Warriors rally past Highlanders for another road win
All of a sudden, the Hawai’i basketball team has a road winning streak.
The Warriors rallied late in the game to pull off a 72-68 Big West Conference victory over UC Riverside on Thursday night before a crowd of 910 at the SRC Arena in Riverside, Calif.
After opening the season with four consecutive road losses, the Warriors have now won two straight on the road. Hawai’i is 12-9 overall and in third place in the conference at 6-4, which includes a sweep of UC Riverside. The Highlanders dropped to 5-16 and 2-7.
The Warriors trailed for the first 37 minutes of the game, and did not take their first lead until Vander Joaquim made two free throws with 2:32 remaining for a 69-67 advantage. Prior to that, Hawai’i trailed by as many as 14 in the first half and 11 in the second half.
“These guys are growing up,” head coach Gib Arnold said. “Like I said before, boys can win at home, it takes men to win on the road. These guys just won two straight on the road, and I’m as happy as can be for them.”
Forward Christian Standhardinger continued to dominate the paint with team-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds. In the past two road wins, he had 54 points and 26 rebounds.
“He was a monster,” Arnold said of the 6-foot-8 junior. “In that first half when we were really struggling, he was the one bright spot.”
Junior guard Brandon Spearman added 15 points, including 13 in the decisive second half. Senior center Joaquim contributed 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and senior point guard Jace Tavita had two points and eight assists.
Freshmen Isaac Fotu and Brandon Jawato each scored eight points off the bench. Fotu had six points and three rebounds in the closing minutes of the game.
“(Riverside) threw a bunch of hard punches at us early and that staggered us quite a bit,” Arnold said of the Highlanders’ fast start. “Give our guys all kinds of credit for weathering that storm and staying together. You gotta do that on the road in a tough, physical game like that.”
The Warriors committed a season-low eight turnovers (they entered the game averaging 16 per game). “You should have seen me dancing in the locker room when I saw that stat,” Arnold said.
Hawai’i also rallied by shooting 57.7 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half. The Warriors finished the game at 49.1 percent from the field, while Riverside shot 50 percent.
The Highlanders opened the game with an 8-2 lead and stayed in front the entire first half. Riverside’s biggest lead was 32-18 with 6:38 remaining in the first half, but the Warriors closed the half with an 8-2 surge to get within seven, 39-32, at intermission. Standhardinger had 12 points and five rebounds in the first half.
Riverside pushed the lead back up to 11 at 62-51 midway through the second half before the Warriors started their late rally. Spearman hit two 3-pointers during a 12-3 surge that cut the Riverside lead to 65-63 with 5:00 remaining.
A driving layup by Fotu later tied the score at 67 with 3:32 remaining, and following a Riverside turnover, Joaquim got fouled and converted both free throws to give Hawaii a 69-67 lead with 2:32 left.
The Warriors would not lose the lead as Fotu later scored again in the post, and Standhardinger clinched it with a free throw in the closing seconds. The Warriors out-scored the Highlanders, 9-1, in the game’s final 4:30. “We executed down the stretch extremely, extremely well,” Arnold noted.
The Highlanders jumped to the early lead behind uncharacteristic sharpshooting from the outside. Riverside entered the game with a .283 team 3-point percentage, but went a season-best 10 for 20 from beyond the arc. Riverside also managed to out-rebound the Warriors, 31-28.
Chris Patton led Riverside with 13 points, and Austin Quick added 12 on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
The Warriors will stay in Southern California for another road game at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. The Titans lost a home game to Cal State Northridge on Thursday night.
“We’re going to enjoy this one and feel good about the effort and feel good about the energy,” Arnold said. “And then we’ll get after it tomorrow and get ready for a game against Fullerton.”
(Game photos courtesy Warren Haraki)