Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

UPDATED: UC Irvine denies Warriors, 70-63, to foil jersey retirement night

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Playing spoiler in more ways than one, visiting UC Irvine flexed its first-place muscle Saturday night and denied upset-minded Hawai’i, 70-63, in tense Big West Conference men’s basketball action. 

A national ESPN2 TV audience and electric season-best “White-Out” crowd of 5,949 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Eyassu Worku score a game-high 21 points and Evan Leonard add 16 points as the Anteaters improved to 17-10 overall and 9-2 in the Big West. Drew Buggs scored 17 points, dished seven assists and grabbed four rebounds and Eddie Stansberry added 10 points for the Warriors, who dropped their fourth straight game and fell to 14-10, 5-5.

UCI’s victory slightly dampened an otherwise historic and memorable night for UH as former standout player and longtime associate and head coach Bob Nash officially had his jersey No. 33 retired and hung from the SSC rafters — the first player in the program’s 100 seasons to be so honored. 

“He represents what we want our program to be about,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “In all areas — his performance on the floor … and his fingerprints are all over our program because we have a class program. I don’t know if anybody has more class and professionalism (than Nash), you see his presence in the way he carries himself.”  

UCI led for most of the game and was ahead, 66-53, after Collin Welp’s two free throws with 2:26 remaining, but Hawai’i rallied back and closed it to 66-63 as Zigmars Raimo capped a frantic 10-0 run with a layup with 35.3 seconds left. But the Warriors were out of timeouts and the Anteaters sank four straight free throws down the stretch to close out the victory.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

“We showed that we’ve got fight, and we’re going to keep playing no matter what happens the first 38 minutes of the game,” Buggs said. “But we just know we’ve got to be better for the full 40, bottom line. We had a pretty good defensive first half, but then we had too many breakdowns in the second half and gave them some easy baskets. They shot (59.3) percent in the second half,and that’s just not good enough (for us).”

From the outset and through the final minute, the game had the feel of a conference tournament game with seemingly much more at stake than a win in the Big West standings.

UH took a quick 4-0 lead but UC Irvine roared back with a 17-5 run capped by Leonard’s steal and layup for a 17-9 lead with 10:46 remaining in the half. The Warriors answered with a thrilling 13-2 surge culminating in Raimo’s layup with 3:35 left to give Hawai’i a 22-19 lead.

Raimo, a 6-foot-9 power forwad who was held to a single point after only one shot attempt in a 74-60 loss at UCI on Jan. 11, scored five points in the first half Saturday while showing an ability to take 6-8 defender Tommy Rutherford off the dribble around the paint.

“He’s more of a 5 (post), so Coach was emphasizing to go at him, run past him, and that’s what I did,” said Raimo, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds. “When I’m playing against a smaller guy, I’ll go in the post, but against this kind of guy, I need to attack from the outside.”

Buggs said Raimo’s improved lateral movement helped to balance the Warriors’ offense, which struggled throughout Wednesday’s 50-49 home loss to Long Beach State. 

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

“He’s hard to guard, when they have a bigger 4-man in there, he’s able to take them off the bounce,” Buggs said. “We definitely try to play through Zigmars and utilize his talents and what he can bring to the table.”

The Anteaters later closed out the half with a 6-2 run to take a 27-26 lead into the break.

During halftime, Nash — the leader of UH’s legendary “Fabulous Five” team that earned the school’s first NIT and NCAA Tournament bids (in 1971 and 1972) and captured the hearts of the entire state — was joined at center court by his family and a parade of friends and former teammates. After being introduced by his son, Bobby (also a former Warrior), an emotional Nash gave sincere thanks to all and invited the four other Fabulous Five starters (Jerome Freeman, Al Davis, Dwight Holiday and John Penebacker) to join him in the spotlight.

That drew even louder applause and another standing ovation.

“I can’t wait to see what I missed,” said Ganot, who was in the locker room with his team during the ceremony. “It was a great moment for his family and for the state.”

UC Irvine, however, was not in a festive mood and quickly quieted the crowd with a 15-7 run out of the second-half gate to open the lead to 42-33 after Worku’s driving layup just over five minutes in.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

The Warriors again fought back, closing it to 51-48 on Justin Hemsley’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 8:11 remaining, but the Anteaters responded with an astounding 12-2 run capped by Worku’s backcourt steal and layup to make it 63-50 with 3:26 left.

“You have to give them credit — (with) our lapses, they capitalized,” Ganot said. “Our halfcourt defense was really good, (but) our transition and second chance defense was not, and that was probably the biggest difference in the game.”

After Welp’s two free throws made it 66-53 with 2:26 remaining, Buggs and Justin Webster drained back-to-back 3-pointers to cut it to 66-59 with 1:41 left, and Owen Hulland and Raimo converted layups off of full-court pressure steals to eventually close it to 66-63 with 35.3 seconds on the clock.

But Leonard cooly sank two free throws after being quickly fouled one the ensuing possession, and following a missed layup by Hawai’i at the other end, Worku was fouled and made two free throws to give UCI a 70-63 lead and effectively seal the victory with 19 ticks remaining. 

For the game, the Anteaters converted 12 of 17 free throws (70.6 percent) compared to just 6 of 13 (46.2 percent) for the Warriors.

UH will be back in travel mode next week for road games at UC Riverside and Long Beach State on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

“I thought we made a jump from Wednesday in terms of our spirit and effort,” Ganot said. “I appreciate the fight at the end of the game … The good thing is we see potential in this group, but we better get consistent quick if we’re going to get over the hump.”

UH junior forward Samuta Avea was in the starting lineup after sitting out the previous four games due to a back injury. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 30 minutes, but shot 0 for 5 from 3-point range.

The Anteaters now have a three-game lead atop the conference with just five more regular-sesaon games to play. Meanwhile, the Warriors dropped into a tie for fourth place, and are just 1.5 games ahead of the last-place teams (UC Riverside and Cal Poly at 4-7).

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Big West Conference
Saturday’s Results

at UC Davis 110, CSUN 98
at Long Beach State 65, UC Riverside 63 (OT)
at Cal State Fullerton 105, Cal Poly 101 (4OT)
UC Irvine 70, at Hawai’i 63


  1. Extremely tough loss. The team needs to face the task of turning this season around as the race for second and third is in gridlock. We can’t afford to lose another first round tournament game. We have the players to make a challenge for a championship but with this team there is no room for missed foul shots, inconsistent shooting , errant passing , eliminate the turnovers , make your foul shots, make adjustments on defense and we win at Long Beach, Riverside, and beyond. Going forward we will need to recruit an top notch jc point guard to supplement Buggs as you can’t count on a freshman to step in and take over. We recruited too many project bigs and the difference in athletic ability is telling as UC Irvine clearly had superior talent as they out rebounded and out hustled our bigs. Refocusing of getting athletic bigs with size and quickness should be emphasized. Again this team can make a run to the championship, they have the heart but they need to show up each and every game on Fire with a relentless will to win for two halves. Go Bows!

  2. Great write up!

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Hawaii lose 4 in a row in conference before?
    We should’ve beat Long Beach and cal poly.

    I feel most of the time they beat themselves with silly mistakes
    and missed free throws.

    Good to see Avea back! Hopefully we can pick up a couple wins next
    road trip

    Go Bows

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