UPDATED: Warriors stop Nebraska; face No. 11 Wichita State next
Grinding out a hard-earned victory on another rough shooting night, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team held off Nebraska, 66-58, in Monday’s first round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
A spirited crowd of 8,448 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Aaron Valdes score 15 points and grab six rebounds, Garrett Nevels add 10 points and seven boards and Isaac Fleming contribute 10 points and six rebounds off the bench as the Rainbow Warriors improved to 9-3. The Cornhuskers fell to 6-4.
Point guard Roderick Bobbitt finished with seven points, four assists, four rebounds and two steals.
UH will face No. 11-ranked Wichita State (9-1) in Tuesday’s semifinal bracket at 4 p.m. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.
It is the first time since the inaugural Diamond Head Classic in 2009 that the Warriors advanced to the semifinals. The last time Hawai’i played a team ranked as high as the Shockers was an upset victory over No. 4 Michigan State in 2005.
“They play the right way, they’re tough, they have a great point guard,” Taylor said of the Shockers, who routed Loyola Marymount, 80-53, last night. But Taylor could have also described his own team that way Monday.
Nevels’ 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining broke a 53-53 tie, and after Benny Parker narrowed it to 59-57 on an acrobatic reverse layup with 52.5 seconds left, the Rainbow Warriors closed it out by sinking six of seven free throws down the stretch following a crucial layup by Negus Webster-Chan that made it 61-57 with 32.3 seconds on the clock.
“I thought we pulled it out, although I also thought we didn’t play well,” Taylor said. “But as usual we played hard, we played together and we were unified. We gotta play a lot better (against Wichita State), but I loved the effort. We got big stops when we needed to, and we scored when we needed to.”
Nebraska trailed 34-23 at halftime but came out roaring after the break, scoring on its first three possessions to cut the lead to 34-29 after Shavon Shields’ layup with 18:39 remaining. Mike Thomas finally broke the string with a baseline jumper to make it 36-29, but Terran Petteway sank two free throws to start a 9-2 run capped by Walter Pitchford’s 3-pointer which tied it at 38-38 with 14:36 left.
“I think I got out-coached in the first four minutes of the second half,” Taylor said. “I’m sure at halftime they talked about how to break our press, so I probably should have switched it up. But it was working so well for us in the first half, I wanted to stick with it.”
Fleming scored a layup to put the Rainbow Warriors back up, 40-38, but Pitchford answered with a 3-pointer and Parker followed with a baseline jumper to give the Cornhuskers a 43-40 lead with 12:21 remaining.
Switching back to three-quarter court pressure, Valdes got a steal and then a slam dunk to start an 8-0 run capped by his own spectacular one-handed alley-oop slam dunk off Quincy Smith’s halfcourt pass, making it 48-43 with 8:06 left. But Nebraska fired back again, this time with three straight layups to go back ahead, 49-48, on Smith’s layup with 5:07 remaining.
Thomas’ three-point play pushed Hawai’i back out in front, 51-49, with 4:37 left, but Shields tied it 40 seconds later with a pair of free throws. Webster-Chan then hit a short jumper to give the Rainbow Warriors a brief 53-51 lead, but Shields again erased it with a pair of free throws.
“We knew in the second half they were going to come after us,” Valdes said. “We knew it was going to be close. But the crowd got into it and that helped. It was just a matter of keeping our head on straight and playing all 40 minutes.”
Hawai’i built a solid 34-23 halftime lead with stifling defense. Using three-quarter court pressure and then tight man-to-man halfcourt coverage, Rainbow Warriors forced 11 turnovers and limited Nebraska to 30 percent shooting from the field (7 of 23).
After UH jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the first four minutes, the Cornhuskers went on a 10-2 run capped by Petteway’s driving layup with 12:25 remaining to make it 13-11. But Smith answered with a tough left-handed layup in traffic and completed a 3-point play to put the Rainbow Warriors back up, 14-13, igniting a 9-1 surge capped by Valdes’ putback and free throw that made it 20-14 with 7:22 left in the half.
Nebraska cut it to 21-19 on a layup by Tarin Smith with 5:40 remaining, but Hawai’i closed out the half with an 11-2 run bookended by Thomas’ putback and Bobbitt’s steal and breakaway layup with 1:01 left.
Petteway finished the game with 14 points to lead the Cornhuskers, and Parker and Shields each added 12 points. Pritchford contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Rainbow Warriors forward Stefan Jankovic, a transfer from Missouri, made his UH debut and finished with five points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal in 17 minutes off the bench. The 6-foot-11 sophomore was 2 for 8 from the field, including 0 for 3 from 3-point range.
“Honestly, I’m just glad we got the win,” said Jankovic, who needed to sit out the first semester due to NCAA transfer rules. “I wasn’t the happiest with my performance, but it’s OK.”
Hawai’i shot just 37.5 percent from the field (24 of 64) overall, including just 22.2 percent (4 of 18) from beyond the arc.
“With this group, we haven’t shot well all year, to be honest,” Taylor said. “But we’re 9-3.”
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
George Washington 77, Ohio 49
Colorado 82, DePaul 68
Wichita State 80, Loyola Marymount 53
Hawai’i 66, Nebraska 58
9:30 a.m. – Ohio vs. DePaul
11:30 a.m. – Colorado vs. George Washington
4 p.m. – Hawai’i vs. Wichita State
6:30 p.m. – Nebraska vs. Loyola Marymount
Tuesday’s Game Information
Who: Hawai’i (9-3, 0-0 Big West) vs. Wichita State (9-1, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
When: Tuesday, Dec. 23, 4:00 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center (10,300) – Honolulu
Television: ESPN2 (Oceanic channels 224/1224)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com
Radio: Live on ESPN 1420 AM. 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) and $18 (upper) for evening session. $10 (general admission) for day sessions.
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