UPDATED: Warriors rout Fullerton in quarterfinals, face UCSB in semis
If it is true that defense wins championships, the University of Hawai’i basketball team showed on Thursday afternoon that it wants the top prize at the Big West Conference Tournament.
The Warriors had their best statistical defensive game of the season in a 75-44 rout of Cal State Fullerton in a quarterfinal game at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Hawai’i, which improved to 25-5 overall with its third win over the Titans this season, will face UC Santa Barbara in a semifinal game on Friday. It is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time), and will be televised on a delayed basis on ESPNU, starting around 9:00 p.m., but a live internet video stream will be available on www.espn3.com.
The 44 points by Fullerton is the lowest total by a Hawai’i opponent this season, and the .298 field goal percentage by the Titans is also the lowest for an opponent this season. The Warriors also tallied 10 steals and eight blocked shots.
In essence, Hawai’i proved its worth as the No. 1 seed against the No. 8 seed Titans.
“Obviously pleased with the performance, particularly in the second half,” head coach Eran Ganot said. “I thought even in the first half, we had some turnovers but we were defending and we were rebounding. I thought that would serve us well and it continued in the second half. We just started to share the ball more and take care of the ball a little better in the second half and that was the difference. The guys came out very fired up and motivated and focused and we were solid pretty much across the board and that’s what created the separation.”
Junior forward Aaron Valdes led Hawai’i with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and also contributed six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“We just started playing our game (in the second half) and that’s what helped us out there,” Valdes said.
Senior point guard Roderick Bobbitt had 14 points, three assists and four steals – officially becoming the new UH career leader for steals with 163 (topping the previous mark of 160 set by the legendary Tom Henderson from 1972-74).
“First half didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Bobbitt said. “We just stuck with it and did what we needed to do on the defensive end, stayed disciplined. We played our defense that we’ve been playing all year and it benefited us.”
Junior forward Mike Thomas recorded the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Junior center Stefan Jankovic had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots while playing just 20 minutes due to foul trouble.
“Shooting-wise, it was definitely getting adjusted to the court and to playing here and all that stuff, getting jitters out I guess a little bit,” Thomas said. “We weren’t really nervous, but there is that. Just playing hard and getting after it was a big part of the second half.”
Junior center Stefan Jovanovic played a key reserve role, contributing seven points and six rebounds, and sparking the second-half surge that put the Titans away. Ganot also noted that the Hawai’i post players stayed with the game plan on defense, helping limit Fullerton to 1 for 13 shooting from 3-point range.
“I thought our bigs were tremendous in terms of taking care of those ball screens (defensively),” Ganot said.
Senior guard Quincy Smith had four points and six rebounds, but his biggest statistic came on the defensive end – being primarily responsible for holding Fullerton guard Tre’ Coggins scoreless on 0 for 5 shooting. Coggins entered the game ranked third in the Big West in scoring at 16.1 points per game
“I didn’t even realize it,” Smith said. “It was a team effort, to be honest. I did my part keeping him in front, but when he got by, I don’t even know how many blocks both of the Stefs had. They take it to the rim great, and Mike had 12 rebounds and was catching everything off the defensive glass. He made it a lot easier for the guards.”
Smith also had the defensive play of the game – turning a breakaway layup attempt by Fullerton’s Lionheart Leslie into a two-handed blocked shot against the backboard.
Based on the final score, it would seem hard to believe that the game was close for more than a half, but it was. Hawai’i came out sluggish in the first half, converting just 39.3 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. The Warriors led by as many as eight in the first half, but the Titans went on a 9-2 surge just before halftime to cut the Hawai’i lead to 27-26 at intermission. Jamar Akoh hit a deep 3-pointer just before the halftime horn to send the Warriors into the locker room on what Ganot described as “a sour note.”
The Titans took momentary leads of 28-27 and 30-29 early in the second half, but Hawai’i out-scored Fullerton by a stunning margin of 46-14 over the game’s final 17 minutes.
The breakaway by the Warriors came with Jankovic, the Big West Player of the Year, only able to play five minutes in the second half due to foul trouble.
“It’s always next man up,” Bobbitt said. “Big Stef (Jovanovic) came in and gave us tremendous minutes and we went on that crazy run. We’re just so deep and our bigs, they just played phenomenal … we couldn’t just stop because Janks picked up his third foul. We had to keep pushing and that’s what we did.”
The Warriors took control for good with a 19-1 run that increased their lead to 57-33 with 10:06 remaining. The Titans never got closer than 20 the rest of the way, and Ganot was able to clear the bench for playing time in the closing minutes.
“Tale of two halves,” Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor said. “Team executed the game plan. Hawai’i is the No. 1 seed for a reason. They took over the baskteball game and showed why they’re one of the better teams in the country.”
Hawai’i shot 46.9 percent from the field for the game, including 52.8 percent in the second half. The Warriors also out-rebounded the Titans, 49-34, and committed just nine turnovers while forcing 12.
“Anytime you turn the ball over against Hawai’i they make you pay,” Dedrique Taylor said. “I thought that was a huge, huge part. Our inability to take care of the basketball led to some futile possessions in the second half.”
Fullerton finished its season with a 10-20 record, and made the Big West Tournament as a No. 8 seed only because CSUN was ineligible for the postseason. Akoh led the Titans with 12 points, and Tim Myles added 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Now, the Warriors shift their focus on the No. 4 seed UCSB Gauchos, who are on a nine-game winning streak and scored an impressive 87-61 quarterfinal win over UC Davis on Thursday. UCSB is 18-12 overall, including two losses to Hawai’i, although the last meeting between the teams was back on February 4 in Honolulu.
No. 2 seed UC Irvine and No. 3 Long Beach State will meet in the other semifinal game on Friday.
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
Big West Conference Tournament
Thursday’s Quarterfinal Results
No. 4 UC Santa Barbara 87, No. 5 UC Davis 61
No. 1 Hawai’i 75, No. 8 Cal State Fullerton 44
No. 2 UC Irvine 84, No. 7 Cal Poly 64
No. 3 Long Beach State 82, No. 6 UC Riverside 74
Friday’s Semifinal Games
No. 1 Hawai’i vs. No. 4 UC Santa Barbara, 4:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 3 Long Beach State, 7:00 p.m.
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