Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors’ defense, bench and unselfish play has fueled win streak

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team hopped onto a plane headed to San Diego on Tuesday, taking a six-game win streak and share of the Big West Conference lead with it.

And according to the Warriors and head coach Eran Ganot, the fuel for this propulsion has been a commitment to defense, strong play off the bench plus an unselfish “team-first” attitude that really came to light in the past month.

“All of our guys have got to continue to stay aggressive and play together,” Ganot said on Tuesday, just before boarding the bus to the airport. “I think that’s what we’re doing … The good thing is, our team is stepping up while that’s happening.”

UH (11-3 overall, 2-0 in Big West) will play UC San Diego at 5 p.m. (Hawai’i time) Thursday in its first Big West road game, which is also the first “true” road game after playing four games on neutral floors at Brigham Young-Hawai’i and Henderson, Nev. (versus UNLV)

During the win streak, the Warriors have held three opponents (Washington State, Southern Methodist and Cal Poly) to 57 points or less, and held two others (Saint Francis and UC Davis) to 66 points or less. 

Hawai’i is allowing opponents to score just 59.7 points per game, which currently ranks 15th in NCAA-I. The Warriors’ defense is also ranked second in NCAA-I for total 3-pointers allowed at 59 (UConn is first with 56).

“I think it’s a team effort,” said junior guard Noel Coleman. “Coach really hammers on building a wall, playing team defense. You gotta play good one-on-one defense, but I think our team defense is at a really high level right now, which covers for getting beat baseline or getting beat middle. Obviously you gotta score to win games, but I think defense also helps a lot, and that’s why we’re winning. Being in an offensive dip, we kind of rely on our defense to make up for it.”

Riley, a 6-foot-6 wing, said besides the schemes on defense, there also has been “the will” to make those schemes work.

“We have a saying, ‘We score, (but) you don’t, and we pass, you guys don’t,’ ” Riley said. “We really key in on certain guys, we really pay attention to scouts and try to follow it to a ‘T,’ and I feel like we’ve been executing so far so if we can just keep doing that … Just don’t let my man score, I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s really trying to take away their tendencies and gain an advantage in any way I can.”

Ganot said UH’s recent success on defense can be attributed to several key factors.

“Incredible amount of effort, and sacrifice and team (effort),” Ganot said. “We gotta keep bringing it at that level, and guys are doing that, but it gets harder. People talk about scouting your offensive stuff, but people scout defensive stuff as well, finding cracks in there. The beauty of our team is we have versatility defensively — size around the rim, we can move guys to different spots, we have point-of-attack guys in different spots … sometimes we’ll guard a 20 (points) a game guy inside, sometimes it might be on the perimeter. But we help each other out, and that’s where we gotta keep coming with it.”  

A lot of that versatility has come from the bench, and ironically, the turning point may have come in a 77-62 loss to UNLV at Henderson, Nev., on Dec. 7. Despite that defeat, UH did see impressive individual and collective production from reserves Beon Riley, Justus Jackson, Mor Seck and Harry Rhoulideff. Riley, Jackson and Seck played key roles in helping the Warriors win the school’s first Diamond Head Classic championship, as did freshman reserve Kody Williams. 

“We always say that experience — good or bad — will help you if you use it right,” Ganot said. “And we used it right (after UNLV). We had lifts off the bench, and it’s carried over for us. Some guys had breakthroughs there, and we’ve had different guys step up at different times when we’ve needed them. It’s because of previous games, and certainly that game and that atmosphere against UNLV.”

Riley said he has confidence not just in himself, but the entire reserve unit when it comes to stepping up when called upon.

“I feel like all of my teammates are just ready in all situations,” Riley said. “Like for example, against SMU, Kody was ready, and we always look at it like, everybody is going to get an opportunity at some point and (it’s) how we’re going to capitalize on that opportunity. It’s ‘next man, every man,’ and that’s a saying that we always go by.” 

In the meantime, with teams keying on leading scorers Noel Coleman and Kamaka Hepa, those two players made successful adjustments and created openings for point guard JoVon McClanahan, who scored career-high point totals in back-to-back games and earned Most Outstanding Players honors in the Diamond Head Classic.

“I’m not too worried about how much I score, more so, I want to win,” said Coleman, a junior shooting guard. “I think our goal this year is very clear — we want to win the conference. I’m just willing to do whatever it takes, personally, to help the team get to that goal.”

For Riley, much of his contributions — like providing energy and physicality — do not show up in the box score.

“Physicality, grabbing rebounds and getting putbacks gets me going and gets the team going,” Riley said. “Just doing anything to help us win.”  

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