Warriors open Big West play at Cal State Fullerton
University of Hawai’i men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot has preached all along that “the most of important game of the season is the next one,” and it is especially true now as the Warriors get set to begin defense of their Big West Conference championship at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.
Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. (HST), and the game will be broadcast live online at www.ESPN3.com and ESPN 1420 AM radio.
UH and CSF are both 6-7 but each is riding some momentum into Big West play. For the Warriors, it comes from a mini two-game win streak after losing four in a row earlier in December. UH claimed seventh place in the competitive Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic by soundly defeating Southern Mississippi, 60-46, then shot past Delaware State, 77-66, on Dec. 29.
Noah Allen, the Warriors’ lone senior, said the two victories have given the team a much-needed boost.
“Winning helps a lot with that,” Allen said after Saturday’s practice. “It’s a young group, so losing can get the morale down a little bit. But we’ve remained pretty strong and united, and so it’s good to get that winning culture back here.”
For the Titans, the boost comes from winning three of their past four games and the return of sophomore guard Khalil Ahmad, who regained eligibility two games ago and already has produced 33 points.
“There’s been some turnover this year (in the Big West) but there’s also been key guys that have been out, or new players becoming eligible,” Ganot said. “You see that right off the bat with a Cal State Fullerton team that has a dynamic backcourt and an improved frontcourt, but then they also added Kahlil Ahmad who was a Freshman of the Year last year who just now got eligible.”
The Titans’ other starting guard, Tre’ Coggins, is averaging 20.4 points per game. Both Ahmad and Coggins were selected by the media to the Big West preseason All-Conference team.
By comparison, Hawai’i is very inexperienced and unproven, but Ganot said the league season is when some players have the opportunity to blossom.
“There’s some guys that could emerge later,” Ganot said. “I remember going into conference (play) last year and there was a lot of concern about Quincy (Smith’s) ability to shoot the ball, and Sheriff wasn’t even on the radar. So a lot of things can change. Leland Green has had a couple breakthroughs recently that could get him going. We’re still mixing and matching some lineups. I said before the year that we’re
gonna have to do that some with this group.”
Part of that mixing has been the shuffling of Allen into and out of the starting lineup. Allen scored a team-high 22 points against North Carolina on Nov. 18, but has produced a total of only 11 points in a
reduced role the past three games.
“It’s not bothering me, I’m just kind of struggling right now individually, but I have confidence in myself,” said Allen, a transfer from UCLA. “I’m not worried, I know I’ll get back on track and I know my teammates and coaches have confidence in me as well.”
Ganot, for his part, agreed.
“Noah’s a team player, and he’s very professional,” Ganot said. “Noah Allen will be back in there. It’s kinda weird, because he’s a ‘new senior’ — new to this program, new to playing significant minutes and
then getting scout(ed). But he’ll bounce back, he’ll respond, because he goes into the gym, he wants to be good, he wants us to be good.
“It happens to everybody, both individually and collectively – you have some peaks and valleys, some ups and downs, growing pains. You just gotta continue to have your routine, and your same approach and you have to have the belief.
“There’s no doubt in our mind, that in order for us to be our best, Noah Allen has to be a big piece of the puzzle.”
Ganot said another player who could potentially emerge as a key contributor is Larry Lewis, Jr., who came off the bench to score six points and grab a rebound in seven late minutes against Delaware State.
“Larry has had good practices,” Ganot said after Saturday’s workout. “You’ve seen it in our program: if you have good practices, you’ll get an opportunity to play, and then when you get into the game, you’ve got to perform. Larry gives us a physicality, he attacks the rim, he’s worked really hard on his perimeter shot. One of the things that has helped him come in and contribute is, his attitude’s been pretty good.
“Part of the deal is, you’ve got to be ready to go. Everybody’s gotta be ready to go and contribute. The good teams have that.”
HAWAI’I (6-7, 0-0 Big West) at CAL STATE FULLERTON (6-7, 0-0 Big West)
WHERE: Titan Gym – Fullerton, Calif.
WHEN: Thursday, January 5, 5:00 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
STREAMING VIDEO: www.espn3.com or www.watchespn.com
RADIO: ESPN 1420 AM
STREAMING AUDIO: www.espn1420am.com
LIVE STATS: www.fullertontitans.com
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Buggs to redshirt this season
Freshman guard Drew Buggs will sit out the remainder of this season as a redshirt player, Ganot announced this week.
Buggs underwent knee surgery in April, and went through rehabilitation exercises for most of the preseason. He was cleared to resume practicing in mid-December, and will continue to be a part of the scout team in practices for the remainder of this season.
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Big West Conference
at CSUN 82, UC Riverside 76
at UC Irvine 82, Long Beach State 67
at UC Davis 73, UC Santa Barbara 47
Hawai’i at Cal State Fullerton, 5:00 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
UC Riverside at Long Beach State
Cal Poly at UC Davis
CSUN at Cal State Fullerton
Hawai’i at UC Irvine, 5:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
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