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Big West Tournament begins on Thursday

Now it really is a win-or-go-home situation for the University of Hawai’i basketball team … and every other team in the Big West Conference for that matter.

The Big West Conference Tournament begins with four quarterfinal games on Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The single-elimination tournament continues on Friday and Saturday, and the one team that can win three games in three days will earn the conference’s automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Russell Turner, head coach of a UC Irvine that is 27-5 and the No. 1 seed for the Big West Tournament, understands that all eight teams in this week’s tournament are playing for one NCAA bid. “I think it’s a shame that the powers that be at the NCAA have tilted the selection process toward the power five teams,” he said. “The mid-majors and the Cinderella stories are what make the tournament so special. I hope in time that will be emulated and alleviated. We know, like every team in the league, that we need to win the Big West Tournament.”

Hawai’i will face Long Beach State in a quarterfinal game set for Thursday evening (8:30 p.m. PT / 5:30 p.m. Hawai’i time). It will be available via live video streaming on www.espn3.com or the WatchESPN app.

It should be noted that the quarterfinal winners will be re-seeded for the semifinals. The highest remaining seed in the semifinals will play the lowest remaining seed.

Here is a preview look at the quarterfinal matchups:

No. 2 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 7 CSUN, 12 noon PT (9:00 a.m. Hawai’i time)

The Gauchos are 21-9 overall and finished 10-6 in the Big West regular season. The Matadors are 14-18 and 7-9. UCSB swept the regular-season series, although both games were close (the Gauchos won 70-64 at home, and 76-74 at CSUN).

The Gauchos rely on a team approach, though forward Amadou Sow was named to the All-Big West Conference second team. The 6-9 freshman is averaging 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and leads the conference with a .577 field goal percentage.

All five UCSB starters are averaging double-figure points. In addition to Sow, the others are 6-6 senior Ar’Mond Davis (13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds), 6-3 junior Max Heidegger (12.1 points), 6-0 sophomore Deveral Ramsey (10.7 points, 3.3 assists) and 6-4 sophomore JaQuori McLaughlin (10.2 points, 3.3 assists).

CSUN boasts 6-7 forward Lamine Diane, who was named the Big West Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year. The statistics prove his worth – 24.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. He led the conference in all three categories. The last Big West player to do so was Michael Olowokandi of Pacific in the 1997-98 season. Olowokandi went on to become a No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

The Matadors also have a dynamic guard in 5-8 sophomore Terrell Gomez. He was a first team All-Big West selection after averaging 19.2 points per game with a conference best 111 3-pointers made.

There is also an interesting Big West tournament streak at stake in this game. Eight different teams have won the conference tournament in each of the last eight years. If the streak is to continue this year, CSUN is one of the teams that would have to win it.

No. 3 Cal State Fullerton vs. No. 6 UC Davis, 2:30 p.m. PT (11:30 a.m. Hawai’i time)

The Titans are 14-16 overall and finished 10-6 in the Big West regular season. The Aggies are 11-19 and 7-9. Fullerton was in second place for much of the season, but dropped to the No. 3 seed after closing the season with a 1-3 record. The teams split the regular-season series, with each team winning at home.

Fullerton has an experienced and explosive backcourt with senior guards Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad. Allman, a first team All-Big West pick this year and last year, is averaging 17.8 points and 2.1 assists per game, and leads the team with 57 3-pointers. Ahmad, a second team All-Big West selection, is also averaging 17.8 points per game.

Jackson Rowe, a 6-8 junior forward, provides inside presence with 11.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Allman, Ahmad, Rowe and junior guard Austen Awosika were starters on last season’s Fullerton team that won the Big West Conference tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

The Aggies struggled at the end of the regular season, closing with a 1-5 record in their last six games. Just like Fullerton, UCD relies on an experience backcourt. TJ Shorts II, a 5-9 senior, is a two-time All-Big West first team selection (he was the Big West Player of the Year last season). He leads the Aggies in the major categories of scoring (14.7 per game), rebounding (4.8), assists (4.2) and steals (1.6).

Siler Schneider, a 6-3 senior, is averaging 10.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Joe Mooney, a 6-3 junior, is contributing 10.1 points per game and leads the team with 61 3-pointers.

The Honda Center in Anaheim is a neutral site for all teams, but Fullerton’s home gym (Titan Gym) is only a 10 to 15-minute drive away.

