Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

UPDATED: UC Riverside rallies past Warriors, 54-52

Squeaking through yet another razor-thin margin, visiting UC Riverside rallied past Hawai’i, 54-52, Thursday night in more pulsating Big West Conference men’s basketball action.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

A spirited but stunned crowd of 3,586 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Zyon Pullin score a game-high 24 points and Lachlan Olbrich add 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds as the Highlanders improved to 20-10 overall and 13-5 in league play. Bernardo da Silva led the Warriors with 15 points, Kamaka Hepa added 14 points and eight rebounds and Noel Coleman contributed 10 points as UH held UCR to just 14 points in the first half but then squandered an 11-point lead in the second half to fall to 20-9 overall and 11-6 in league play. 

The Warriors had a chance to tie it with 1.5 seconds remaining, but Hepa missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and the Highlanders grabbed the rebound to run out the clock.

“That is a tough one, really tough, as tough as it gets,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “No. 1, credit UC Riverside. No. 2, credit our fans. I expect us to bounce back like we have all year, but we had a moment where we could have made our next step, and we did not. A recurring theme for us, which I thought we were past … the game was separated when we were up 10. It comes down to lack of discipline and lack of unity, which is very unlike us. We learn the hard way.”

The Warriors led 25-14 at halftime, holding the Highlanders to just 19.4 percent (6 of 31) shooting, including 0 for 10 from 3-point range. UH also out-rebounded UCR, 25 to 17, and held the Highlanders scoreless in the final five and a half minutes in the first half.

The Warriors led, 31-20, after Coleman’s layup four minutes into the second half, but UCR chipped away and later used a 16-7 run to grab the lead at 40-38 on Pullin’s 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key with seven minutes remaining. Hepa immediately answered with a 3-pointer to put the Warriors up, 41-40, but that would be their last lead as Flynn Cameron responded with a 3-pointer to ignite a 9-2 run that pushed the Highlanders ahead, 49-43, with 3:23 left.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Ganot said that defensive slip which left Cameron open was an example of how one small lapse can be costly.

“He’s fifty percent from 3, and we played off him,” Ganot said. “I don’t care if the guy is shooting poorly in the game, he has our ultimate respect but we didn’t (respect him) on that play and he made us pay. Especially when we’re trying to make a little run. It’s a thin line, it’s incredible the level of discipline you need to have, to be where you want to be. This might sound crazy, but when you lapse, they should make you pay, and if we don’t play like a team for a key stretch, we gotta learn. I don’t want us to learn the hard way, but all I care about is getting better.” 

Hawai’i did scratch its way back, closing it to 53-52 on da Silva’s layup with 1:03 remaining. Olbrich sank the first of two free throws to make it 54-52 with 8.4 ticks left, but he missed the next shot and the Warriors rebounded, with JoVon McClanahan quickly pushed the ball from coast to coast before getting a layup attempt blocked out of bounds with 2.4 seconds showing. McClanahan then inbounded the ball to Hepa, who was fouled immediately with 0:01.5 showing on the clock, sending him to the free throw line for the 1-and-1.

Hepa said his attempt — which hit the back iron and bounced out — felt good coming out of his hand.

“Yeah, it did,” Hepa said. “It felt like every other free throw I shot this year.”

Ganot said the loss does not fall on Hepa’s shoulders, but the entire team’s.

Photo courtesy Matt Osumi

“A lot of times people will look at the last plays of these (games), but it’s never down to one play,” Ganot said. “We were up 10, and (then) we played on our own. They hit some tough shots late, they hit one at the end of the (shot) clock. The defensive and rebound numbers are misleading overall, because we were so dominant in those areas in the first half. But they out-rebounded us bad in the second half. And they got big plays — free throw block out for a 3, turnovers for and-1’s and layups, they pressured us really good.

“It is amazing to me, that we can continue to do the same thing in those moments.”

Pullin, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, had six points on 3-of-6 shooting in the first half, but erupted for 18 points on 8-of-13 marksmanship in the second half. That included a few fadeaway mid-range jumpers with hands in his face.

“We did such a good job on him at their place (14 points) and for the most part, early in this game,” Ganot said. “And then he gets steal, steal, layup, and-1, 3-point broken play, 3 … and what happens with good players is when they make easy baskets, sometimes you make some tough shots. He made fadeaways, he’s a heckuva player, credit to him. Lot of respect for him, his toughness, his grit.”

UH will need to find some of that same type of grit to regroup quickly and prepare for Saturday’s 5 p.m. home finale versus first-place UC Irvine (20-9, 13-4).

“It’s definitely going to be tough for me personally,” Hepa said. “But I’m just going to lean on my teammates and lean on my coaches, and I trust that they’ll be there for me and I’ll be there for my teammates. And I think tomorrow when we come in and talk about the game, we can look at it with a little bit more of a level head and really pinpoint where we have to do better in the second half.”

Hawai’i is now tied for fourth place with three games remaining in the regular season. The Warriors need a win against UC Irvine on Saturday to remain in mathematical contention for the BWC regular-season championship.

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Big West Conference
Thursday’s Results

UC Davis at Cal State Fullerton, canceled
at UC Santa Barbara 78, Long Beach State 73
at CSUN 75, CSU Bakersfield 68
UC San Diego 99, at UC Irvine 91
UC Riverside 54, at Hawai’i 52

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

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