Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors are focused on protecting home court as season winds down

Sixty percent through the 20-game Big West Conference “grind” and with only four home games remaining, the Hawai’i men’s basketball team has little margin for error and even less room for a loss within its friendly confines.

That sense of urgency is not lost on the Warriors, who return for their penultimate homestand this week with records of 17-7 overall and 8-4 in league play, good for a three-way tie for third place, but not good enough according to preseason goals and forecasts.

First order of business is protecting home court at 7 p.m. Thursday against UC San Diego (8-16, 3-9), in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.

“There’s definitely been more of a sense of urgency,” said co-captain Kamaka Hepa, a senior forward. “I think what we’re doing a good job of is just controlling what we can control, and that’s practice and getting better … watching film on previous games, because obviously we’re playing teams we played previously. So just locking in on that, and taking each game for what it is, and putting all of our focus on that.”

UH is coming off another road split — it’s third straight — after losing at UC Davis, 75-63, on Feb. 2 and then winning at Cal Poly, 69-56, last Saturday. In the loss at Davis, the Warriors started strong but squandered the lead late in the first half, never to regain it. It was yet another in a series of lapses that have haunted Hawai’i throughout the Big West season.

“I think they (UC Davis) wanted to win more than us, at the end of the day, that’s what it came down to,” Hepa said. “Obviously the basketball stuff came into play, but I think they came out as the game progressed (and) they just kind of wanted it more than us. Specifically, after the Davis game, we sat down and had a real deep conversation about that and what the root cause of those lapses usually are. It’s just kind of a lack of focus, and being focused on the wrong things, I would say (being) distracted. For everyone on the team, I don’t think anybody necessarily played how they wanted to, but it’s just doing the things that we can control — that could have helped us win that game.”

Afterward, the Warriors endured a four-and-a-half-hour bus ride to San Luis Obispo, where they rested and then regrouped quickly in preparation for the game on Saturday.

“Give Davis credit, but our guys all year have been good at bouncing back,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “This was a challenge, because we had a tough game, and then we spent a lot of time on bus rides on this trip. The drive was professional, the guys got a good night’s sleep, and then the next day the walk-through was very effective, efficient, very vocal. And we got some opportunities to visit with them a little more individually (and) collectively, and chip away at the thing. We gotta get back to where we were, and beyond, but we can’t skip steps. That (win) was a step. 

“But for us to get beyond, we gotta get back to where we were first. So give (the Warriors) credit for focusing on the task at hand and getting back to our defensive game, and offensively I thought we were flowing better. We may have missed some shots, but the side-to-side, the crispness, the execution and getting quality shots and also on the glass … (was) a step.”

Hepa, in particular, had a monster offensive game with 29 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field — including 4 of 6 from 3-point range — and 11-of-12 marksmanship from the free throw line.

Hepa said it’s not coincidental that his aggressive approach on offense is coinciding with his career coming to a close.

“I think understanding that the season is getting closer to its end, I guess has sparked a little bit of urgency,” Hepa said. “I think I go out and want to play the best that I can, obviously. Some games I make more shots than others, but I think just the level of confidence that I have really has to carry out the rest of the season, just knowing that I have to take every game like it’s my last, literally.”

Ganot said he hopes the Warriors’ fans also start feeling a sense of urgency to attend this homestand, starting Thursday night.

“Only four home games left for this group, I hope this place is rocking for these four,” Ganot said. “I think this place deserves it, I think these guys deserve it, I think our seniors deserve it — we don’t need to wait for Senior Night to honor them … so we’re going to make the most of it, these guys are fighting for each other and they care about each other and they take pride in representing. So I hope, like (the home crowd) has been growing the last month or so, I think they deserve it. We put out a great product, they play like a team. I’m gonna enjoy and give everything I’ve got for them, so I hope our fans continue to do that, as well.”

HAWAI’I (17-7 overall, 8-4 Big West) vs. UC SAN DIEGO (8-16, 3-9)
Thursday, February 9, 7:00 p.m. Hawai’i Time
Where: SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center, Honolulu, HI
TV: Spectrum Sports Hawai’i (channels 12/1012)
Video streaming: ESPN+
Radio/audio streaming: ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM, 1420 AM, espnhonolulu.com, Sideline Hawaii app)
Tickets: EticketHawaii.com

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