Warriors look to play big in Big West opener
It might be a bit premature to call the opening game of the conference season a big one, but that’s what the Hawai’i basketball team may be facing when it hosts Cal State Northridge in the Big West Conference opener for both teams on Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Matadors were picked eighth (out of 10) in the preseason media poll, but they have emerged from the non-conference season with a 9-3 record – best among all Big West teams.
“Their record is the best and I think they’ve played the best of any of us in the conference,” Hawaii head coach Gib Arnold said.
The Warriors are 6-5 and were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. The teams have shared one common opponent this season. Northridge beat Pepperdine, 81-75, on November 9; Hawai’i lost to Pepperdine, 63-56, on December 8.
The Matadors rank 10th in the nation in scoring offense with 81.3 points per game, and are ninth in the nation in free throw percentage at .770. They have won their last two games, including a stirring comeback at Utah. Northridge was down by 21 points to the Utes at halftime, but rallied to win, 76-71.
The Warriors are averaging 73.5 points per game, while allowing 70.0. The Matadors are allowing opponents to score an average of 73.5 per game.
“They do everything,” Hawai’i associate coach Benjy Taylor said of the Northridge offense. “They do it in half-court; they’re small, but they get a lot of points in the paint. They get 16 offensive rebounds a game, so they get a lot of putbacks. They’re very versatile.”
The most versatile player of the bunch is Stephan Hicks, a 6-foot-6 sophomore guard/forward. He ranks third among Big West players in both scoring (17.8) and rebounding (8.5) per game, and has reached double-figure points in every game this season. He has been named the Big West Conference Player of the Week twice already this season.
Hicks had 22 points and 17 rebounds in the Sheriff Center last season, when the Warriors defeated the Matadors, 86-67.
Another key player for Northridge is point guard Josh Greene, who is averaging 12.8 points and 4.8 assists per game, and ranks among the national leaders with a .929 free throw percentage.
Stephen Maxwell, a 6-7, 220-pound sophomore, is the Matadors’ top post player with averages of 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Northridge has used the same starting lineup in every game this season – 6-foot Greene and 5-9 Allan Guei in the backcourt, 6-6 Hicks and 6-7 Maxwell at forwards, and 6-9 Tre Hale-Edmerson at center.
“We have to win the war in the paint,” Taylor said. “We have to be strong with the ball and go inside.”
The Warriors have used five different starting lineups, and Arnold did not want to announce his starters for Saturday’s game. However, the Warriors have three “bigs” they can count on against the shorter Matadors.
Vander Joaquim, a 6-10 senior center, leads the Warriors with 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Christian Standhardinger, a 6-8 junior forward, is next at 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and 6-8 freshman forward Isaac Fotu is contributing 9.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
The Warriors will also have a distinct size advantage in the backcourt against the pair of short Matador starting guards. Any combination of 6-2 Manroop Clair, 6-4 Jace Tavita, 6-3 Garrett Jefferson, 6-3 Brandon Spearman, 6-4 Brandon Jawato, and perhaps even 6-6 Hauns Brereton could be assigned to defend the Northridge guards.
“It’s a mismatch; we’re taller down low, so we’re going to throw it to our bigs down low,” Spearman said.
Saturday’s game is the first of three home contests to open the Big West season for the Warriors. Next week, they will host Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside.
GAME INFORMATION: Hawai’i vs. Cal State Northridge
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center (10,300) – Honolulu, HI
Television: Live statewide on OCSports – Channels 16 (SD) and 1016 (HD).
Streaming Video: Live video streaming is available on ocsports.tv.
Radio: ESPN 1420 AM will carry the game live. Neighbor islands can listen live on KNUI on Maui, KHLO in Hilo, KKON in Kona, and KTOH on Kaua’i.
Audio Webcast: Live audio streaming on espn1420am.com
Live Stats: Live in-game stats are available at HawaiiAthletics.com
Ticket Information: $26 (lower); $18 (upper-adult); $16 (upper-sr. citizen); $5 (upper-youth, ages 4-HS); UH Manoa students free with validated ID. Parking $6. Fans with a men’s ticket will be admitted free to the preceding women’s basketball tournament games. Special upper level ticket rates will be also be available on from two hours prior to the start of the women’s basketball game until halftime of the women’s game.
Promotions: Pepsi is the game sponsor and will award a years supply of Pepsi products at halftime.