Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors wrap up rare six-game homestand vs. Big West co-leader UC Santa Barbara

There’s no place like home, especially when you can play six straight Big West Conference games here over a 16-day midseason stretch.

That is how the Hawai’i men’s basketball team is feeling right now, entering a crucial two-game series against league co-leader UC Santa Barbara (12-3 overall, 6-2 Big West), with a 7 p.m. tipoff scheduled Friday and Saturday at the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. The Warriors (7-5, 5-5) have won four out of their past five games, including three straight the past two weekends, with the only loss coming in a 53-51 heartbreaker against the other league co-leader, UC Irvine.

The unexpected six-game conference homestand — a rarity in college basketball — was created when a last-minute schedule change brought Cal Poly here last week in lieu of a UH road trip to UC San Diego.

“I don’t know if it’s ever happened, and this is my 18th year (coaching), and I don’t know if it ever will happen (again),” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “Obviously we certainly wish it was like our normal home court, we wish our fans were there, but it is always awesome to play at the Stan Sheriff Center. I think our guys are getting comfortable there, and it’s something they can take pride in and protect.”  

There are less Hawai’i players than before to do the actual on-court protection, as opt-outs, a transfer and injuries have reduced the active roster to just 11 players. The latest casualty is 6-foot-9 sophomore post Bernardo da Silva, who has been sidelined with nagging injuries the past six games and was officially declared out for the year by Ganot earlier this week.

“The unfortunate reality of our situation is he had kind of been in and out, he’s been out the past couple of weeks, and it’s at the point where we’ll make it very clear: he won’t be with us the rest of the year,” Ganot said on Tuesday. “Hopefully he’ll be attacking his treatments and will be ready for next year. It’s a tough situation for us, but it’s the reality of the situation, and we’re going to put all of our energy into the 11 (available players) that we have. And he’s been supporting them.”

Ganot said the two Warriors who have manned the post so far, James Jean-Marie and Mate Colina, plus forward Casdon Jardine, have done an admirable job and especially in the second half of last Saturday’s 81-64 victory over Cal Poly.

“Obviously we’re aware that we have a lack of depth, we have 11 players, and certainly in the front court more than anything,” Ganot said. “I thought the guys did a good job navigating through that. I mean we had foul trouble quickly, because we got to the second half with only two (fouls) for both Mate and James but (then) just like that, Mate picked up one and James picked up back-to-back fouls and all of a sudden Cas was our ‘5’ man. I didn’t want to talk about what might happen in that situation, but it was good to go through it in a live situation.”

Ganot added that the different skill sets of Jean-Marie (6-8), Colina (7-feet) and Jardine (6-7) allow for some flexibility in the post, especially with the versatile Jean-Marie, an athletic 230-pound senior transfer from San Diego.

“I think he’s now gotten more reps than he used to (with his back to the basket), and that changed for a different reason, because of Bernardo’s situation where James now is playing more at the 5,” Ganot said. “But as you can tell, we don’t use him as a traditional 5, we’ve let him and Mate — because of their ability to shoot, and James’ ability to put it on the floor — move around and be fluid there. But then that (foul) situation came, and all of a sudden we had Cas at the 5, and obviously we’re not just going to post Cas, we’re just going to play a different style.”

Ganot said UH will also need to do some mixing and matching in the backcourt against UCSB, given the Gauchos’ penchant for ball pressure.

“Santa Barbara turns it over 10 times per game, they have a veteran backcourt, but they force 15 turnovers — that’s five more possessions per game,” Ganot said. “So the combination of that being their strength, currently, and it not being much of our strength, we better clean that up or we’ll lose the game.”

Ganot said turnovers have been an issue for the Warriors, especially in recent games.

“That’s why we play multiple point guards together, and when Junior (Madut) is at the 3, he’s a third guard,” Ganot said. “And we’ve even had (Justin) Webster bring the ball up sometimes. It’s a concern for us, we’ve got to continue to come along, we’ve evolved offensively and we gotta continue to do better there. It was just a step. We’re defending and rebounding better, and more consistently, we’ve got to maintain that. But our silly fouls and our turnovers are kind of the focal point right now.”

Point guard JoVon McClanahan, who has started the past four games, says he and his teammates are ready for the challenge against the Gauchos, who are riding an eight-game winning streak.

“We’re very excited, we’re also on a roll, too, so I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence as well,” said McClanahan, a 5-11 sophomore transfer from Sheridan (Wyo.) College. “Things are starting to click, but I also think we have things to fix up, which is a good thing. But our potential, I think we’re reaching it, and we have to keep getting better and it’ll be a great matchup.”

McClanahan said he is encouraged by Hawai’i’s recent offensive output, in which it topped 80 points on back-to-back nights against Cal Poly and shot over 55 percent in both games, including over 47 percent from 3-point range.

