UPDATED: Warriors stun Idaho, 72-70, in WAC Tournament opener
LAS VEGAS – Beating long odds in the toughest place to do so, a severely short-handed Hawai’i basketball team stunned Idaho, 72-70, Wednesday to snap a five-game losing streak and notch its first Western Athletic Conference Tournament victory since 2005.
Hauns Brereton sank a 12-foot jumper from the right baseline with 3.2 seconds remaining as the Warriors improved to 16-15 and advanced to tomorrow’s semifinals against New Mexico State (24-9). Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. Hawai’i time at The Orleans Arena. It will be UH’s first WAC semifinal appearance since 2003.
The Warriors won despite the absence of school career 3-point leader Zane Johnson, who is back home suffering from mononucleosis, and starting forward Joston Thomas fouling out with 12:14 remaining.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these young men,” Warriors coach Gib Arnold said. “We have had a tough three weeks, we were a little wounded and a little down, but last week I think we finally got our heart back in it against Utah State. We played with heart and we knew we had a chance going in here. We knew it was a big deal and these guys rallied together.”
Vander Joaquim led UH with a game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds and Brereton and freshman Shaquille Stokes — starting in Johnson’s spot at guard — each added 17 points.
Brereton’s game-winning jumper came after he ran down a loose ball caused when Stokes was stripped of it while driving to the basket.
“I knew (Stokes) was going to drive (to the basket) and he drew every defender to him, so it was perfect,” said Brereton, who added a career-high 11 rebounds for his first double-double at UH. “I was looking for a shot in the corner, I knew I was going to be open, so I shifted over and luckily it was there.”
The mid-range shot softly hit the back side of the rim, paused and then fell through the net.
After a Vandals timeout, center Kyle Barone threw a three-quarter court inbounds pass that was intercepted by Joaquim, and a couple seconds later the horn sounded to set off a celebration that was three weeks — and even seven years — in waiting.
“It’s a tough one, but you have to give Hawai’i credit, they came out and competed like crazy and they made the plays when they needed to,” said Vandals coach Don Verlin.
Hawai’i made all the plays early, jumping out to a 10-4 lead in the first five minutes and then using a 9-0 run midway through the half to go up, 19-8, on a layup by Joaquim with 9:24 remaining.
Idaho made just 4 of its first 21 field goals — and none of its first six 3-point attempts — in the game’s opening 15 minutes as a slam dunk by Joaquim made it 28-18 with 4:22 left.
The Vandals closed it to 35-28 by halftime on Djim Bandoumel’s free throw with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Joaquim, who was held to just four points in an 82-63 loss to Idaho just seven days earlier and followed that with a season-low two points against Utah State on Saturday, had 10 points and six rebounds by halftime.
“We had dinner the other night and Vander and Miah were riding in the car with me, and I could tell Vander was relaxed and ready,” Arnold said. “He’s been our most consistent player all season, he just had one bad week. I knew he was gonna give us everything he could today, and he and Miah both gave us 40 minutes.”
The Warriors opened the second half with Thomas’ double-pump layup followed by Brereton’s putback to go up, 39-28, less than two minutes in, but Barone answered with a layup to start Idaho on a 14-2 run capped by Stephen Madison’s 3-pointer to give the Vandals their first lead at 42-41 with 14:51 left.
UH took the lead back at 46-45 on a floater by Thomas, but things took a turn for the worst soon after as Thomas was called for his fourth foul and then drew a technical for complaining about it, sending him to the bench for good with 12:14 still remaining.
Reserve center Davis Rozitis replaced Thomas and scored a layup to put the Warriors back up, 52-51, with 10:03 left, but Madison answered with a 3-pointer to start a 13-5 run that gave Idaho a 64-57 lead with 6:15 to play.
“I don’t know why we didn’t shoot well early in the game, but we didn’t get frustrated and I thought we climbed the hill and seized control,” Verlin said.
But Hawai’i fought back with a gritty 11-1 run capped by Brereton’s two free throws which put the Warriors up, 68-65, with 1:43 remaining.
Deremy Geiger’s three-point play tied it at 68-68 with 50.8 seconds left, and after a layup by Joaquim made it 70-68 with 29.5 ticks remaining, Barone answered with a layup 12 seconds later to make it 70-70.
Ostrowski then pushed the ball up the floor and got it to Stokes, who tried to drive down the right side of the lane but got the ball knocked out by Geiger, with Brereton right there to pick it up and knock it down.
“I feel really good about this group, we really earned it,” Arnold said. “We have been a team that’s battled and have been a team that’s done some good things this year. We just struggled these past few weeks and it was heavy on all of us. We needed this as a team, and as a university.”
Barone led the Vandals with 19 points, Madison added 15 points and Landon Tatum contributed 12 points.
Even with Johnson out, losing Thomas with 12 minutes left, and with reserve forward Trevor Wiseman hobbled by a twisted ankle in the first half, Arnold said there were bright spots to the makeshift lineup late in the game.
“Trevor was hurt and a step slow, but we put Davis in there and when you have a team with two 7-footers your defense gets a little more solid,” Arnold said. “And I think with Shaq in there, we can drive it a little better. It helps that Idaho is a smaller team, too, so their size didn’t hurt matchups. We had to adjust, but they had to adjust, too.”
Arnold added getting the players rested earlier in the week played dividends down the stretch.
“At this point in the season, it’s all about heart and legs — those two things help you win,” he said. “We took Sunday and Monday off and we only practiced about 30 to 45 minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday. I felt we got our heart back on Saturday, so we needed to get our legs back to be in a good place.”
The Warriors are now in a place they have not been since 2003: the WAC semifinals.
“These kids earned it and I’m proud of them,” Arnold said. “It wasn’t easy, but it should never be easy. We’re glad we’re still here, and we’re going to prepare again because we have a lot to prove. We have a lot more basketball left in us.”
New Mexico State, which advanced after a 65-49 victory over Fresno State, handed UH its second-worst defeat in WAC history, 115-73, on Feb. 23. But Aggies coach Marvin Menzies said this is a time to expect the unexpected.
“We’ve seen them (the Warriors), we scout deeper than the starting five so we know who they have,” Menzies said. “Although when Thomas went out they brought in (Rozitis), so they had two seven-footers in there and played them together, that’s something we haven’t seen. But we’ve got big guys, too, and we have to be ready for any lineup, anything they put on the floor.
“Hey but that’s what this is — they don’t call it ‘March Mediocre,’ it’s ‘March Madness.’ It’s going to get crazy.”
(WarriorInsider.com photos by Brandon Flores)
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