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Warriors look to rebound at Cal State Fullerton

Bruised but not beaten, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team is ready to take its recent hard lessons and experience on the road to another tough back-to-back series at Cal State Fullerton this weekend.

The Warriors (3-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big West Conference) face the Titans (3-4, 2-4) at 5 p.m. Pacific time (3 p.m. Hawai’i time) Friday and Saturday. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN3, and broadcast live via radio on ESPN1420AM.

UH has lost three straight games, including a home sweep by Cal State Bakersfield last weekend. 

“We for sure want to make a statement these next games, adjust the defense as much as we can and just get a win for Hawai’i,” said senior post James Jean-Marie. “That’s the mindset we have right now.”

Against Bakersfield, the Warriors encountered by far their most physical opponent to date. And that was just a week after facing another big team at UC Riverside.

“I think that part is great, to be honest,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “Playing back-to-back, and then a week later again back-to-back, against two physical teams. It’s interesting, we played two of the top rebounding teams in the country, and in two games, we beat those teams (on the glass), and in two games we got hit pretty hard on the boards. 

“Our margin for error isn’t great, (but) I feel like we’ll continue to grow. Our objective is to be the most improved team start-to-finish. If we can do that, as our guys get more experience … If you look at it perspective-wise, we now have four Division I games under our belt, and that’s better than we had, regardless of the outcome. We have some guys (now) who have minutes under their belt — before, they didn’t have any. Again, that’s a positive.”

Unlike Bakersfield, the nation’s “most experienced team” in terms of players remaining with the program, Cal State Fullerton is similar in makeup to Hawai’i, which has been trying to blend six newcomers with seven returnees. And just like the Warriors, the Titans have had several games canceled due to the impact of COVID-19. They are coming off an 85-77 home victory over CSUN last Sunday.

“They play a lot of guys, they lost some guys and had some transfers coming in,” Ganot said. “They’ve had some interruptions and gaps like the kind we’ve had. They’ve really shot the ball well from 3(-point range), they’re coming off a big win, scored some big numbers. But that’s kind of the unique thing about our league, we play different styles. So we have to be ready to play different ways, but I think we have the ability to play different styles within the game, within the year.

“I’m looking forward to getting us back on the right path and focusing on Fullerton. But us first.”

Against Bakersfield, UH was challenged by the Roadrunners’ physical play under the basket and a relentless, high-intensity defense that clogged the passing lanes and disrupted the Warriors’ flow. But rather than shy away from it, Ganot said his team needs to embrace such challenges.

“We need to love every style that we can face — spread it out, versus physicality … I’d like to think that we can play both,” Ganot said. “We’ve seen glimpses of it, but we can’t lose by 19 on the boards and think we’re physical, especially after you beat that same team on the boards by three. Against Riverside we lost the boards by 12, and then beat them on the boards by three or four the next game. 

“We have to have that reality, that it’s a skill game and it’s a physical game, and you gotta be able to do both.”

One bright side, again, was a breakout performance by a different Warrior. This time, it was sophomore guard Justin Webster, who notched a career-high 23 points and six steals last Saturday. The next step would be for multiple players to put those breakout performances together in the same game.

“When that happens, that’s when you separate (from other teams),” Ganot said. “I think there’s other guys who will have breakout games, and it’s not just the (scoring) numbers, but more the comfort, maybe it’s on the boards, (or) making plays for others. All of these guys are going through new things, about scouts — not just (scouting) other teams but what other teams are preparing for them, adjusting to that.”

Jean-Marie, a senior transfer from San Diego, leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game, and entered the week ranked No. 14 in the nation with a 62.5 field goal percentage. His role may be even bigger this weekend with the absence of sophomore post Bernardo da Silva, who did not make the trip due to nagging injuries.

“I’m one of the older guys on the team, so I gotta lead by example and just try to put the team together so we can do better on the floor,” Jean-Marie said. 

Jean-Marie said despite the three straight losses, the Warriors have not lost confidence and have not scaled back on their goals.

“Even though we lost three games, we still believe that we can win our conference,” Jean-Marie said. “We just gotta compete harder in practice, and do better on defense and be ready to compete every night.”

HAWAI’I at CAL STATE FULLERTON
When: Friday, Jan. 22 (5:00 p.m. PT) & Saturday, Jan. 23 (5:00 p.m. PT)
Where: Titan Gym â€“ Fullerton, Calif.
TV: None
Streaming Video: www.espn3.com
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.
Live Stats: FullertonTitans.com

Big West Conference
Friday’s Games

UC Santa Barbara at CSUN
Cal Poly at UC Irvine
CSU Bakersfield at UC Riverside
UC Davis at UC San Diego
Hawai’i at Cal State Fullerton

Saturday’s Games
UC Santa Barbara at CSUN
Cal Poly at UC Irvine
CSU Bakersfield at UC Riverside
UC Davis at UC San Diego
Hawai’i at Cal State Fullerton

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