Warriors look to make most of postseason opportunity
(video courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com)
The University of Hawai’i basketball team got a proverbial get out of jail free card last week. How it makes use of it begins on Thursday, when the Warriors face Long Beach State in a quarterfinal game of the Big West Conference Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The No. 5 seed Warriors are 14-15 overall and went 8-8 in the regular-season of the Big West. The No. 4 seed 49ers are 14-18 overall and went 9-7 in the conference. Thursday’s game is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time) and will be televised on Fox Sports Prime Ticket.
The teams split the regular-season series, with each winning at home. Back on January 14, the Warriors scored an epic 114-107 overtime win over the 49ers in the highest-scoring conference game in UH history.
More recently – in fact, just five days ago – the 49ers got revenge in the form of an 84-75 win over Hawai’i at Long Beach, Calif. One day before that game, the University of Hawai’i received notice from the NCAA that a postseason ban on the program had been lifted, and the Warriors would be allowed to participate in the Big West Tournament.
“The third time around, the teams know each other pretty well,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said. “Against Long Beach State, you want to control tempo, but they do a such a good job and they’re so aggressive … I wouldn’t expect it to be low-scoring with how potent they are, and hopefully we can hang in there.”
Neither team has traveled since that last regular-season game – the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach is about a 30-minute drive away from the Honda Center in Anaheim. In effect, both teams are rested and very familiar with each other.
“The challenges are pretty clear,” Ganot said of the 49ers. “This is a staple program in our conference with a very good coaching staff, obviously. A potent offensive team … it’s going to be a tough challenge. The amount of weapons they have and how well-coached they are with the third (meeting). They have an inside-outside attack and they really smashed us inside and the surround that inside power with some really good shooting. Combine that with transition, it’s a great challenge.”
The Warriors are led by senior Noah Allen, who was named to the All-Big West Conference first team on Monday. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging team-highs of 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. In the two games against Long Beach State, he averaged 23.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 19 for 33 (57.6 percent) from the field.
Junior forward Gibson Johnson is averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, although he was limited to averages of 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in the two games against Long Beach.
Sophomore forward Jack Purchase is averaging 9.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He suffered an ankle injury in the first half, and was limited to just three points in eight minutes of the loss at Long Beach on Saturday. His status for Thursday will likely be a game-time decision, though various reports indicate that he should be able to play.
Freshman guard Leland Green is averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Two of his better games of this season came against Long Beach, as he averaged 19.5 points and 6.5 rebounds against the 49ers.
Long Beach State is led by Evan Payne, a 6-1 junior guard who averages 14.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He averaged 18.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in the two games against Hawai’i.
Justin Bibbins, a 5-8 junior point guard, is averaging 12.6 points and 4.6 assists per game. He averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 assists in the two games against the Warriors.
Two other concerns for Hawai’i on the Long Beach roster are forward Temidayo Yussuf and shooting guard Noah Blackwell. Yussuf, a 6-7, 250-pound junior, shot 9 for 9 from the field and finished with 23 points and five rebounds in the win over Hawai’i on Saturday; he had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first meeting at Hawai’i. Blackwell, a 6-2 sophomore, scored 17 in each game against Hawai’i, and shot 8 for 16 from 3-point range in the two games.
Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said of the matchup with Hawai’i: “The more familiarity you get, the harder it is to score against somebody and the harder it is to execute and all those things. It’s a very even match – 4 (versus) 5 is the most even match in the tournament and Hawaii is the one that has knocked us out of the tournament the last two years so we have great respect for them. It’s certainly not a draw you want.”
HAWAI’I (14-15, 8-8) VS. LONG BEACH STATE (14-18, 9-7)
When: Thursday, March 9, 6:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
Where: Honda Center – Anaheim, Calif.
TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket (Oceanic channels 228 and 1228)
Streaming video: www.foxsportsgo.com
Radio: ESPN1420 AM
Streaming audio: www.espn1420am.com
Live statistics: www.statbroadcast.com
Big West Conference Tournament
At Anaheim, Calif.
Thursday’s Quarterfinal Games (All times listed as Pacific Time)
No. 7 Cal Poly vs. No. 2 UC Davis, Noon
No. 6 CSUN vs. No. 3 Cal State Fullerton, 2:30 p.m.
No. 8 UC Riverside vs. No. 1 UC Irvine, 6:00 p.m.
No. 5 Hawai’i vs. No. 4 Long Beach State, 8:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. Hawai’i time)
Friday’s Semifinal Games
Semifinal 1, 6:30 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 9:00 p.m.
Saturday’s Championship Game
Semifinal winners, 8:30 p.m.
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