Conference basketball season is coming to a close! And for both the Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine, year 9 of playing in the Big West Conference is almost in the books. 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 10 of conference play. Gary Dickman looks at the men’s side, while Tiff Wells features the women’s side.
By Gary Dickman:
Throughout the week, I’ll think about what I’ll be writing for each weeks story lines. And for most of last Saturday, I was thinking a little differently than I am now. That’s because the game last Saturday didn’t end the way it looked like it was going to. And boy, does that change the situation for our Rainbow Warriors.
- When Biwali Bayles bailed out Hawai`i with a banked-in three-pointer with eight seconds left to lift UH to Friday’s win at CSUN, I knew what a win on Saturday would mean. By the way, I’ve used the “Bayles bailed out Hawai`i” phrase several times since Friday…I promise to stop using it now. With a win the next night, Hawai’i would have had an excellent chance to finish in the top 6 in the Big West regular season standings and avoid the play-in round. And I’ll just focus on this point now. What the main focus should be right now is to avoid that extra game by finishing sixth or higher. Finishing the regular season between seventh through 10th means a slot in the play-in round. I know some have said that maybe if you get a game in before everyone else plays, that it can help. Not really. The goal is to win your conference tournament. That’s the only way the season can continue for UH. Trying to win four games in five days is a lot tougher than winning three games in three days. More than anything right now, the goal is to finish 6th or higher.
- Ok, so how does UH avoid the play-in round? Well…they still control their own destiny, for the most part. If they go 4-0 over these final two weeks, they’ll finish in 5th place. If UH goes 3-1, they’d finish 5th of 6th. You get the idea. Just win. Now, if they go 2-2, which is possible, they’d finish between 6th and 9th. These games this week against Long Beach State are very critical. No longer can we say “it’s early” or “there’s a lot of games left.” I’ll say it again, they need to sweep The Beach. Long Beach is at 4-4, in a tie for fifth/sixth place in the league. UH is at 6-8. A sweep would lift UH to a tie with Long Beach State, but Hawai’i would own the tiebreaker with a sweep. A split and it would be very unlikely that UH could finish in the top six.
- One of the keys for this weekend is if Justin Webster plays. He only played one half last week at CSUN and was scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. We’ve been told it was a medical situation. He was feeling good enough to be at Saturday’s game at CSUN, just not good enough to get on the court and play. I’m told he’s back practicing and should be able to play. What concerns me is this, is he at or near 100 %? Because when not feeling well last Friday, he didn’t score at all. They’ll need Justin Webster to be able to win both games this week. If you remember two weeks ago, Webster was named the Big West West Play of the Week. I feel that if they had J-Web last Saturday (UH would eventually lose in overtime), UH would have won. What also must happen is that someone else needs to step up when Webster isn’t carrying this team. We have seen this happen more recently, with Casdon Jardine and James Jean-Marie being able to take over for stretches.
- My thoughts on that last Saturday’s loss are this. When you are up by over 20 points and had a double-digit lead for most of the second half, you can’t lose. Now, UH has done a good job themselves this year when trailing late in games and not giving up. But in all four halves last week, Hawai’i had double-figure leads and couldn’t maintain them. They need to do a better job of closing out teams. You can’t give the opponent a chance to make a comeback. Last Saturday’s loss is the toughest one of the season. They were the better team in both games, but managed only a split.
- I do like that UH has shown overall improvement in a lot of areas as the regular season comes to a close. They’ve done a better job shooting the ball, keeping turnovers down, defending better, etc. I hope that the lack of overall depth doesn’t come back to haunt them. There are only 11 players in uniform. Bernardo da Silva isn’t coming back. Only nine are part of the rotation. That’s pretty normal for most teams. But when a situation comes up, like when your leading scorer is out or if guys get in foul trouble, then what? There aren’t many options. Everyone needs to step up. When this team gets complete performances from the entire team, they can beat anyone in the league. Look at UC Santa Barbara. They are easily the best team, on a 12-game winning streak. UH lost by 9, and then by 7 in overtime. They showed they can compete with them. Now I’d hope UH could avoid the Gauchos until maybe the Big West Tournament championship game, but I know that UH can play and have the ability to beat anyone else in this conference. I know how things have gone in the past. The years that UH didn’t win the Big West Conference tournament, almost every elimination game came down to the last minute. And one or two plays have dictated whether Hawai’i wins or go home. I have a strong feeling that’ll be the case this year. That no matter who they play in Las Vegas next month, it’ll come down to the final minute of the game . Let’s hope the Basketball Gods are on Hawaii’s side again.
For any video/live stats/radio links for the men’s games, click here.
