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Round 3: Warriors vs. 49ers on Thursday in Big West quarterfinals

If this were a combat sport, the University of Hawai’i would be up two rounds to zero over Long Beach State, with only one more round to go. The difference here is that somebody has to get knocked out in the third.

(above video courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com)

The Rainbow Warriors realize the suddenness of the stakes when they face the 49ers in a quarterfinal game of the Big West Conference Tournament. The game is scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. Hawai’i time) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. It will be available via live video streaming at www.espn3.com or the WatchESPN app.

Hawai’i is 18-12 overall and is the No. 4 seed for the tournament with a 9-7 conference record. Long Beach is 14-18 and the No. 5 seed at 8-8.

Both teams enter the game with momentum. The Warriors won two road games last week – 76-69 at UC Davis, and 71-59 at Cal State Fullerton. They have remained in California throughout, giving them ample time to prepare for this week. The 49ers are on a five-game win streak.

“On this road stretch to finish here we’ve been better defensively and on the boards,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said. “We’re going to need that going forward. We’ve always been good in different ways every year (with) different personnel. But we’ve always been good at point of attack and supporting each other. When we’ve been inconsistent there we’ve paid dearly for it. Hopefully this past week is a step in the right direction there.”

The Warriors also have other recent successes to rely on. Specifically, Hawai’i defeated the 49ers, 74-57, in Honolulu on January 31, and then beat them again, 77-70, at Long Beach on February 7.

The point guard combo of sophomore Drew Buggs and senior Brocke Stepteau was vital in those victories. Stepteau averaged 19.5 points and 4.5 assists in the two games against the 49ers; Buggs averaged 8 points and 4.5 assists, but his defensive work was more crucial to the success of the team.

Buggs was primarily responsible for defending Long Beach State guard Deishuan Booker, a first team All-Big West Conference selection. Booker averaged 12.5 points and 3.5 assists in the two games against Hawai’i. Against the other teams in the conference, Booker averaged 24.8 points and 4.4 assists per game.

Ganot said of his point guard tandem: “They’ve led the charge for a team that’s really taken care of the ball for the most part all year.”

The Warriors rely on what Ganot describes as a “spread the wealth” offense that features six players averaging between 6.7 and 11.5 points per game each. Hawai’i leads the Big West in 3-pointers (8.6 makes per game) and assists (15.5 per game).

Senior forward Jack Purchase, a second team All-Big West Conference selection, leads the Warriors in scoring (11.5) and rebounding (6.0), and ranks fourth in the Big West with 74 3-pointers.

Junior forward Zigmars Raimo is averaging 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He averaged 12.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the two wins over Long Beach. Junior guard Eddie Stansberry is scoring 11.3 points per game, and ranks third in the Big West with 76 3-pointers.

Stepteau is averaging 10.4 points and 3.4 assists per game, and ranks among the national leaders with a .889 free throw percentage. Buggs leads the Big West in assists (5.4) and is also contributing 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Purchase, Stepteau and senior guard Sheriff Drammeh were members of the 2015-16 UH team that won the Big West tournament in Anaheim.

“If anything we know how special that moment was,” Ganot said. “If we can continue to do the things we do well on the offensive end, but create more of a stretch on the defensive end, where we’re consistent there, we have a chance to do something special. But I don’t take lightly how competitive this league is … I know it’s going to be a battle in a lot of these games.”

Although Hawai’i beat Long Beach twice, the 49ers remain somewhat of a mystery. Early in the Big West season, Long Beach upset first-place UC Irvine, but followed that with a six-game losing streak. Now they are averaging 76.8 points per game during their current five-game winning streak.

Booker leads the 49ers in scoring (18.9) and assists (4.5) and is also grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game. Most impressive, he ranks among the top five in the nation for free throws made (238) and 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.

Mason Riggins, a 6-9 senior forward, is averaging 6.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He had 18 points and seven rebounds in the first loss at Hawai’i, but sat out the second game due to injury.

Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said he is aware of the circumstances surrounding Thursday’s game.

“Obviously they beat us twice so it’s not a great matchup for us,” Monson said. “But when you finish in the middle of the league, you’re not going to get an easy game. We’re embracing it and we are excited like everybody to get a new season going and see if we can play better.”

The winner of Thursday’s game is not automatically bracketed to face No. 1 seed UC Irvine. The quarterfinal winners are re-seeded for the semifinals. If there are any upsets, the highest remaining seed will face the lowest remaining seed.

HAWAI’I (18-12, 9-7 Big West) vs. LONG BEACH STATE (14-18, 8-8 Big West)
When: Thursday, March 14, 8:30 p.m. PT/5:30 p.m. HT
Where: Honda Center (18,336) – Anaheim, Calif.
Television: ESPN3
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com/WatchESPN app
Radio: Live on 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: BigWest.org

Big West Conference Tournament
Thursday’s Games
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 7 CSUN, 12 noon PT (9:00 a.m. Hawai’i time)
No. 3 Cal State Fullerton vs. No. 6 UC Davis, 2:30 p.m. PT (11:30 a.m. Hawai’i time)
No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No. 8 UC Riverside, 6:00 p.m. PT (3:00 p.m. Hawai’i time)
No. 4 Hawai’i vs. No. 5 Long Beach State, 8:30 p.m. PT (5:30 p.m. Hawai’i time)

Friday’s Games
Highest remaining seed vs. Lowest remaining seed, 6:30 p.m. PT (3;30 p.m. Hawai’i time)
Second-highest remaining seed vs. Third-highest remaining seed, 9:00 p.m. PT (6:00 p.m. Hawai’i time)

Saturday’s Game
Championship, 9:00 p.m. PT (6:00 p.m. Hawai’i time)

1 Comment

  1. This is a good match up for UH. I like our chances.

    Lets go Bows!

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