Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Inside Mandalay’s ‘bubble,’ Warriors stay focused

Practice video courtesy www.hawaiiathletics.com

The Mandalay Bay resort is one one of Las Vegas’ fabulous jewels, a sprawling 120-acre wonderland including an 11-acre pool with real sand, a Shark Reef Aquarium, world-class dining and shopping, a cavernous casino filled with row after row of games of chance … and the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team will see almost nothing of that this week despite staying right upstairs.

The Big West Conference Championship Tournament is being played in Las Vegas for the first time, but aside from the view from their rooms, the Warriors and other seven teams remaining won’t get to enjoy most of it as they are confined in a virtual “bubble” due to very strict COVID-19 protocols.

“I think the league and the people here have done an awesome job,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “At home or on the road, there’s been a lot of protocols the guys have been going through. The amount of time that they are out and about (here) is limited, if not non-existent. Food comes to your room … The difference is we normally bus to our practice site and to the game, but right now everything is walking distance. And you can’t be walking around the lobby.

“We’ve done an awesome job to this point with having no interruptions, and we gotta finish strong so we can continue to play on Thursday. We’ve been testing every day, and that increased until we arrived here, to make sure everybody is OK. We walk to watch film together or to the practice court or to the study halls, but most of the time we’re basically in our room.”

The Warriors arrived on Sunday, after finishing the regular season with a 74-66 loss on Saturday at UC Davis. As the No. 6 seed, they face No. 3 UC Riverside at 6 p.m. (Hawai’i Time) in quarterfinal action in the Mandalay’s 12,000-seat arena on Thursday.

“It’s tough after a tough loss, but I appreciate the way the guys fought back when were down double digits and cut it to one possession late,” Ganot said. “I feel excited about the challenge, we traveled well here on Sunday, and we’re focusing on Riverside. But (Sunday) was about recharging the batteries and (Monday) was about us cleaning things up, we had a good film session and the guys did a good job in the weight room before shifting gears toward Riverside. It still starts with us.

“I see a team that started out 1-4 (in conference), had 11 guys, went on an 8-4 stretch, has won on the road, has been in close battles, has won close battles, and has kept that 11 intact,” Ganot said. “So when you think about all that, through nine or 10 weeks without a bye, we knew the guys needed to recharge and be ready to fire fresh going into Thursday’s big game.”

In the meantime, co-captain Casdon Jardine said he and the Warriors are trying to stay focused and cherish the few times they are allowed to get practice and film time.

“We’d love it to be a different way, we’d love it to be free and open so we can go to restaurants, so we can be together more as a team,” Jardine said. “But that’s just the reality of it, it’s a bubble, so we’re just trying to do what we have to and do what we’re told so we can play these games. We’re COVID tested every day, and masked up all the time, stay in your room, food is brought to the room. So I’m really looking forward to practice to get out of the room and get on the court and be with my teammates. 

“The bubble is what you’d expect it to be, so looking forward to the days when the bubbles are no more, and we can get back to normal life.”

Still, Ganot said there is enough evidence of conference basketball time to feel the energy and excitement leading up to Thursday’s game.

“I used to be here (in Las Vegas) every year when I was with Saint Mary’s in the (West Coast Conference), so really happy to be back here and excited about the challenge,” Ganot said. “We have two or three days here to get better and clean up some things in practice before we start. But really excited, you can walk around and feel it, and see on TV the Pac-12 tournaments going on, other league tournaments going on, so just really excited to be part of it with this group.”

Ganot said he is also confident his team will handle the confines of the bubble well, given the Warriors’ track record so far on the road.

“It starts with the mentality and embracing it and flipping the script,” Ganot said. “It starts with traveling well, from your flights to the bus trips, we’ve had no issues. We’ve had none of those, it’s been a good group. It gives you a chance to perform in practices and games. Our guys have gravitated toward that. We’ve had four trips, and we won the first game three times and had a chance for three road sweeps. There’s been battles the second night, and we couldn’t quite get over the hump but we split every trip on the road. 

“I will say our guys have prepared well and traveled well and enjoy being on the road, and that’s a huge part of having success. We’re here longer than other trips. Usually we’re (on the Mainland) Wednesday, and play Friday-Saturday. Now we’re here a couple days earlier and locked up in certain ways. But we get it, we’re immune to (the protocols), we’re appreciative of the opportunity and we’re going to continue to do things right so we can compete on Thursday.”

No. 3 UC RIVERSIDE (13-7 overall, 8-4 Big West) vs. No. 6 HAWAI’I (11-9 overall, 9-9 Big West)
What: Air Force Reserve Big West Conference Championship Tournament quarterfinals
Where: Michelob ULTRA Arena, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
When: Thursday, March 11, 8:00 p.m. PT / 6:00 p.m. HT
Video streaming: ESPN3.com
Radio: ESPN Honolulu (1420 AM / 92.7 FM)
Audio streaming: ESPNHonolulu.com / Sideline Hawai’i App
Live stats: StatBroadcast.com

Big West Conference Championship Tournament
Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas
March 9

No. 9 Long Beach State 85, No. 8 CSUN 63
No. 10 Cal Poly 87, No. 7 Cal State Fullerton 82

March 11
No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 9 Long Beach State, 11:00 a.m. PT
No. 4 UC Davis vs. No. 5 CSU Bakersfield, 2:00 p.m. PT
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 10 Cal Poly, 5:00 p.m. PT
No. 3 UC Riverside vs. No. 6 Hawai’i, 8:00 p.m. PT

March 12
First Semifinal, 6:00 p.m. PT
Second Semifinal, 9:00 p.m. PT

March 13
Championship, 8:30 p.m. PT

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