UPDATED: Warriors get historic first NCAA victory over Cal; face Maryland in second round
SPOKANE, Wash. — With an already record-setting men’s basketball season supposedly at a climax, Hawai’i did itself one better Friday, stunning Cal, 77-66, for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
Quincy Smith scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed three rebounds, Roderick Bobbitt added 17 points, seven boards and four assists, and Stefan Jankovic finished with 16 points and five rebounds as the Rainbow Warriors, seeded No. 13 in the South Region, improved to a school record 28-5 and advanced to Sunday’s second-round game against No. 5 seed Maryland (26-8) at 1:10 p.m. (Hawai’i time). Cal, the No. 4 seed, ends its season at 23-11.
Sunday’s second-round game will be televised nationally on TBS (Oceanic channels 551 and 1551 in Hawai’i).
UH is making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2002; it had lost in all four previous first-round games.
“It was amazing — you know we did it for the island,” said Bobbitt, a senior point guard who effectively sealed the win with two free throws to make it 74-62 with 2:04 remaining. “I’m speechless right now, honestly … It means a lot … we have gone through so much in the last year, so if we can come in and win in the NCAA Tournament, it will definitely help in the future. Still have one on Sunday.”
For now, the Rainbow Warriors can enjoy a hard-fought victory over a team that was ranked No. 23 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll and regarded as one of the most talented in the nation.
“What a moment,” said Eran Ganot, UH’s first-year coach. “In a year of (great) moments, these guys just find a way to provide us with more. And when I say us, that’s our locker room, our administration is here, athletic department, University of Hawai’i, the great school we represent and the great state.”
A crowd of 11,109 at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena — including at least 500 vocal green, black and white-clad UH fans — watched the Rainbow Warriors fall behind in the early moments, take the lead for good midway through the first half and then withstand foul trouble and a couple of threatening runs by the Golden Bears in the second.
Hawai’i opened up a 47-37 lead five minutes into the second half, but Jankovic also picked up his fourth foul and was sent to the bench by that point. Cal capitalized by responding with a 9-0 run culminating in Kameron Rooks’ three-point play with 11:56 remaining.
That prompted a timeout called by Ganot, who used it to give his team one simple-but-clear message.
“In the moment sometimes you write on your white board X’s and O’s or something, but in that moment I wrote only one thing — I wrote ‘SOLID,’ ” Ganot said. “We’ve got to be solid, it’s what got us to this point. We were fighting some of our temptations from the past in terms of gambling a bit and not being strong with the ball. That led to some of their transition baskets, we turned it over twice, we took some questionable shots, and you can’t do that at this level at this time. Any good team, which Cal is, will exploit you. So, I’m really proud of how we handled that, because obviously the momentum had shifted.
“It wasn’t a magic formula, it was like, let’s get back to playing solid.”
The Rainbow Warriors weathered the storm, later using a 9-2 run to extend the lead to 64-53 on Mike Thomas’ 3-pointer from the top of the key with 6:05 left. The Golden Bears made one more run and got as close as 66-60 on Jordan Matthews’ reverse layup with 3:58, but UH made 11 straight free throws down the stretch to shut the door for good.
“Picking up my fourth foul that early in the second half — it’s tough sitting down and kind of losing the groove,” Jankovic said. “But I am confident in the guys. My ‘little brother’ (Stefan Jovanovic), he came in and stepped up … and all the guys. I mean, Q, huge game. Rod and Q really led us through. Obviously, as a competitor, I hate sitting on the bench, but aside from that I was never worried, I was always confident in the guys.”
Hawai’i led 36-30 at halftime, despite early foul trouble and some apparent jitters. But the Rainbow Warriors also got an unexpected break when Cal’s starting shooting guard, Jabari Bird, was a late scratch due to back spasms suffered during pregame warmups.
“I found out about two minutes, (or) a minute and a half, before the tip,” Golden Bears coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He went back to the training room again and said he had back spasms and just … he couldn’t go. Of course, it impacts you. The guy, probably in the last 10 games, (was) shooting 55 percent from the 3-point line, so he stretches the defense. So when you collapse on the floor, you can collapse a little bit more. You lose a guy that shoots it the way he shoots it, (it) changes the game for you.”
The Golden Bears were already set to play without starting point guard Tyrone Wallace, who broke a bone in his right wrist in Wednesday’s practice.
Bobbitt scored the game’s first basket on a runner from the left side, but Cal used an 8-2 run to lead 8-4 after point guard Sam Singer’s layup with 15:50 remaining in the half. The Rainbow Warriors took the lead back at 14-13 on Bobbitt’s floater with 11:40 left, and later stretched it to 27-20 on Smith’s high-arching mid-range jumper with 6:50 remaining.
“It’s just how the game goes — it’s a game of runs and momentum,” said Smith, a senior shooting guard who was whistled for two early fouls and two traveling calls before finding his rhythm. “I started off a little bit slow and then I got a couple easy shots and layups and that kind of got me going. And the the big guys were setting really good screens for me and I was just getting into the paint, getting really easy shots.”
After Smith hit two free throws to make it 29-22 with 6:04 left, the Golden Bears went on an 8-2 run to close it to 31-30 on Ivan Rabb’s putback at the 1:26 mark. Sai Tummala then rattled in a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:13 remaining, and Bobbitt swished a jumper with 10 seconds left to make it 36-30.
Rooks appeared to drop in a layup at the halftime buzzer, which would have cut the deficit to 36-32, but it was waved off after the officials reviewed the play at a courtside TV monitor and ruled the ball was still in his hand when the horn sounded.
Jankovic, Smith, Tummala, Jovanovic, Aaron Valdes, and Mike Thomas each drew two fouls in the first half, and Cal was 11 of 16 from the free throw line, compared to 6 of 9 for UH. The Golden Bears also out-rebounded Hawai’i, 18-13, but shot only 39 percent from the field, including 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
The Rainbow Warriors shot 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from the field.
“We were very fortunate, we were pleased with the way we managed the end of the first half to get into the second half with nobody getting three (fouls),” Ganot said. “That’s hard to do when (six) of them have two. (But) fortunately — fortunately for now — but unfortunately, we were very experienced in playing through foul trouble and guys with foul issues … credit Cal for fighting back like they did and putting themselves at the line. They attacked the rim very well.”
Ganot said he and his staff decided to employ a seldom-used zone defense in the second half, which not only helped UH stay out of foul trouble, but also limited Golden Bear visits to the free throw line (from 16 attempts to 10).
“We actually worked on it (the zone) going in, because we knew we might need it,”Ganot said. “And other than the 3 that Matthews got late, I thought we did a pretty good job with it.”
Until 15th seed Middle Tennessee State shocked No. 2 Michigan in the Midwest Region later in the day, Hawai’i was the lowest-seeded team to win in the tournament’s first two rounds of action.
But when asked how it felt to “bust everybody’s bracket,” Jankovic feigned confusion.
“Well, I think Obama’s bracket is still intact,” he said, referring to the President predicting the upset while filling out his bracket on ESPN Wednesday.
When asked if Hawai’i is a “Cinderella team,” Valdes also had mixed thoughts.
“Yeah, I would say that, but we still have a game on Sunday,” he said. “It’s a good tournament win … this one was for you guys. (But) get ready for Sunday.”
CLICK HERE to view the NCAA’s post-game press conference (note that the Hawai’i players and coach Eran Ganot appear in the second half of the video, starting around the 11:00 mark)
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
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