Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

First things first: Warriors focus on UC Davis

It’s March, which for basketball fans means conference tournaments, Selection Sunday, March Madness, filling out brackets, “Upset City, Baby!” …


For the Hawai’i Warriors, flipping over the calendar page first means taking care of their next Big West series, which happens to be at UC Davis on Friday and Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Hawai’i time both days, with both games broadcast via live stream at BigWest.tv and ESPN1420AM radio. 

If there is one thing UH (10-8 overall, 8-8 Big West) has learned during this roller coaster season of up-and-down games, it is the importance of keeping focus on the task at hand.  

“We’re looking forward to it, we’re not really focusing on the (Big West) tournament right now,” said Warriors co-captain Justin Webster. “We’ve got two huge games coming up that are must-win games as far as seeding for us, so we’re focusing on those two and after those two, we’ll be ready for the tournament.”

Even momentary lapses in focus have cost Hawai’i some potential victories this season, and almost cost the Warriors two home losses against Long Beach State last weekend. Fortunately, they were able to hang on to squeak past the Beach, 78-76 on Friday and 79-76 on Saturday.

“I kept telling everybody these (past) two games were must-win games especially for us to build momentum going into Davis, which is now the third seed,” Webster said. “These (next) two games are huge. I don’t want to split these two games as far as seeding goes, so we have to go into them with the mindset of being ready to play.”

UH will need total focus against the Aggies, who are 8-6, 5-3, and coming off a road sweep at Cal Poly (69-61 and 68-66, OT).

“They’re tough because they’re good and they’ve won five in a row, two in overtime,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “They were picked to do well going in, and they did have a non-conference schedule. They had two good young freshmen, including Ezra Manjon, who was named (Big West) Freshman of the Year and has built off that campaign and has had a great sophomore season. Some of the youth they had last year is a year older and you could see that helping them right now. You got (Damion) Squire back in the fold this past weekend, and he’s been a big fixture for them, he makes them better. They have a good group returning and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Manjon, a 5-11 guard, ranks third in Big West scoring at 15.9 points per game, while shooting 85.3 percent from the free throw line and also dishing an average of 3.3 assists per outing. Squire, a 6-foot guard, averages 12.1 ppg and also shoots 85.3 percent from the charity stripe, and produces an average of 1.5 steals and 2.8 assists per game. He also shoots 40.7 percent from 3-point range.

Hawai’i also has had productive guard play, but consistency remains an issue.

“Of course we can’t have those scoring droughts that we’re so accustomed to,” Webster said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to avoid those, especially playing good teams, they’ll take advantage of those and it’ll be very hard to come back. Especially against a good, well-coached Davis team, we have to be ready from the jump, whether it’s the first half or second half, we have to avoid scoring droughts. So this week, we’ll be prepared and we’ll be ready.”

One of the most consistent Warriors of late has been sophomore guard Noel Coleman, who has scored a total of 41 points off the bench in the past four games, compared to a total of 22 in the previous four.

“I think he’s the guy everybody takes for granted,” Ganot said. “Before the year started he was one of our more consistent players, and then he missed three or four weeks of practice (due to injury). He was starting for us, and then he had to miss a week or two early in the conference season. He’s getting back his legs, and he’s building off three or four double-digit games over the past couple weeks. He’s shooting 40 percent from 3, and he’s a first-year guy in our program, people forget he’s a sophomore. 

“But you can see the confidence that he’s playing with, he’s playing really well over the past couple weeks, and over the course of the year. Sometimes you need some breakthrough performances in games to build off, and now he’s had that. So I would say there’s a general feeling that he might be the guy that’s the least-talked about in our program, but is critical to our program. He’s been good for us.”

Webster said he is not surprised by Coleman’s recent production, along with added bench support from point guard JoVon McClanahan and Justin Hemsley.

“Noel has been shooting well the past month and at CSUN he had 15 in that second game, and that’s something I was waiting for because I’ve seen him do it in practice,” Webster said. “I’m the one guarding him (in practice), so I knew he was due for some big games coming up and he helped contribute. And JoVon does what he does — he’s a scorer, he can make plays, he can do all the little things for us. So seeing those two guys help us win those games something I was waiting for and knew was going to happen. 

“We have those two, and we also have Justin Hemsley, who found his rhythm and found ways to make our team better, so going into these last two games I feel very good about where our team is headed.”

Ganot said ball security continues to be another priority on offense, along with adjusting to different defensive looks.

“We saw more zone (defense) in these last two weeks than we’d seen all year, and I thought we were better at it the second time around and that was good for us,” Ganot said. “But against Long Beach we had seen more press than we had seen recently, and we were exposed. I think the good thing is those are the things we work on is our execution and our desire to take care of the ball in those situations, and that will help us in the long term.”

Defensively, consistency — again — is the goal.

“Our defense was inconsistent,” Ganot said. “We’ve got to build off the rebounding hustle plays that we’re making, we gotta get back to defensive discipline and offensively the flow was pretty good (but) we had some bad turnovers in key stretches. So it continues to be a work in progress, I think overall we’re better than we were last week, I think our rotation is pretty set. JoVon McClanahan and Justin Hemsley are coming off some of their best games. So I think a lot of guys are playing with a lot of confidence.

“I just want us to consistently play aggressively with a lot of confidence, and very unselfishly to get the great shots that we want to get. The fact that some guys who had maybe struggled (earlier) are coming off their better games, I feel like we have nine or 10 guys who are playing with more confidence going down this final stretch.”

Webster said UH winning three of its past four games has added fuel to the Warriors’ effort to finish out the regular season strong at UC Davis.

“It’s something we look forward to,” Webster said. “Coach Ganot always says the more we win, the more meaningful these games become. So we look forward to these games, we look forward to this challenge and putting it all on the line.”

HAWAI’I (10-8, 8-8 Big West) at UC DAVIS (8-6, 5-3 Big West)
 Friday, March 5 (4:00 p.m. PT) and Saturday, March 6 (4:00 p.m. PT)
Where: The Pavilion, Davis, Calif.
TV: None
Video streaming: BigWest.tv
Radio: ESPN Honolulu (1420 AM / 92.7 FM)
Audio streaming: ESPNHonolulu.com or Sideline Hawaii App
Live stats: UCDavisLiveStats.com

Friday’s Games
Hawai’i at UC Davis, 4:00 p.m. PT
UC Riverside at CSUN, 4:00 p.m. PT
UC Irvine at Long Beach State, 4:00 p.m. PT
Cal State Fullerton at UC San Diego, 5:00 p.m. PT
Cal Poly at UC Santa Barbara, 5:00 p.m. PT

Saturday’s Games
Hawai’i at UC Davis, 4:00 p.m. PT
UC Riverside at CSUN, 4:00 p.m. PT
UC Irvine at Long Beach State, 4:00 p.m. PT
Cal State Fullerton at UC San Diego, 5:00 p.m. PT
Cal Poly at UC Santa Barbara, 5:00 p.m. PT

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