Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors face key road test at UC Irvine on Thursday

Barely 13 hours after fending off a pesky last-place opponent Monday night, the Hawai’i men’s basketball team boarded a bus late Tuesday morning and headed to airport for a road trip that probably presents even tougher challenges.

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

The Warriors (14-4 overall and 5-1 in the Big West Conference) will visit UC Irvine (12-6, 5-1) at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif., on Thursday. The game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Pacific Time (5 p.m. Hawai’i), with video streaming available via ESPN+ and radio coverage via ESPN Honolulu.

UH is coming off a 58-51 home victory over CSUN (3-15, 0-7), in which a 19-point second-half lead whittled down to a 1-point differential with 3:16 remaining.

“I think the message for our guys after kind of losing a 19-point lead is, ‘We can’t slip, there’s no lapses,’ ” Warriors assistant coach Rob Jones said Tuesday morning, just prior to boarding the bus to the airport. “Every team in our conference is going to want to win … we’re still maturing as a team, and you see glimpses of it. But I think as we go on, hopefully this week we’ll have a little bit more maturity and hopefully get some more wins.”

The wins probably won’t come any easier, as UC Irvine is off to a typically strong start. The Anteaters are coming off a 73-67 home loss to UC Santa Barbara on Monday, ending a five-game winning streak.

While many different teams have taken turns swimming near the top of the conference standings over recent years, the Anteaters have consistently remained in the conversation for the league title every season under longtime head coach Russell Turner. UCI has finished in the top four of the Big West standings in each of the past 10 regular seasons.

“Irvine is always a good team — I played against them when I was at Saint Mary’s, as a player and a coach, they’re a great program, Russ does a great job,” Jones said. “He gets his guys to play on his terms, and they play hard. I think this is actually one of their better offensive years. We’re doing our best, doing our scout, preparing for them and making sure our guys are rested.” 

Rest also is not easy to come by these days, as the Warriors are smack dab in the middle of four games in eight days.

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

“We have some great athletic trainers, they keep our bodies right and stuff like that,” said junior point guard JoVon McClahanan. “I think we’re fine, we’ve had stretches of games where we played a lot of games in a short period of time. So I think it’s nothing that our bodies aren’t used to, we just have to be professional, take care of your body, get treatment, getting an ice bath and stuff like that and I think we’ll be fine. I think everybody’s playing a tight schedule right now, so it is what it is.”

With guards Juan Munoz, Justus Jackson and Amaro Lado all out due to various injuries, Hawai’i turned to seldom-used freshman Kody Williams on Monday when McClanahan picked up his third foul just over four minutes into the second half. Williams played six and a half minutes, grabbed one rebound and did not turn the ball over just as the game was starting to tighten up. 

“Game experience is the biggest thing, especially in college basketball,” McClanahan said. “I remember when I was a young guard here, I was learning and getting spot minutes and stuff like that, it all matters because it builds up later on in the end. I’m just trying to encourage him when he is in, and when he’s out I tell him what he needs to see and what he needs to do going forward. But I think he’s doing fine, just for coming in and getting minutes and doing his job. So I’m proud of him.”

Jones said even the veteran players are still learning from recent games like the CSUN scare, and fortunately not at the cost of a defeat Monday.

“Coach (Eran Ganot) always says, ‘It’s better we don’t have to learn this lesson with a loss,’ ” Jones said. “So as long as we continue to grow … It’s tough, (but) we just use our film, our great staff and our players are really great guys so they try to listen and they communicate what they see out there to us. So if we put all those things together, I think we’ll get better as this year goes on.”

UCI is the Big West’s top scoring team at 77.3 points per game, and also ranks seventh in NCAA-I with a .400 percentage from 3-point range.

Dawson Baker, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, leads the Anteaters in scoring at 14.3 points per game. DJ Davis, a 6-1 junior guard, ranks second in the BWC with 43 3-pointers, and has a .413 percentage from 3-point range.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Justin Hohn, a 6-1 junior guard, is averaging 8.3 points per game and has 26 3-pointers with a .406 percentage from beyond the arc. Pierre Crockrell III, a 6-foot senior point guard, is averaging 4.8 points per game and leads the BWC in assists with 4.8 per game.

UCI’s starting center Bent Leuchten has missed the last three games with a knee injury and is not expected to play against Hawai’i. The 7-footer from Germany was averaging 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game prior to the injury.

The game presents an interesting contrast. UCI’s sharpshooting will be pitted against the supreme perimeter defense of the Warriors.

Hawai’i leads the BWC in scoring defense, allowing just 60.3 points per game. The Warriors also lead the nation for fewest 3-pointers allowed (72) and rank fourth nationally for 3-point percentage defense (.272).

The Warriors get most of their production from the starting five: guards Noel Coleman (14.5 points per game) and JoVon McClanahan (9.9 points, 3.1 assists per game), forwards Samuta Avea (9.9 points, 4.4 rebounds per game) and Kamaka Hepa (10.8 points, 6.9 rebounds per game, 35 3-pointers), and center Bernardo da Silva (10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds per game, 25 blocked shots).

HAWAI’I (14-4 overall, 5-1 Big West) at UC IRVINE (12-6, 5-1)
When: Thursday, January 19, 7:00 p.m. Pacific (5:00 p.m. Hawai’i)
Where: Bren Events Center, Irvine, Calif.
TV/Video streaming: ESPN+
Radio/Audio streaming: ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM, 1420 AM, espnhonolulu.com, Sideline Hawaii app)

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

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

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