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Warriors head to UC Irvine for early season showdown

File photo courtesy Shane Rodrigues

The University of Hawai’i basketball team has momentum and road acclimation on its side now. UC Irvine has rest – and possession of last year’s conference championship trophy – on its side.

How that plays out will be determined on Saturday, when the Rainbow Warriors and Anteaters meet in an early-season clash at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif. The Big West Conference game is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time (5:00 Hawai’i time), and will be available through internet streaming at ESPN3.

Hawai’i is 10-5 overall and 1-0 in the Big West following a 75-69 road win at Cal State Fullerton on Thursday. The campuses of Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine are only about 20 miles apart, so the Warriors are essentially staying in the same area for both games, and have been there since Tuesday evening.

UCI is 8-8 overall and 0-0 in the conference. While every other Big West team played this week, the Anteaters had a full week to prepare for this game. UCI’s last game was a road loss at Harvard, 77-73, on January 4.

“Our one day (of practice) has to be better than their one week,” UH head coach Eran Ganot said after this team’s win on Thursday.

The Anteaters dominated the Big West last season, finishing 15-1 in the regular season (including a sweep of Hawai’i), and then winning the Big West Conference Tournament. Three starters and two key reserves are back and playing significant roles this season.

File photo courtesy Shane Rodrigues

Colin Welp, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, is playing the same reserve role he did last season, but has still emerged as an all-conference candidate. He leads UCI in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (6.9) despite averaging just 23.9 minutes per game. He is also a 3-point threat with 22 3-pointers and a .468 percentage from beyond the arc.

The three returning starters from last season are senior guards Eyassu Worku (12.3 points, 4.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds per game, team-high 30 3-pointers and .484 3-point percentage) and Evan Leonard (9.9 points, 3.9 rebounds per game), and senior forward Tommy Rutherford (10.3 points, 3.9 rebounds per game, .685 field goal percentage).

Brad Greene, a 6-11, 270-pound junior center, sat out last season as a redshirt and is now in the starting lineup. He is contributing 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The other starter is John Edgar Jr., a 6-5 senior forward who was a reserve last season. He is averaging 6.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

The Anteaters are a deep team, and often rotate 10 or 11 players into the game. UCI’s reputation under head coach Russell Turner focuses on size and defense, and this year is no exception. UCI ranks first in the Big West in rebounding (40.6), rebounding margin (+10.3), field goal percentage allowed (.377), steals (6.8) and blocked shots (3.6).

Hawai’i relies primarily on its top four scorers – Eddie Stansberry, Samuta Avea, Drew Buggs and Zigmars Raimo are all averaging more than 31 minutes per game.

File photo courtesy Shane Rodrigues


Stansberry scored 25 in the win at Cal State Fullerton, and ranks second in the Big West in scoring (17.4) and 3-pointers (46). Avea is averaging 11.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Buggs is averaging 10.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and leads the Big West with 5.6 assists per game. Saturday’s game will feature a matchup of experienced backcourts – Buggs/Stansberry vs. Worku/Leonard.

Raimo, a 6-9 senior, leads the Big West in rebounding at 7.5 per game, and he’s also contributing 9.3 points and 3.7 assists per game.

Bernardo da Silva, a 6-9 freshman, has worked his way into the starting lineup, and recorded a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in the win at Fullerton. The Warriors also have a trio of 7-footers available – Dawson Carper, Mate Colina and Owen Hulland – if needed to battle UCI’s size.

HAWAI’I (10-5, 1-0 Big West) at UC IRVINE (8-8, 0-0 Big West)
When:
 Saturday, January 11, 7:00 p.m. PT (5:00 p.m. Hawai’I time)
Where: Bren Events Center (5,000) – Irvine, Calif.
Television: ESPN3
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com/ESPN App
Radio: ESPN Honolulu (1420 AM/92.7 FM), KRKH (Maui), KPUA (Hawai’i Island), and KTOH (Kaua’i).
Audio Webcast: ESPNHonolulu.com/Sideline Hawai’i App.
Live Stats: UCIrvnesports.com

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