May the force be with the ’Bows
Hawaii faces UC Santa Barbara, an emerging power in the Big West
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors need someone to show them their place in all this.
On the latest “Star Wars”themed night at the Stan Sheriff Center, that someone could be UC Santa Barbara, an emerging force in the Big West.
Beat the potent Gauchos, and UH (11-5, 2-1 BWC) can stake its claim as a power in the conference. Drop a game at home to UCSB (12-4, 1-1 BWC), and the ’Bows could be fighting to master their own destiny the rest of the way.
“These guys have been playing as well as anybody,” UH coach Eran Ganot said of the visitors’ most impressive turnaround.
How much have the Gauchos improved? Guard Gabe Vincent, their best player over the past two years, is still producing … and is their fourth-leading scorer.
Tipoff is at 8 p.m., following Wahine basketball’s 5:30 p.m. game against Long Beach State.
UH’s past two opponents, Cal State Northridge and Cal Poly, were held under 50 points, a first for UH since
2008-09, while shooting a combined 33 percent.
But those teams won’t contend for a Big West championship. By contrast, UCSB turned heads under a new coach, topping respectable mid-majors like Montana, San Francisco and San Diego. UCSB is No. 15 in the latest Collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, the only Big West team to receive votes.
Hawaii took notice. It knows it may take more than a rock fight tonight.
“I’m always locked in with who’s playing who,” forward Gibson Johnson said. “(Their nonconference) was really strong. … They proved that they’re a tough matchup and there’s a reason they’re ranked No. 1 in our conference right now. So it should be a fun
game for us.”
The Gauchos’ eligibility and injury-plagued season of 2016-17 resulted in the program’s most losses ever, at 6-22.
UCSB chose to let the past die, firing 19-year coach Bob Williams following the season and hiring Joe Pasternack, the former associate head coach at Arizona.
He is off to the best start of any coach in UCSB history, and the program has its best mark through 16 games.
With an impressive blend of returning and imported talent, the Gauchos lead the league in scoring and scoring margin, 3-point efficiency, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. They play exclusively man defense instead of their traditional zone, and play faster, looking to shoot early in the clock.
“I think that our guys were really wanting to have the opportunity to be successful and win,” Pasternack said. “I think they’ve all blended together very well. … It’s kind of like a new team. And I think our chemistry is as good as it can be.”
Though he brought in two talented graduate transfers in forward Leland King II (Nevada) and point guard Marcus Jackson (Rice), homegrown guard Max Heidegger has been the biggest revelation.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore averaged 7.6 points on 26.8 percent shooting as a freshman but now leads the conference with 21.6 points per game (46.7 percent shooting), with a league-high 50 3s made.
“Credit to him, he worked very, very hard this summer and the fall on improving his
They (the Gauchos) proved that they’re a tough matchup and there’s a reason they’re ranked No. 1 in our conference right now.”
Gibson Johnson UH forward
game,” Pasternack said. “I think a lot of it was mental. He would tell you that. And he’s had a heck of a first 16 games. And I think he deserves his success, because of how hard he’s worked.”
King (17.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg) is only the Big West’s rebounding leader with nine double-doubles. Forward Jalen Canty was ineligible at this time last year but is back and averaging 11.6. Vincent (10.4) is as dangerous as ever.
In Big West play, the Gauchos have shown some vulnerability.
In UCSB’s opener against rival Cal Poly, the Mustangs surged back from 23-2 down to deal UCSB an 80-79 loss in controversial fashion when Luke Meikle was fouled on a heave just inside halfcourt with 0.7 seconds left.
Then, the Gauchos gave up an 18-0 second-half run to UC Riverside but held on to win 65-57 last Saturday.
UH has gone to captain Mike Thomas for its recent production. Thomas (12.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) has consecutive double-doubles for the first time in his career and is shooting 21-for-24 (87.5 percent) in three Big West games.
UH’s Gibson Johnson looks forward to playing against UCSB at the Stan Sheriff Center today.