By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The University of Hawaii men’s basketball team’s final two games of the regular season produced uneven results. By beating UC Davis on Friday, 73-68, the Rainbow Warriors avoided the dreaded play-in game at this week’s Big West Tournament in Las Vegas. Yesterday, however, UC Davis thoroughly outplayed UH in the rematch and prevailed, 74-66. Hawaii goes into the tournament as the No. 6 seed and will play No. 3 seed UC Riverside in the quarterfinals on Thursday (6:00 p.m. Hawaii Time).
Here are a few quick observations about this past weekend’s split with UC Davis as well as the state of the Rainbow Warriors going into the tournament:
♦ The split with the Aggies perfectly encapsulates this year’s Rainbow Warrior team. When they play hard and aggressive, they can beat any team in the conference. But when they aren’t focused and lack energy, UH could easily suffer another first-round exit in the tournament. Example: In Friday’s win, Hawaii dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Aggies, 42-22. In yesterday’s loss, UC Davis won the rebounding battle, 36-22. As Artie Wilson correctly says, rebounding is all about hustle and “want-to.”
♦ Hawaii finishes the regular season with an 11-9 overall record, and 9-9 in the Big West. At first glance, their sixth-place finish in the conference has to be considered a disappointment. This is a talented and deep squad that head coach Eran Ganot and his staff have put together. But then there is the fact that there were eight new players on the roster, and the Rainbow Warriors lost their entire starting five from last season. Throw in the additional fact that the team didn’t have the benefit of a full training camp, and a .500 record becomes more understandable.
♦ UH wing Junior Madut had a poor series against UC Davis, shooting a combined 3 for 15 (1 for 9 beyond the arc) in the two games. Casdon Jardine had an off game on Saturday, scoring only 2 points on just five ship outs. Another ’Bow who struggled was point guard JoVon McClanahan, who committed five turnovers this past weekend and was a liability on defense. No one player was the reason Hawaii lost to the Aggies on Saturday, but all three players need to bounce back in a hurry if UH wants to make any noise in the tournament.
♦ Another notable difference in the two games against UC Davis was Hawaii’s three-point shooting. On Friday, the Rainbow Warriors were 12 for 25 from beyond the arc, with seven different players burying at least one from deep. Yesterday, however, the Aggies played very tight perimeter defense, and Hawaii had very few open looks. As a result, they were only 4 for 16 from deep range.
♦ Hawaii and Riverside split their season series. The two schools played on Jan. 8 and 9 in Riverside. Hawaii won the first game, 88-83, while the Highlanders took the rematch, 70-68. The Highlanders have won their last three games, including a dominant 16-point win over Big West regular-season champion UC Santa Barbara.
♦ Since winning the 2016 Big West Tournament, Hawaii has made three consecutive first-round exits. Of course, the tournament wasn’t held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Will this be the year UH ends its tournament drought?
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