UPDATED: Warriors are too big, too much for Lumberjacks
Now that was a party.
On “Star Wars Night,” the stars aligned for the Hawai’i basketball team in the form of an 84-50 romp over Northern Arizona on Saturday.
A festive crowd of 6,795 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the Warriors snap a two-game losing streak to improve to 16-11 overall. It was a non-conference game as part of the ESPN BracketBusters event, so the Warriors remain tied for third place in the Big West Conference at 9-6.
Northern Arizona, which is tied for fifth place in the Big Sky Conference, dropped to 10-17.
“That was a real fun night,” Hawai’i head coach Gib Arnold said. “That was good basketball – at times, great basketball. And it was a great crowd, and I was really pleased with how the guys played for 40 minutes.”
The Warriors were the life of the party, as the 34-point victory was their largest margin of victory this season. The 50 points scored by the Lumberjacks was also the fewest allowed by Hawai’i this season.
“I think that everybody that played, played well,” Arnold said. “I think we played well on both ends of the floor. Great crowd, great student section, great night. It was just really fun.”
They did it in team fashion, with four players scoring in double-figure points, and all 11 players in uniform contributing at least a point or rebound each.
Junior forward Christian Standhardinger once again led the Hawai’i scoring effort, tallying 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds, as the Warriors dominated the battle of the boards, 47-32.
Senior center Vander Joaquim had 20 points – including 18 in the decisive first half – and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds for his 10th double-double of this season.
“It was big, we needed this win,” Joaquim said. “We came from a tough loss on the road and we needed to win, so it was good.”
Senior wing Hauns Brereton contributed 13 points, including 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. Freshman forward Isaac Fotu, making his first start in a month, added 10 points and five rebounds.
Senior point guard Jace Tavita directed the offense and finished with five points, eight assists and one turnover. The Warriors finished with just nine turnovers – six below their season average.
“I thought this was a big game, just from the standpoint that losing really bothered us,” Tavita said. “Those two losses really bugged us … I think it showed tonight that we wanted to make a statement.”
Junior forward Davis Rozitis scored five points and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in 13 key minutes of reserve action.
The Warriors played without starting guard Brandon Spearman (ankle injury) for the first time this season, and Fotu started in his place to give Hawaii a distinct size advantage over the three-guard look of the Lumberjacks.
The Warriors’ starting lineup featured 6-10 Joaquim, 6-8 Fotu, 6-8 Standhardinger, 6-6 Brereton and 6-4 Tavita. The Lumberjacks countered with a lineup that measured 6-8, 6-6, 6-2, 6-0 and 5-11.
“That was a big game for us, just to get going with the change without Brandon Spearman,” Arnold said. “It was big for us to get our rhythm back with a new lineup.”
The change worked wonders from the start, as the Warriors went 8 for 8 from the field to open the game with a 24-10 lead. The opening surge included two 3-pointers by Brereton, and one each from Standhardinger and Joaquim.
Hawai’i eventually took a 49-32 lead at halftime, thanks mostly to 66.7 percent shooting from the field. Joaquim epitomized the half when he grabbed a defensive rebound, then dribbled downcourt and launched a 3-pointer from nearly 30 feet away. The ball went through the net as the horn sounded, setting off a raucous celebration.
“I saw there was like seven seconds on the shot clock, so I just kept dribbling,” Joaquim said. “I saw the last second and I just shot it. It was a crazy shot and I’m just happy it went in.”
The Warriors opened the second half with a 12-3 surge to turn it into a blowout at 61-35. The Lumberjacks never got closer than 22 after that.
Northern Arizona shot just 17.2 percent (5 for 29) from the field in the second half, and finished at 28.1 percent (16 for 57) for the game.
“Hawai’i is so athletic, long and talented,” said Northern Arizona head coach Jack Murphy. “They’re physically imposing. They went with a bigger lineup than normal and that gave us problems. We tried to combat that by going zone and then they started hitting shots. It’s tough to win on the road when the home team shoots like they did.”
After the sizzling start, the Warriors cooled off a bit in the second half, but still finished at 49.2 percent from the field for the game.
The victory came on a night when the Manoa Maniacs student section came out in force to support the Warriors. In keeping with the Star Wars theme, the students waved light sabers while the Lumberjacks were shooting free throws, and Northern Arizona went just 7 for 14 from the line in the second half.
“This is the University of Hawai’i’s team, and the students are what make the University of Hawaii,” Arnold said.
The Warriors will return to Big West action next week, with the final two home games of the regular season. They will host UC Santa Barbara on Thursday, then Cal Poly on Saturday.
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores)