Hawaii, Long Beach State re­mem­ber bet­ter days a year ago

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SONY OPEN IN HAWAII - By Brian McInnis bm­cin­nis@starad­ver­tiser.com

Right about the time Sher­iff Dram­meh climbed up on the rim in the Honda Cen­ter and started cut­ting down the net, he re­al­ized some­thing.

“It was a cool day,” the wiry guard re­called of March 12, 2016. “I ba­si­cally re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing. It’s a day I’ll prob­a­bly never for­get.”

Hawaii’s 64-60 win over Long Beach State in the Big West tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship game is in­deli­ble for pre­cious few of the Rain­bow War­riors af­ter an off­sea­son of ma­jor turnover. Dram­meh, Brocke Stepteau, Zach Buscher and Mike Thomas are the only play­ers left from that team.

The coaches for UH and LBSU, Eran Ganot and Dan Mon­son, re­call it vividly. To­day’s 7 p.m. meet­ing at the Stan Sher­iff Cen­ter is their first since UH, buoyed at key mo­ments by its re­serves, held off the 49ers to avenge a reg­u­lar-sea­son sweep and ad­vance to the NCAA Tour­na­ment for the first time in 14 years.

Mon­son still has flash­backs. Two of the re­turnees for the 49ers — Noah Black­well and Justin Bib­bins — missed go-ahead 3-point­ers in the fi­nal minute.

“You don’t get that close to an NCAA bid and that close to win­ning a tour­na­ment with­out (hav­ing them),” Mon­son said. “That’ll stick with me this year, next year and hope­fully un­til my old age sets in and can’t re-

mem­ber. Be­cause those are great com­pet­i­tive bat­tles and that was a great bas­ket­ball game with a lot rid­ing on it. And so you don’t for­get that. But for this team, very few of them, I think on both sides, have a lot of mo­ti­va­tion com­ing off that game.”

Ganot said it’s nat­u­ral for coaches to men­tally re­hash mo­ments from any num­ber of games — but es­pe­cially close ti­tle games like that. LBSU be­came the fourth team UH beat in a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, join­ing Tulsa (2001, 2002) and BYU (1994).

“We’re all sick pup­pies. We can’t help our­selves,” he said. “There’s a lot of ups and downs in coach­ing, a lot of emo­tion. We do it be­cause we love it, but we’re on both sides of it all the time.”

De­fend­ing cham­pion UH (6-9, 0-2 BWC) and pre­sea­son fa­vorite LBSU (6-13,

1-2) have both dealt with strug­gles since. The 49ers are 0-11 on the road, with lop­sided losses at North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA and Kansas, among oth­ers. Mon­son, in his 10th year at LBSU, said “I think it was the tough­est” of any gaunt­let of guar­an­tee games he’s lined up, con­sid­er­ing the travel and that his team has no ro­ta­tion se­niors.

Beach pre­sea­son all-con­fer­ence for­ward Gabe Levin (12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg), the team’s se­cond-lead­ing scorer and best re­bounder, went down with a knee in­jury on New Year’s Eve and has yet to play in con­fer­ence. He’s not ex­pected to play to­day, when LBSU will try to send UH to its first

0-3 open­ing in the Big West.

In the back­court, Loy­ola Mary­mount trans­fer Evan Payne (14.0 ppg) is LBSU’s lat­est mar­quee Divi­sion I pickup, re­plac­ing much of what the de­parted Nick Faust gave the 49ers last year. The 5-foot-8 Bib­bins (11.1 ppg, 4.3 apg) rep­re­sents an in­trigu­ing matchup for UH’s 5-foot-9 point guard Stepteau.

The big­gest chal­lenge for UH could be up front.

LBSU, which dom­i­nated the boards by 19 in a 14-point road win at the Sher­iff last Jan­uary, rolls with a front line of 255-pound Temi­dayo Yus­suf, 235-pound Roschon Prince and 255-pound Ma­son Rig­gins off the bench. None top 6-8, but while UH is com­pa­ra­ble in height — Jack Pur­chase (200 pounds), Gib­son John­son (220), Ido Flaisher (225) — it gives up a ton in weight.

“They’re picked to win the league for a rea­son — it’s not be­cause they’re one-di­men­sional,” Ganot said. “They have sev­eral stars and they have great depth. That’s what cham­pi­onship-cal­iber teams have.”

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