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Duels in the Desert

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

The University of Hawaii men’s basketball team will take on the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) tomorrow in the first round of the Las Vegas Classic. ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM/1420 AM) will bring you the game live from the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Rivals Pregame Show will begin at 10:00 a.m. (Hawaii Time), with tipoff set for 11. Our own Josh Pacheco will call the action.

Here are capsule profiles for the four schools participating in the two-day tournament:

ILLINOIS-CHICAGO: The Flames, who compete in the Horizon League, are currently 2-2 on the season, with wins over Valparaiso and Trinity Christian and losses to Dayton and Loyola Chicago. Last season, UIC went 9-13 (6-10 in the Horizon), finishing 11th in the 12-team league. The team’s strength is its backcourt duo of Demario Franklin and Kevin Johnson. Franklin leads the team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.5), while Johnson is the Flames’ assists leader (7.3). Luke Yaklich, who is in his second season as UIC’s head coach, should be familiar with Hawaii forward Kamaka Hepa. In 2019-20, Yaklich served as an assistant coach to Shaka Smart at Texas, where Hepa played for three seasons.

HAWAII: The Rainbow Warriors are off to a 2-1 start to the season, with wins over Hawaii-Hilo and Pacific and a three-point loss to Northern Colorado. Sophomore guard Noel Coleman, who averaged 5.i points in 19 games for Hawaii last season, is currently leading the team in scoring (16.7 ppg), three-pointers (2.0), assists (2.7), steals (1.0) and minutes (31.3). Another player who has upped his game is sophomore center Bernardo Da Silva, who is averaging 15.3 points and eight rebounds a contest. Guard Junior Madut (11.7) and forward Jerome Desrosiers (10.3) are Hawaii’s other double-digit scorers. UH finished 11-10 last season, going 9-9 in the Big West Conference. Seventh-year head coach Eran Ganot has 99-67 at UH. Will he get win No. 100 this week?

SOUTH ALABAMA: A member of the Sun Belt Conference, the Jaguars might be the tournament favorite. The school is coming off a 17-11 season (10-7 in the Sun Belt), and is currently 2-2 in the 2021-22 campaign. Both of their losses were by slim margins, including a five-point defeat at the hands of No. 14 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Six Jaguars are averaging eight or more points, led by LSU transfer guard Charles Manning Jr. (14.5 ppg). Fellow senior Javon Franklin, a 6’7 forward who transferred from Auburn is contributing 10.8 points and 8.3 boards per game. Head coach Richie Riley, now in his fourth year with the Jaguars, has led the program to at least 17 victories in his first three seasons. Riley served as an assistant coach at HPU in the 2005-06 season.

SAN DIEGO: The Toreros are 3-2 on the young season, owning wins over La Verne, Nevada and UC Riverside and losses to Cal and Cal State Fullerton. The team was 3-11 in 2021-22 (2-7 in the West Coast Conference); 10 of their games were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawaii’s leading scorer, Noel Coleman, played at San Diego in 2019-20, his freshman season. Four Toreros are averaging double-digit scoring, led by senior guard Jase Thompson (13.8). Thompson is shooting .643 from three-point range (9-14). Head coach Sam Scholl, a former Torero player, is in his fifth season leading the program. In 2019, Scholl lead San Diego to a 21-15 record and the school’s first-ever NIT appearance.

The Hawaii-UIC winner will play the South Alabama-San Diego winner on Friday for the tournament champion. The two losing teams will compete that day in the consolation game.

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