“I would say what excites me the most is the guys around me, because I know we have really good players, we have great shooters,” McClanahan said. “And me being able to get in the lane and kick, it’s something great for Justin Webster or Junior, even Cas can really shoot the ball, so I think that’s the biggest part of it. I think the lineup is (such that) we can run, we can slow it down, we’re a pretty versatile lineup.”

McClanahan said a team meeting following the Warriors’ 83-67 loss at Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 22 — their fourth straight defeat — was a turning point. 

“I think that definitely factored into some success, because we have a lot of new players on this team, and so I think we had to come together as one to figure out what we are trying to do as a whole for this season,” McClanahan said. “We didn’t really get a chance to team bond, just regular stuff that any other team would do, just because of COVID regulations and stuff like that. So I think that players’ meeting we had was one of the first that we had as a whole team, and we could all be on the same page and it helped us out.”

McClanahan added the game experience — especially for the six newcomers — also has played a key factor in the turnaround.

“I think us just not having a preseason, and just the situation we were put in early kind of messed our rhythm up as far as building chemistry and stuff like that,” McClanahan said. “I think as we played more games, you could tell we kind of looked better playing with each other. I think that was the biggest confidence-builder, just getting more games under our belt, just learning how to play with each other, and then obviously on top of that comes wins. So as we’re getting wins, our team is getting more confident and I think we’re just going to keep going.”

Ganot said while the team’s overall confidence has improved, for some it was not at a low point even during the four-game slide.

“You’d like it to be where (if) you have a tough stretch or a good stretch, it’s the same confidence level,” Ganot said. “That’s what you look for when you’re recruiting, if the guy has a great mental fortitude about him. But it’s another bolt when you have been performing as we have lately as a team, and certainly individually. Webster didn’t shoot it great to start the year, but you see it in practice. He always had the confidence, that’s why he was able to break through. Von has a quiet confidence about him, Biwali (Bayles) is very confident. That’s a big underrated part of being good, individually or collectively, and it’s something we look for. Three big things: we gotta play hard, play together, and play with confidence.”

McClanahan said that is even more important now, given the recent lack of depth.

“We only have 11 guys (available), so it really has to literally be every guy has to chip in,” McClanahan said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the game, or not in the game, people have to be talking on the bench, encouraging people, being positive and stuff like that. So on and off the court, I think it’s big because we’re so limited in guys, so we literally need everybody.”

Ganot agreed, saying the focus is now on the players who are available, versus those who are not.

“I’m pumped about the ones we have,” Ganot said. “You wish you could have had all these guys, but there’s nothing you can do, you control what you can control. In the meantime, get those guys ready for next year, and keep putting in time with these (available) guys. And I think they’ve done a great job navigating through that, I’m really proud of them. I think we can continue to get better, we need more practices with this group, knowing who we have and who will be where. It’s a work in progress, it’s going in the right direction. And we’re not going to let up.”

UCSB will bring an eight-game winning streak to Honolulu. The Gauchos lost their first two Big West games of the season at UC Irvine, and have not lost since. UCSB’s two-game series with Long Beach State was canceled last week due to COVID-related issues.

The Gauchos feature some of the league’s top statistical players. Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin is averaging 16.6 points and a conference-high 5.2 assists per game. Fellow senior guard Devearl Ramsey is averaging 7.5 points per game and leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.3 (58 assists against 11 turnovers).

Amadou Sow, a 6-9 junior forward, is contributing 11.1 points per game and leads the Big West in rebounding at 8.4 per game. Miles Norris, a 6-10 JUCO transfer, is adding 9.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Ajare Sanni, a 6-3 sophomore, is averaging 13.0 points per game and ranks second in the Big West with 30 3-pointers.

HAWAI’I (7-5, 5-5 Big West) vs. UC SANTA BARBARA (12-3, 6-2 Big West)
When: Friday, Feb. 12 (7:00 p.m. HT) & Saturday, Feb. 13 (7:00 p.m. HT)
Where: SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center – Honolulu, HI
Television: Spectrum Sports – Channels 12 (SD) and 1012 (HD).
Streaming Video: BigWest.TV (Must be a Spectrum cable subscriber to stream in Hawai’i).
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: HawaiiAthletics.com

Friday’s Games
UC San Diego at CSU Bakersfield, 4:00 PT
UC Irvine at UC Riverside, 4:00 PT
Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly, 4:00 PT
Long Beach State at UC Davis, 4:00 PT
UC Santa Barbara at Hawai’i, 7:00 HT

Saturday’s Games
UC San Diego at CSU Bakersfield, 4:00 PT
Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly, 4:00 PT
Long Beach State at UC Davis, 4:00 PT
UC Santa Barbara at Hawai’i, 7:00 HT
UC Irvine at UC Riverside, 9:00 PT

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