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UPDATED: Fresno State pulls away from Warriors for third place in Wooden

FULLERTON, Calif. — After finishing 1-2 in the John Wooden Legacy men’s basketball tournament following Sunday’s 79-64 loss to Fresno State, Hawai’i will spend the next two days trying to build on its Pyramid of Success before facing the Wizard of Westwood’s former team on Wednesday.

Deshon Taylor scored a game-high 20 points and Braxton Huggins added 13 points to help the Bulldogs (3-2) pull away from the Warriors (4-3) for third place in the eight-team John Wooden Legacy tourney. A sparse crowd of about 250 at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym and an ESPNU national TV audience watched New Williams add 12 and Sam Bittner contribute 11 points for Fresno State. Jack Purchase scored 14 points and Zigmars Raimo added 13 points to lead the Warriors, who will stay in Southern California in preparation for Wednesday 4 p.m. (Hawai’i time) non-conference game at UCLA.

Sophomore reserve Samuta Avea contributed 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench, and Drew Buggs and Brocke Stepteau each added 10 points and four assists for UH, which led 21-18 midway through the first half before Fresno State roared back with a 12-2 run en route to a 39-28 halftime lead. The Warriors got as close as 47-43 with 13:36 remaining, but the Bulldogs went on another big (12-0) run to win going away.

“Tough game for us,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “Again we’re showing our flashes of the potential of where we can be, but the inconsistencies are hurting us … Credit Fresno State, they did a great job turning us over, I thought we did a better job in the second half in terms of executing. (But) we missed some shots. You want to get good shots and we got that for most of the second half, but they made theirs. I thought one of the biggest differences in the game was late-clock execution. I thought we did a good job (defensively) in the first half of each possession, (but) they got us late quite a bit. Credit them, but it’s something for us to learn from.”

Just as with Friday night’s 64-54 semifinal loss to Seton Hall, the Warriors started strong but were soon disrupted by full-court pressure that caused turnovers and milked valuable time off the shot clock. Purchase hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help UH jump out to an 8-6 lead in the first four minutes, but the Bulldogs responded with a 12-3 run and took an 18-11 lead after Williams’ two free throws with 12:10 left in the half.

The Warriors rallied back and led, 21-18, after Raimo’s layup with 7:40 remaining in the first half, but Huggins banked in a short fadeaway shot in the key to ignite a 12-2 run capped by Noah Blackwell’s 3-pointer from the left corner four minutes later to put Fresno State ahead, 30-23. Stepteau then sank two free throws to close it to 30-25, but the Bulldogs finished the half with a 9-3 surge culminating in New Williams’ drive and finish with five seconds left to give Fresno State a 39-28 lead at the break.

Ganot said Fresno State’s backcourt pressure had “a lot” to do with Hawai’i’s low productivity on offense (43.5 percent field goal shooting, nine turnovers) in the first half.

“I think we panicked a little bit and (it was) a tough turnaround to prepare that, but we gotta prepare for that,” Ganot said. “I think part of it was (we were) on our heels a little bit, and the bigger thing we didn’t start doing (that) we were supposed to do is get to the spots that we needed to — guys weren’t in those spots. It was disappointing that we had lapses there, and good teams will make you pay for it, and they did.”

Also similar to Friday’s loss, even when the Warriors did advance the ball safely past halfcourt, close to 10 or 12 seconds had elapsed before they could get into their offensive sets. That led to several rushed shots as the shot clock wound down.

“It’s hard when you get the ball over (the halfcourt line) and we’re panicking a little bit trying to get a play in and find the right spots,” said Purchase, who did not have any shot attempts in the final 16 minutes of the half. “It takes a couple extra seconds for guys to get in the right spots to run the play. They sped us up a bit, and that’s what hurt us.”

The deficit could have been worse, if not for Avea’s eight straight points during the 10-0 run midway through the first half. Among his baskets was a clutch 3-pointer from the right corner and a sweet finger-roll that turned into a three-point play.

“Muta was great … he came in and stepped up, did his thing,” Purchase said. “He had eight boards, which is massive, and was shooting the ball well. So I thought he was great for us.”

Ganot said bench support from reserves like Avea will be crucial to the team’s long-term success.

“We need reps, we need experience — good and bad,” Ganot said. “Samuta’s had some breakthroughs that he can build off of, and that’s nice to s

UH opened the second half with back-to-back layups by Raimo and Purchase, and Stepteau later finished a driving layup to pull the Warriors to 47-43 with 13:36 remaining, but Huggins answered with a 3-pointer to start the Bulldogs on a 12-0 run capped by his own drop-in layup to make it 59-43 with 11:02 left. The Warriors made one last surge and closed it to 64-53 after Avea’s free throw with 7:03 remaining, but could not get closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said his team needed to keep its foot on the gas pedal in order to prevent a big comeback.

“We made some big plays,” Hutson said. “Hawai’i is a good team, very well coached, they had a good tournament also. We knew they would make a run and I was just proud that our guys responded. We had a couple really big plays on the offensive end, and then we got some stops and got more separation, it really helped us.”

Ganot said the Warriors’ attention will now turn toward getting rested and ready for UCLA, which entered last week ranked No. 17 in both major Top 25 polls.

“This is a good opportunity for the guys to get fresh,” Ganot said. “We’ve had three games in four days, and two three-game events already in this young season and it’s not even December yet. So these next couple days will be a mental deal, and then we can get back to the physical and get ready for a really tough UCLA team.”

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(Game photos courtesy Shane Rodrigues)

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Wooden Legacy
Sunday’s Results

Championship: Seton Hall 83, Miami 81
Third place: Fresno State 79, Hawai’i 64
Fifth place: Northwestern 79, Utah 57
Seventh place: Grand Canyon 82, La Salle 70

1 Comment

  1. Hope eran and staff recruiting athletes like N.Texas. Seton Hall and Fresno has!.UCLA? Bows play defense and shoot well. U can catch bruins by surprise. Watch them against n.carolina..bows bring it!!

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