard JoVon McClanahan was largely a non-factor against the Gauchos, with a combined 4 points, 2 assists and 5 turnovers in the two games. Like the team as a whole, McClanahan is a work in progress. He came into the program with a reputation as a scorer (averaging 23 points per game last season at Sheridan College in Wyoming). To this point, he’s sacrificed his scoring to be more of a distributor and floor leader. As he continues to get more comfortable at the D-1 level, however, I suspect McClanahan will start looking for his shot more. When he does, that will add another dimension to the Hawaii offense. I really like his potential.
🏀 Poor free throw shooting, too many unforced turnovers, a lack of interior defense and untimely scoring droughts did in Hawaii on Saturday. The good news is, these are all things that can be fixed. More good news: Despite these deficiencies, the Rainbow Warriors still took the top team in the conference into overtime and had a chance to pull off the upset. The Gauchos are a very good team with veteran leadership. Right now, they are simply the better team.
🏀 Bottom line: I love this team. I enjoy watching them play. This year’s Rainbow Warriors are more athletic overall, and it’s just a matter of putting it all together. I’ll be perfectly honest here: In these pandemic times, I’m not as stressed about wins and losses this season. To me, just being able to watch and listen to every game, win or lose, is like a gift to be appreciated. (It still irks me that we don’t have Rainbow Wahine volleyball and soccer!) Losses aside, these past two games showed that Hawaii can compete against the best teams in the Big West. The Rainbow Warriors need to continue to progress as a team and peak in time for the conference tournament, which is when the games matter most. The journey to get there isn’t always going to be smooth. But I, for one, am enjoying the ride.
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