No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No. 8 UC Riverside, 6:00 p.m. PT (3:00 p.m. Hawai’i time)

The Anteaters are 27-5 overall and dominated the Big West regular season with a 15-1 record, including a current win streak of 13 consecutive games. The Highlanders are 10-22 and 4-12. UCI routed UCR twice during the regular season, winning by an average margin of 19.5 points per game.

The Anteaters are considered one of the best defensive teams in the country. They are allowing just 63.8 points per game, and rank fifth in the nation for field goal percentage defense at .380. They also lead the Big West in rebounds per game (40.7) and rebounding margin (+7.5 per game).

Senior center Jonathan Galloway was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive season, and was also a first team All-Big West selection despite his relatively modest numbers of 7.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and a .600 field goal percentage.

The leading scorers for UCI are junior guards Max Hazzard (12.1 points per game, 79 3-pointers) and Evan Leonard (11.0 points per game). The Anteaters rotate several other key contributors in and out of games, including 6-9 freshman Colin Welp (8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds), 6-2 junior Eyassu Worku (7.5 points, 2.8 assists), 6-8 junior Tommy Rutherford (6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds) and 6-9 senior Elston Jones (5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds).

The Highlanders clinched the No. 8 seed with a 71-70 upset win at UC Davis on the final day of the regular season. UCR is led by 6-1 junior guard Dikymbe Martin, who is averaging 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He is considered one of the top 3-point threats in the Big West with 68 made 3s and a .450 percentage from beyond the arc. No other UCR players are averaging double-figure points.

Since the Big West tournament moved to the Honda Center in 2011, UCR has a 1-7 record in tournament games played there.  The last time a No. 8 seed upset a No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament was 1995. 

However, the Big West tournament has a streak of eight different champions in each of the last eight years. Either UCR and CSUN would have to win it this year to keep the streak going.

No. 4 Hawai’i vs. No. 5 Long Beach State, 8:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. Hawai’i time)

The Rainbow Warriors are 18-12 overall and finished 9-7 in the Big West regular season, including 2-0 against Long Beach. The 49ers are 14-18 and 8-8.

Hawai’i scored a breakthrough 77-70 win at Long Beach State on February 7, marking the first time the Warriors managed a Big West victory on the 49ers’ home court.

The Warriors lead the Big West in 3-pointers (8.6 per game) and assists (15.5 per game). Junior guard Eddie Stansberry is averaging 11.3 points per game and leads the team with 76 3-pointers; senior forward Jack Purchase is right behind with 74 3-pointers, and he leads the balanced team in both scoring (11.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.0). Purchase was a second team All-Big West selection.

Sophomore point guard Drew Buggs leads the Big West in assists at 5.4 per game, and he received honorable mention on the All-Big West team. Other key contributors include 6-7 junior Zigmars Raimo (11.4 points, 5.9 rebounds), 5-9 senior Brocke Stepteau (10.4 points, 3.4 assists) and 6-3 senior Sheriff Drammeh (6.7 points, 2.6 rebounds).

The 49ers were not able to beat Hawai’i during the regular season, but they are the only Big West team that can claim a victory over first-place UC Irvine. Long Beach will also bring a five-game winning streak into the Big West tournament.

The 49ers have a first team All-Big West Conference player in 6-3 senior guard Deishuan Booker. He is averaging 18.9 points, 4.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. He is also one of the best free throw shooters in the nation, ranking second in the NCAA for free throws made (238) and fourth for free throw percentage (.912).

Temidayo Yussuf, a 6-7, 265-pound senior center, is averaging 11.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Bryan Alberts, a 6-5 senior guard, is averaging 10.7 points per game and leads the team with 70 3-pointers.

Long Beach is the most experienced team in the Big West, with five seniors among the first seven in the playing rotation.

3 Comments

  1. Here’s my predictions for first round. 1. UC Irvine smashes Riverside 2. CSUN upset over UCSB 3. UC Davis upset over CS Fullerton 4. Hawaii close win over Long Beach.

  2. Long Beach St. is the only Big West team to beat UCI this season, however UH came very close to it at home, losing a nail-biter at home. UCI needed a last second 3 to barely eek out a 1 point victory. Whoever wins in this matchup hopefully advances to the championship to play UCI. I honestly don’t see any of the other teams pulling it off. Should be a good tournament either way. Let’s go BOWS!

  3. bryan and max will be the ones to hurt us as i heard a bunch of people saying good thing we didn’t get them signed

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