Warriors take on 49ers in battle for first
LONG BEACH, Calif. – If there is such a thing as an early-season showdown in the Big West Conference, this is it. The Hawai’i basketball team will play at Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon, with first place in the conference at stake.
The Warriors and 49ers are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. (Hawai’i time) in The Walter Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus. The teams are tied (along with Cal Poly) atop the Big West with 3-1 records. Hawai’i is 9-6 overall; Long Beach State is 7-8, although four of those losses came against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time (North Carolina, Arizona, Syracuse and Ohio State).
Long Beach State is the two-time defending regular-season champion of the Big West, and the 49ers were picked in virtually every preseason poll to win it again this year.
“They had a rough preseason, but they added two new starters at semester break,” Hawaii assistant coach Scott Fisher said. “Keala King and Tony Freeland are quality players, so since then, they’re much better. Offensively, they’re one of the top shooting teams in the conference in terms of percentage.”
King is a 6-foot-5 junior guard who transferred from Arizona State; Freeland is a 6-7 junior forward who transferred from DePaul. They both became eligible prior to the start of the Big West season in late December. King is averaging 9.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and Freeland is averaging 10.0 points and 5.8 points per game.
But the 49ers’ top player is James Ennis, a 6-6 senior wing who leads the team in both scoring (17.0) and rebounding (6.9).
The other starters are 6-foot point guard Mike Caffey (12.0 points, 4.1 assists) and 6-9 center Dan Jennings (10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds).
“They’re not tall in terms of feet and inches, but they’re tall in terms of how high they can jump and how long their arms are,” Fisher said. “They’re a very athletic team. They cause a lot of deflections and they run very well.”
The 49ers will also have the advantage of playing in The Pyramid. They have a streak of 19 consecutive home victories over Big West opponents – a streak dating to 2010.
The Warriors went through a spirited two-hour practice in The Pyramid on Friday afternoon. Junior guard Garrett Jefferson, who grew up a five-minute drive away from the Long Beach State campus, described the court as “bouncy.”
“It’s a good floor – it’s like a bouncy floor so it helps you jump a little bit,” he said.
The Warriors will again try to take advantage of their size in the post. The “big three” of 6-10 senior Vander Joaquim, 6-8 junior Christian Standhardinger and 6-8 freshman Isaac Fotu continue to lead the team in scoring and rebounding.
Joaquim is averaging 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game; Standhardinger is at 15.5 points and 8.0 rebounds, and Fotu is contributing 10.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
The Warriors’ main concern is controlling their turnovers. In a 68-64 loss at UC Irvine on Wednesday, Hawai’i committed 17 turnovers, including several in the crucial closing minutes.
“It’s something we’ve emphasized since the Irvine game, is really take care of the ball,” Fisher said. “Their defense creates their offense and we can’t have 18, 19 turnovers against a team like Long Beach and expect to win. We need to take much better care of the ball, and then we have to cause some turnovers. They turn it over a bit as well.”
The 49ers average around 4,000 fans per home game, but the Warriors are expected to have a small cheering section of their own. Jefferson said he was expecting about 50 of his friends and family members to attend.
GAME INFORMATION:Hawai’i at Long Beach State
When: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
Where: The Pyramid (4,200) – Long Beach, Calif.
Streaming Video: Live video streaming on BigWest.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 longbeachstate.com