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Gary’s Blog: Win or Go Home

By Gary Dickman.

Well, here we are. It’s that time. It’s win or go home for our Rainbow Warriors as the Big West Tournament starts on Tuesday. Thankfully, it starts on Thursday for UH, as they avoided the play-in game by splitting vs UC Davis.

I know I’ve mentioned this previously, but it’s amazing how many games this season have come down to the last shot or possession. I counted nine games that were decided within the last 10 seconds this year. That’s gotta be some kind of record. But now that it’s March and tournament time, it’s like a brand new season. And with having last year’s season end exactly one year ago today, this makes this year’s March Madness even more enjoyable.

And as I say how exciting this time of year is, I am also often reminded of this as well: It could all end quickly. Just like that. And to expand a little on this, I always think about some schools who are making their first appearance ever in the NCAA tournament, or the school’s first in 38 years, and the excitement that comes with that, that’s what the NCAA tournament is all about, right? And we hear about this school on Selection Sunday, and then for some, they’ll play in the First Four, the play-in game. And they lose on that Tuesday or Wednesday, and just like that, maybe 48 hours after they had their dreams come true, it’s over. The swing of emotions must be unbearable as this happens every year.

That’s part of what I’ve always loved about the NCAA tournament, the emotion that comes at the end of every game. Players having their careers end so suddenly. Lives changing forever. Remember Adam Morrison from Gonzaga  crying on the court as they got eliminated by UCLA in the sweet 16 round?

Oh yeah, about Hawaii basketball. I know this has been said too often, but I think it holds true this year as well. UH could win three games this week and go to the NCAAs, it’s not impossible. Or, they could go one and done. There’s not a team in this league where anyone would think Hawaii didn’t have a chance against. I was looking at some past years in Big West tournament play, and just like this season, so many games have come down to the last shot or last possession. Even the BW championship game vs Long Beach State in 2016 went down to the last shot.

With UC Riverside as the first-round opponent, there are different ways to look at them. Here’s what stands out a little to me, is that Riverside beat Santa Barbara by 16 two weeks ago. That stopped a 13-game winning streak by Santa Barbara. Riverside finished 8-4 this year, with a victory over Irvine as well. UH split with them in the first league games for UH. They’ve got a First-Team All-Big West player in forward Arinze Chidim. In the game that
Riverside beat Hawaii, it was Chidom’s shot with under seven seconds left that won the game. They’ve got a 7-footer in Jock Perry. I was concerned about him going into the games in January, but he only had five rebounds in both games combined, and averaged a little over four a game thus year.

I know UH has the talent to beat the Highlanders. What also makes me a little more confident for the game vs Riverside, is that James Jean-Marie has been playing better and with more confidence the last two weeks. One play stands out to me was last week vs UC Davis. He got an offensive rebound on the side of the basket, and then took one step and went up and dunked the ball. I’ve been waiting all year for Jean-Marie to go up strong to the basket, and he did it on that play.

It’s fun watching players emerge and improve over the season. As mentioned James Jean-Marie, but JoVon McClanahan and Biwali Bayles have to be credited for their improved play as well. I’m not confident that if UH has a nice lead at any point in this game that they’ll hold it, that’s just how this season has gone. But I am confident that they can win on Thursday, and then we’ll see about the semifinals on Friday. I really hope this season doesn’t end soon. I’m not ready for baseball yet.