Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

A Christmas surprise: Warriors will face SMU for Classic championship

Two teams that have defied the odds will meet in a Christmas surprise championship game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

The University of Hawai’i and SMU will play for the tournament title at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

The Rainbow Warriors have participated in every DHC since its inception in 2009, and this is the first time they are in the championship game. Hawai’i is now 8-3 following defense-fueled tournament wins over Pepperdine (76-70) and Washington State (62-51).

SMU entered the tournament as the lowest-rated of the eight teams in the field, by far. The Mustangs had a 3-7 record and a NET ranking of 287. They are now 5-7 and have climbed nearly 80 spots in the NET rankings following upset wins over Iona (85-81) and Utah State (77-74).

“I expect and hope that the place is rocking as much as it ever had on Christmas Day,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said.

The last time a Hawai’i team won a championship in an eight-team non-conference tournament was the 2006 Rainbow Classic. Ganot was UH’s director of operations under head coach Riley Wallace back then.

“We’re going to enjoy this for a second and then get back to work so we can continue to make everybody proud,” Ganot said following the Warriors’ semifinal win over Washington State on Friday.

Hawai’i is in the title game behind its defense that limited both Pepperdine (4 for 15) and Washington State (3 for 13) to subpar 3-point shooting. The Warriors rank among the national leaders for 3-pointers allowed (4.4 per game) and 3-point percentage defense (.271).

Junior guard Noel Coleman leads the Warriors in scoring at 15.2 points per game. Senior forward Kamaka Hepa is averaging 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and leads the team with 23 3-pointers.

Senior forward Samuta Avea scored 19 in the win over Washington State and is averaging 10.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Junior center Bernardo da Silva is contributing 8.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Junior point guard JoVon McClanahan scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, in the first two games of the DHC to raise his season average to 8.0 points per game.

The Mustangs are led by the guard tandem of Zhuric Phelps (6-5 sophomore) and Zach Nutall (6-3 senior). Phelps is averaging 19.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game; Nutall is averaging 14.2 points per game and leads the team with 22 3-pointers.

SMU’s inside players to watch are Efe Odigie (6-9 senior) and Samuell Williamson (6-7 senior). Odigie is contributing 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game; Williamson is at 8.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Hawai’i and SMU have played one common opponent this season: Texas A&M-Commerce. The Warriors were upset at home by TAM-Commerce, 53-51, on November 30; SMU beat TAM-Commerce, 77-60, on November 7.

HAWAI’I (8-3) vs. SMU (5-7)
Championship game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (three games will be played earlier in the day; full schedule below)
When: 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 25
Where: SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center
Tickets: Visit EticketHawaii.com
Radio: ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM, 1420 AM, espnhonolulu.com, Sideline Hawaii app)

Sunday’s Games
8:30 a.m. – Seattle vs. George Washington for 7th place
10:30 a.m. – Iona vs. Pepperdine for 5th place
1:30 p.m. – Utah State vs. Washington State for 3rd place
3:30 p.m. – Hawai’i vs. SMU for championship

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