By Tiff Wells:
- For the fourth time this season, UH will be coming off a bye weekend. The December 27th-28 series at Cal Poly, January 8th-9th series versus UC Riverside were both cancelled. The two-game series against the Mustangs was rescheduled, whereas the two against the Highlanders weren’t. There was a built-in bye weekend on January 1st and 2nd. UH received this fourth bye weekend after CSUN opted out of the season on November 12th. We also can’t forget about the second game of the UC Irvine series that was cancelled a few hours prior to tip-off in Irvine, California. The Bows are 0-2 in that first game coming off a bye (January 15th, lost 64-57 at CSU Bakersfield and February 5th, lost 79-71 in overtime at Cal Poly). As stated, those two games were on the road and ironically, the series this week for UH is also on the road…this time it’s at Long Beach State. The Walter Pyramid has been a tough place for the Rainbow Wahine, they’ve lost their last four games at Long Beach State (last win: January 7th, 2016). As UH sits in sixth place with arguably the toughest remaining four games of anyone in the conference, UH needs wins and some help by other teams to avoid that first round game of the Conference Tournament on March 9th.
- Speaking of the Conference Tournament, some news came out from its Board of Directors this past Monday. For the Big West Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, presented by the Hawaii Tourism Authority on March 9th-13th at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, the event will be held without spectators. This is third conference tournament (Mountain West Conference, West Coast Conference) that will be held in Las Vegas that has made an announcement. As the Big West said in their release, “prior to the start of basketball competition, the Big West Board of Directors made the decision to start the season without fans and revisit the issue as the season progressed. Keeping health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff at the forefront of this policy, the difficult but necessary decision was made to forego fan attendance at this year’s event in Las Vegas.” I understand it, I get it. All athletes growing up envision winning their conference tournament in front of family, friends and fans to complete that ultimate dream of playing in the NCAA Tournament to compete for a National Championship. Not playing in front of family has been done by all conference teams this year, so by continuing this trend in the Conference Tournament, it won’t phase any team. It’ll be sad to not have at least family members in attendance, especially for those senior athletes, but all players are happy to just be competing with whatever the circumstances are.
- We’ve mentioned the Rainbow Wahine having arguably the toughest remaining regular season schedule of anyone in the Big West. UH is set to face undefeated (6-0 at the moment) and four-time conference regular season champion UC Davis (the Aggies host Cal Poly this Friday and Saturday) next week Friday and Saturday. This week for UH, they play at Long Beach State, Friday and Saturday, with both games slated for a 2 p.m. Hawaii time tip off. Once 10-0 in conference play, Long Beach has dropped four straight games (two at home to UC Davis and then two last week at Cal Poly). Are The Beach on a downward slide? They’ve averaged just 47 points in these last four games (52, 50, 44 and 42) and have shot below 31% from the floor in those games. This week, Hawai`i is ranked second in the conference in allowing opponents to shoot 38.4 percent from the floor. Look for defensive stopper Jadynn Alexander to be matched up on Long Beach’s top scorer, Justina King. Also on the roster for Long Beach is former Rainbow Wahine post player Myrrah Joseph, who transferred last April.
- Seven games over three plus series were played last week. Game two of UC Santa Barbara-CSU Bakersfield was cancelled the day of the game (Saturday, February 20th) due to a COVID-19 protocols. The other three series were sweeps: UC Irvine over Cal State Fullerton, UC San Diego over UC Riverside and Cal Poly over Long Beach State. It wasn’t a surprise to see UCI win both of their games as the Titans are really struggling this season. A little bit of a stunner was the Tritons winning both at CSU Bakersfield. It was the first 2-0 sweep for the Tritons in conference this weekend and with them not being involved in the Conference Tournament this year and the next three years due to their reclassification in transition from Division II to Division I, all results against the Tritons are counted in the conference standings (this cannot be said for the men’s side). But the eye-popping result of the weekend came from San Luis Obispo as Cal Poly won both games against Long Beach State (55-44 in game one, followed by game two’s 45-42 buzzer beater). The Mustangs held The Beach to their two lowest scoring outputs of the season as well as two of their lower field goal percentages (game 1: 14-of-53, .264; game 2: 15-of-49: .306). Remember that it’s an unbalanced schedule (not everyone will have 18 conference games played when the regular season ends next Saturday) and seeds for the conference tournament will be determined by percentage points.
- We also know that one team has already completed its regular season: CSU Bakersfield. The first-year Big West member went 7-6 overall in conference play. They had the following series cancelled this season: UC Davis and Cal Poly. A fifth conference game (game two against UC Santa Barbara) was also cancelled. Over the course of the next two weeks, the Roadrunners had a built-in bye and then another bye after CSUN opted out. Currently, CSU Bakersfield sits fifth place, with a .538 percentage. With the Roadrunners entering their COVID-19 pause on February 20th, they’ll get out of it and resume basketball activities just ahead of the beginning of the conference tournament. Depending on the results over the final two weekends of conference play, they could be slotted anywhere from third to ninth.
For any video/live stats/radio links for the women’s games, click here.