Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Showdown at the Sheriff: Hawai’i hosts UC Santa Barbara on Thursday

It will be a different opponent at a different location, but with the same level of importance. Five days after a win over the first-place team in the Big West Conference, the University of Hawai’i basketball team will try to do it again, this time at home.

The Rainbow Warriors will host conference leader UC Santa Barbara at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. The game will be televised live in Hawai’i on Spectrum Sports; video streaming is available nationally through ESPN+.

Hawai’i, which knocked UC Riverside out of first place last Saturday at Riverside, Calif., is 15-5 overall and 6-2 in the BWC. UCSB is 16-3 and 7-1, with its only loss coming against UC Riverside (65-64) on January 14.

“Santa Barbara, what a great challenge,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said. “They have all the ingredients of a team that should be at the top of the league, and that’s playing out right now. They’re balanced — they’re one of the better offensive teams, and they’re one of the better defensive teams. They’re good on the glass, they have an inside-outside attack, they have veterans in the front court and veterans in the backcourt and they have shooting. So that’s what you gotta to live for in this situation. Our guys continue to take on the challenge, can we keep defending like we have, which is going to be harder and harder as the season goes along?”

There are various statistics that can be compared between the teams, and this one is perhaps the most intriguing: UCSB leads the Big West in offensive field goal percentage at .494, while Hawai’i leads the BWC in defensive field goal percentage, allowing .394.

There will also be a couple of intriguing individual players on each side. Both teams have a dynamic guard from Belgium – UCSB’s Ajay Mitchell is averaging 15.5 points and a BWC-best 4.7 assists per game; Hawai’i’s Noel Coleman is averaging 14.2 points per game and has a current streak of 27 consecutive made free throws.

Both teams also have a multi-skilled senior forward who can score from outside and in – UCSB’s 6-10 Miles Norris is averaging 13.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and leads his team with 32 3-pointers; Hawai’i’s 6-10 Kamaka Hepa is averaging 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and leads his team with 38 3-pointers.

UCSB also has Andre Kelly, a 6-9 graduate transfer from Cal who is contributing 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“They bring back Norris, who is a year better, and he’s continued to develop,” Ganot said. “He’s playing at a high level in conference, inside-out, shooting the ball really well, getting on the glass, making big plays. You lose an All-Conference guy like (Amadou) Sow, but they bring in (Andre) Kelly, who was a double-figure scorer in the Pac-12 (at Cal), 15 points, eight boards. So it’s a very formidable front line. And they return a lot of their backcourt. So when you can lose a guy like Sow and replace him with a really god player like Kelly, that’s why they’ve had the success they’ve had.”

Kelly will likely be matched against Hawai’i’s 6-9 junior center Bernardo da Silva, who is averaging 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and ranks second in the BWC with 25 blocked shots.

Not to be overlooked will be the shortest player on the court – Hawai’i’s 5-10 point guard JoVon McClanahan. Over the course of eight BWC games, he leads the Warriors in scoring with 14.8 points per game.

“It’s a testament to his character and his toughness, his strength and his confidence, and those breakthroughs have happened for him as well,” Ganot said of McClanahan. “He’s always been a confident player, but he works out a lot, he puts in a lot of time in. And sometimes those guys get used to finding ways to play against bigger guys, and that’s what you’re seeing here.”

Thursday’s game will also feature the BWC’s stingiest defenses. Hawai’i is allowing 61.2 points per game and leads the nation for fewest 3-pointers allowed (81). The Gauchos are allowing 61.8 points per game, including just 58.0 against BWC teams.

“It’s a challenge for sure,” McClanahan said. “What helps us in practice is that since we’re good defensively, we face that often. It’ll be an adjustment made, and we’ll have to see how they’re guarding us and stuff like that. But since we also do go against ourselves in practice, which is a good defensive plan, I don’t think we’ll have a bad transition into playing against a good defensive team.”

The game is being promoted as “Alumni Night” and the Warriors will wear retro jerseys modeled after the successful UH teams from the mid-1970s.

“I expect it to be a really good game, like two good teams fighting for top seeding, similar to what we faced this past weekend,” McClanahan said. “It should be a good game, it’s just about who comes ready to play and who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. So I’m excited, I know our team is excited.”

HAWAI’I (15-5 overall, 6-2 Big West) vs. UC SANTA BARBARA (16-3, 7-1)
 Thursday, January 26, 7:00 p.m. Hawai’i Time
Where: SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI
TV: Spectrum Sports (channels 12/1012 in Hawai’i)
Video streaming: ESPN+
Radio/audio streaming: ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM, 1420 AM, espnhonolulu.com, Sideline Hawaii app)
Tickets: eTicketHawaii.com
Promotions: Fans are encouraged to wear retro University of Hawai’i apparel; men’s basketball roster cards and Hawaiian Airlines calendar posters will be distributed for free at Gate A, while supplies last.

Big West Conference
Thursday’s Games
Long Beach State at Cal Poly
UC San Diego at CSUN
UC Davis at CSU Bakersfield
UC Irvine at Cal State Fullerton
UC Santa Barbara at Hawai’i

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

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