UPDATED: Warriors stuff Anteaters to increase win streak
On Disco Night at the Stan Sheriff Center, the Hawai’i basketball team’s winning streak kept Stayin’ Alive.
The Warriors defeated UC Irvine, 78-72, on Saturday night for their fifth consecutive victory. The five straight wins have suddenly put the Warriors in the thick of the race for the Big West Conference regular-season championship.
A crowd of 7,011 watched the Warriors improve to 15-9 overall and 9-4 in the Big West. Hawai’i is now in second place in the 10-team conference with five games remaining. Long Beach State, which loss at Hawai’i on Thursday, is still in first place at 10-2. Pacific, which was previously in second place, lost on Saturday to drop to 7-4.
“You guys having fun yet?” head coach Gib Arnold said at his post-game press conference. “You guys enjoying this? This is the way it should be. Another great crowd, another great atmosphere. The guys, I thought, did an outstanding job, especially defensively down the end.”
UC Irvine, which beat the Warriors, 68-64, on January 9 in Irvine, Calif., dropped to 12-13 overall and is now in fifth place at 6-6.
“I think we’re a much better team than when we went on the road there, and we’re getting better every game,” freshman forward Isaac Fotu said.
Indeed, the Warriors have won in various ways during the past five games. The latest version was a workman-like performance that featured a second-half rally from a seven-point deficit.
Christian Standhardinger once again led the way with 20 points and nine rebounds. The 6-foot-8 junior shot 8 for 13 from the field, and scored 14 during the second half.
Senior center Vander Joaquim added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and ignited the second half rally with a highlight-reel blocked shot on a dunk attempt by Irvine’s Will Davis II.
“It was just all about effort,” Joaquim said. “We just stayed aggressive. We didn’t fold. We just kept playing. I know we missed some tough shots … but we just stayed together and put a good performance out there.”
Senior wing Hauns Brereton scored 16 points, including 12-for-12 shooting from the free throw line. He was one free throw short of matching the UH record for free-throw perfection in a game (Victor Kelly went 13 for 13 in 1974).
Fotu added 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, and also grabbed six rebounds. Brandon Spearman added eight points, and senior point guard Jace Tavita had five assists.
The Warriors committed a season-low seven turnovers – the most significant statistic of the game.
“We have to be able to win games when we’re not hitting outside shots,” Arnold said. “But if we turn the ball over 17 times like our average was, then no, we don’t win tonight … it was a big deal for us.”
The Warriors shot 43.5 percent from the field, including just 3 of 16 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Anteaters shot 43.3 percent from the field and 50 percent (9 of 18) from 3-point range. However, Hawai’i out-scored Irvine 21-5 on free throws.
The game featured an exchange of streaks. The Warriors struck first, racing to a 27-18 lead with 7:18 remaining in the first half. But the Anteaters responded with a 14-2 run to take a 32-29 lead late in the half. Irvine eventually had a 34-31 advantage at intermission.
The Anteaters increased the lead to as many as seven points early in the second half, before the Warriors went on a 14-0 run to regain control at 49-42 with 11:29 remaining. Joaquim (seven) and Standhardinger (five) combined to score 12 of the 14 points during the decisive surge. Joaquim’s blocked shot of Davis’ dunk attempt also came early in that stretch.
“Just trying to protect the paint as much as I can,” Joaquim said. “Just trying to block shots and change shots for the other team. It’s for the team … it’s all about defense. That’s how we win.”
The Warriors stayed in front for the game’s final 13 minutes, although they could never quite pull away completely from the feisty Anteaters.
“This was not an easy win,” Arnold said. “This was a tough, gritty, blue-collar win. This time of year, especially playing a team a second time, they know our calls, we know their calls.”
Irvine got as close as 65-61 on a 3-pointer by Daman Starring with 2:51 remaining, but the Warriors responded with a basket by Standhardinger to keep the Anteaters at bay. Hawai’i converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1:28 to secure the win.
Alex Young led Irvine with 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Starring added 18 points.
The Warriors will next take their winning streak to the road for two more Big West games. They will play at UC Davis on Thursday, February 14, then at Pacific on Saturday, February 16.
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores)
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