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Warriors open Diamond Head Classic against No. 6 Miami

In this most wonderful time of the year, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team is more than eager to face its biggest challenge of the season.

The Warriors (7-2) attest they are ready and willing to take on No. 6-ranked Miami (Fla.) in the opening round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday at the Stan Sheriff Center, and the game will be nationally televised live on ESPNU.

“The identity of this team, and me personally, has been the underdog,” said UH point guard Brocke Stepteau, a 5-foot-9 junior, after Wednesday afternoon’s practice at the SSC. “People would tell me I’m too small, they told me I’d never play at the Division I level … so even in games when we’re not playing Miami, I’m still the underdog, and it’s even heightened when you play a team like this in a tournament like this. You can try to feed off of that and not necessarily prove people wrong, but prove yourself right.

“We feel, we believe we belong out here, and we believe can play with any team. So it’s a great opportunity to use that as motivation, for sure.”

The Hurricanes (9-0) are one of only four unbeaten teams in the nation, and their No. 6 national ranking is the school’s highest since it held the No. 5 spot in March 2013. They feature two projected first-round NBA Draft picks in 6-5 sophomore guard Bruce Brown Jr. and 6-5 freshman guard Lonnie Walker IV.

Brown is averaging 10.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game; Walker is averaging 10.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, and is usually the first guard off the bench. Dewan Huell, a 6-11 sophomore center, leads Miami’s balanced offense with 13.1 points per game and a .641 field goal percentage.

Depending on the outcome of Friday night’s game, the Warriors will face either Davidson or New Mexico State on Saturday.

“The bottom line is, we know every year the Diamond Head Classic is gonna have a real balanced field, with really good teams, good coaches, good players,” said Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot. “I think our team has been giving it everything they’ve had … Our team fights, scraps, works. They’ve been doing that up to this point, but obviously we’ll need to continue to make strides.”

The Warriors are coming off a thrilling 70-69 home victory over a tall and talented Utah Valley team last Sunday, in what proved to be a physically and emotionally draining battle. But Ganot and others say the recovery has been quick and there should be no letdown come Friday night.

“Obviously, that game was tough, and there’s guys who were a little banged up, a little sore,” Stepteau said. “But the opportunity to play a Top 10 team on your home court, I think everyone is ready to put whatever (pain) aside and try to go out and win.”

If anything, Ganot said Sunday’s victory was a bonding experience that should give the team a boost.

“It’s part of the process, it’s part of the growth of this team coming together,” Ganot said. “You have to win in different ways, you have to win (in) different styles, you gotta play against different types of teams and sometimes some games — the way the game is dictated — can become more intense, physical, emotional. It’s always about a balance: I love their passion, and (yet) there were some situations where our composure wasn’t there. So if we can continue to find the balance between passion and composure, I think that’s the way we want to play.

“I want our guys playing aggressive, I don’t want us playing on our heels or playing soft. It’s easier to tone them down than rev them up, I’ve always believed that. These guys have played like they love to play together and they love the game, and that’s certainly something we want to have as part of our identity.”

In last year’s Diamond Head Classic opener, UH appeared lackluster throughout a humbling 71-45 loss to Illinois State. But Ganot, Gibson Johnson and Stepteau are confident the Warriors will not be haunted by that ghost of Christmas past.

“This is a new year, that was a young team — we’re still a young team, but we’re a little more experienced,” Ganot said. “I think our guys responded to that (well) last year.”

Johnson, a 6-8 senior forward, agreed.

“We have a lot of the same guys as last year, but we’re a totally different team,” Johnson said. “I think we have that experience and experienced leadership as well, so I don’t see us ever having a game like that again where we were just a no-show.”

Stepteau also predicts a better performance this time around.

“That was just a bad game overall, we came out flat, didn’t really seize the moment,” Stepteau said. “This is a big tournament, and you want to come out and play good in front of our home fans. That was a good team we were playing against and I feel like we just didn’t seize the opportunity. I think we learned from that, and I don’t think we had too many more games like that the rest of the season. We’ve started off slow a couple games this season, but that was one of the rare times when we didn’t play hard the entire game.

“Obviously with a team like Miami, I don’t expect that to happen. I think everyone’s fired up … you want to be fired up for every game, but especially when you’re playing a top team like this on your home floor, I think we’ll come out with energy and do everything we can to try to win.”

Friday, December 22
12:30 p.m. – Middle Tennessee (7-2) vs. Princeton (5-6)
2:30 p.m. – Akron (6-2) vs. USC (6-4)
6:00 p.m. – Davidson (4-4) vs. New Mexico State (9-2)
8:00 p.m. – Hawai’i (7-2) vs. Miami (9-0)

Saturday, December 23
11:30 a.m. – Semifinal game
2:00 p.m. – Consolation game
5:00 p.m. – Semifinal game*
7:30 p.m. – Consolation game*

Monday, December 25
7:30 a.m. – Consolation game
9:30 a.m. – Consolation game*
1:00 p.m. – Championship game*
3:30 p.m. – Third place game*

* Hawai’i could potentially play in any of these games, pending the previous day’s results

HAWAI’I (7-2, 0-0 Big West) vs. No. 6 MIAMI (9-0, 0-0 ACC)
When:
Friday, Dec. 22, 8:00 p.m. (Hawai’i Time)
Where: Stan Sheriff Center (10,300) – Honolulu, HI
Television: ESPNU (Spectrum channels 221/1221 in Hawai’i)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN (subscription required)
Radio: ESPN 1420 AM. Neighbor islands can listen live on KNUI on Maui, KPUA on the Big Island, KTOH on Kaua’i, and KNWJ in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Audio Webcast: ESPN1420am.com/Sideline Hawai’i App.
Live Stats: HawaiiAthletics.com
Ticket Information: Individual prices range from $10-$30; Tournament packages range from $70-$110. Parking is $6.

2 Comments

  1. Let’s go Bows!!

  2. You can do iit !
    Go Bows !

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