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Warriors host UC Irvine in meaningful Saturday game

It might not be a showdown for first place, but if the University of Hawai’i basketball team wants to climb its way back to the top, then Saturday’s game against UC Irvine is as big as it gets.

The Rainbow Warriors will host the first-place Anteaters in a special Big West Conference game at the Stan Sheriff Center on Saturday. It is scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., and there are several unique circumstances surrounding the contest.

For one, it will be televised nationally on ESPN2. ESPN televises numerous non-conference games at the Sheriff Center every season, but this is the first time that an ESPN crew has traveled to Hawai’i for a Big West Conference game.

Second, the UH basketball program will retire a jersey for the first time in its 100 seasons of competitive basketball. Bob Nash, the best “big man” in UH basketball history, will be honored and his number 33 jersey will be retired. CLICK HERE to read more about Nash

Third, it is the first “Whiteout” game of this season, and all fans are encouraged to wear white shirts. The first 3,000 fans to the arena will receive a white t-shirt with Nash’s number 33 on it, courtesy of First Hawaiian Bank.

Above all of that, it is a game with large implications for the conference standings.

Hawai’i is 14-9 overall and in third place in the Big West at 5-4. UCI is 16-10 overall and 8-2 in conference, including a 74-60 win over the Warriors on January 11 in Irvine, Calif.

In effect, the Warriors need a win to stay near the top of the standings – and pull the Anteaters down, closer to the rest of the pack. Hawai’i also needs to regain momentum, as it is on a three-game losing streak, including a disappointing 50-49 upset loss at home to Long Beach State on Wednesday.

The Warriors have been receiving contributions from various players on offense in recent weeks, although consistency has been the issue. Senior guard Eddie Stansberry leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game, and 3-pointers with 71.

Senior forward Zigmars Raimo is averaging 9.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, and will have to play a key role against a UCI team that is one of the best rebounding units in the nation thanks to a rotation of big men.

Raimo will need help from fellow bigs Dawson Carper and Bernardo da Silva. Carper, a 7-foot sophomore, is averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, and leads the team with a .640 field goal percentage. Da Silva, a 6-9 freshman, is contributing 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, although he is still working his way back into form after sitting out five recent games due to a foot injury.

Junior point guard Drew Buggs is also looking to get back into form after a subpar performance in the loss to Long Beach State. He is averaging 9.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game, but was held scoreless against the 49ers.

It is worth noting that junior forward Samuta Avea remains questionable due to a back injury. He has sat out the last four consecutive games, but has been slowly working his way back into practice drills. Avea is averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, and had 14 points and five boards in the 74-60 loss at UCI last month.

In Avea’s recent absence, freshman guard Justin Webster and sophomore forward Justin Hemsley have received extended minutes. In conference games only, Webster is averaging 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, while Hemsley is contributing 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

UCI is regarded as the Big West’s top defensive team, allowing just 65.3 points per game, while holding opponents to a .380 field goal percentage (the only Big West team holding opponents under .400). The Anteaters are also way ahead of the conference for rebounding (40.0 per game) and rebound margin (+9.5 per game).

The Anteaters have been doing it by committee, with nine players sharing consistent minutes. A prime example of UCI’s approach is Collin Welp, a 6-9 junior who is averaging 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as the first player off the bench.

Like Hawai’i, UCI has an experienced starting backcourt in seniors Eyassu Worku and Evan Leonard. Worku is averaging 11.9 points and 3.9 assists per game; Leonard is averaging 11.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

UCI’s starting frontcourt features 6-5 John Edgar Jr. and 6-8 Tommy Rutherford at forwards, and 6-11 Brad Greene at center. Edgar is averaging 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game; Rutherford is contributing 9.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game; Greene is averaging 8.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and tallied 13 points and 21 rebounds in UCI’s win over Hawai’i last month.

Led by Greene, the Anteaters out-rebounded the Warriors 49-34 in the first meeting between the teams. UCI’s only two Big West losses this season have come on the road – at Long Beach State and at UC Santa Barbara.

The Anteaters are coming off a 63-59 win at UC Riverside on Wednesday. UCI erased a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes of that game to maintain its position atop the Big West.

HAWAI’I (14-9, 5-4 Big West) vs. UC IRVINE (16-10, 8-2 Big West)
When: Saturday, Feb. 15, 7:00 p.m.  HT
Where: Stan Sheriff Center (10,300) – Honolulu, HI
Television: ESPN2 – Channels 224 (SD) and 1224 (HD).
Streaming Video: ESPN3.com / WatchESPN app
Radio: Live on 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.
Ticket Information: Lower level – $32; Upper level (prices vary by section) – $22 or $15 for adults, $18 or $13 for senior citizens, $8 or $5 for students. UH Manoa students free with validated ID. Parking is $7.
Promotions: First Hawaiian Bank is the sponsor on Saturday and will distribute 3,000 t-shirts and 850 rally towels.  At halftime UH Athletics will retire the jersey of former player and coach Bob Nash. All UH fans are encouraged to wear white.

Saturday’s Games
UC Riverside at Long Beach State
CSUN at UC Davis
Cal Poly at Cal State Fullerton
UC Irvine at Hawai’i

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